Monday, January 03, 2005

UWM vs. Detroit: Seduction At the Hands of the MECCA

Tonight (yeah, I'm getting this up on the night of a game for a change) took me back to the MECCA Arena in downtown Milwaukee for the long overdue homecoming of the UWM Panthers, as they took on the University of Detroit. I didn't expect going in (or with 10 minutes to go, for that matter) that it would be one of the most exciting games that I had seen this year, but indeed, it was. The Panthers didn't get the win, but they did show more toughness than I ever expected to see from a team that is more about running up and down the floor than it is playing tough, halfcourt defense. The game was fairly close until Detroit went on a run in the second half as UWM went ice cold for the first 10 minutes. UWM got down by as much as 23 points in the second half, and battled back to keep the game in doubt until the final 20 seconds. Lots of teams would have given up, but UWM just ratcheted up the pressure, and almost pulled off something that seemed impossible. You can't help but respect that, and I know things like that will bring me back for more games for sure. Without further adieu, here are my quick points:

1) I went to the game with my friend Dez, who had obtained tickets from a company that his company does business with. They were really good seats--about third row at center court. The fact that these were company seats begs the question--what kind of company is buying seats to UWM games to impress its clients? I can understand the Bucks, or Marquette, since those are the big names in town, but UWM is a lower profile program. Giving away seats to those games is akin to giving away seats to Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer--it might be a good time, but the corporate prestige just isn't there. Apparently the idea of getting UWM tickets isn't working out, since Dez said he was offered seats to tonight's game, and two other games, which his contact said were to be played against Youngstown State and "Wright Street." It's not a good sign when people can't name your conference foes, and simply think you're playing a team of kids from the street that my parents live on.

2) UWM's players put on quite a dunking display during pre-game, throwing down reverse dunks, bouncing the ball off the floor and dunking, and tossing down a few vanilla dunks. I never knew that you could do that in the pre-game in college. Of course, as Dez noted, there were no referees around, and once they showed up, the dunking stopped. It was fun while it lasted, though.

3) Despite my first point about a lack of prestige, tonight was the first time in my life that I actually felt more excited to be going to a UWM game than a Marquette game, and I was kind of disappointed in myself when I thought about why that was. What it boils down to for me is that the Panthers run a lot, and that's fun to watch. As a guy who spent his college years watching Dick Bennett's Badgers grind out 50 point efforts with regularity, and who grew up hearing the virtues of defense, it's tough for me to admit that watching Bruce Pearl run his bench in and out of the game is fun, but it definitely is. And it's certainly more fun than watching Marquette's 3-man weave offense, even if Marquette is now proving itself to be the better team in Milwaukee. I should like the more effective team, but a frantic pace and the charm of the MECCA have seduced me. And I am ashamed.

4) Ed McCants was absolutely on fire at the beginning of the night. He put of 24 points in the first half, probably 18 of which came from behind the three point arc in the first 10 minutes of the game. I was pretty sure that we were going to see an NCAA record the way he started out. Then he cooled off a tad for the rest of the half, and went dormant, along with the rest of the Panther offense for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Then he got rolling again as the Panthers made their charge back into the game, and ended, I believe, with 38 on the night. I think he ended the night with 9 threes, which, if there have been no changes to my outdated 1999-2000 Panther media guide, ties the school record. (Note to self--buy a media guide at the next game) Outstanding performance, and the Panthers look really bad without it, especially when Joah Tucker puts up a donut on the evening.

5) I mentioned yesterday that to the best of my knowledge, a mulletted man by the name of Bill Johnson was doing play-by-play for the Panthers. This belief was confirmed, as the immortal Mr. Johnson was present courtside last night. To his credit, he's lost the mullet, dropped quite a bit of weight, and wasn't dressed badly. I guess everyone grows up at some point. I'll have to listen to a broadcast sometime to see if he's become a better announcer, though. And sadly, he had no color commentator with him, so I feel I must ask, where can I apply for this job? If there's anything my communications degree prepared me for, it is this. I'd even be willing to offer my landmark "A-" paper from my senior year, entitled "College Basketball and Television: A Revolutionary Change of the Last 20 Years" as part of my application. Yeah, I don't know why they issue degrees in communications either.

6) Detroit's coaches were among the most vocal that I have ever witnessed. I don't know how their guys play with three men yelling at them all night. I got a nice chuckle at the job of one of their coaches, who after Ed McCants immediately went off for 6 three-pointers, seemed to have solely been assigned the job off yelling to his players where McCants was on the floor.

7) UWM's Mark Pancratz returned to the floor after an early season stress-fracture kept him out of action. His energy level remained high, though after getting horrifically blocked on his first shot of the game, he got this look about him that I can only describe as the Burkemper look (named after former Wisconsin guard David Burkemper, who seldom met a shot he liked). You knew Pancratz wasn't going to shoot much more, and sure enough, he didn't, as he only put up 2 shots during his 18 minutes in the game.

8) Speaking of horrific blocks, James Wright offered the most humorous on-floor moment of the night, as he tripped at the feet of a Detroit guard while closing out at the three point arc. The Detroit player proceeded to shoot the ball, while Wright, laying on the ground, attempted to put his hand up. The hand only got to his opponent's knee, but there's little doubt that Wright has received some excellent coaching, and he will undoubtedly always try to get a hand in his man's face. Even in hilariously absurd situations.

9) UWM's pressure defense in the last 10 minutes was beautiful. Time-outs were forced early, and Detroit was down to their final timeout fairly quickly. The scheme was pretty easy, as the Panthers forced the inbounds pass to whowever Detroit ran to the corner on the inbounder's right side. Then, the defender on the inbounder trapped the man with the ball, and the defense rotated. Detroit's coach was helpless to call timeout when it really got going, since he only had the one timeout left. It was nothing difficult to figure out, but UWM executed it well. Of course, it was also somewhat of a desparation press, since Detroit always had one man that was well behind the defense on the other end of the floor. Unfortunately for them, the ball wasn't going to see enough daylight to get to the other end of the court.

10) Oh, I almost forgot--no fouls were called on Detroit during the first 15:30 of the game. I can't recall a time in recent memory that I've seen a college team go that long without fouling, let alone a home team.

11) Detroit guard Brandon Cotton is, as many know, a transfer from Michigan State who recently became eligible to play at his new school following the transfer. His game? Yeah, he seems quick, good with the ball, and defends just fine. However, the thing that stuck out to me most is that he didn't seem to have much of a rapport with his teammates, often giving them angry looks or short comments. Perhaps he'll settle in, but for now, he looks like a guy that wants to tell his teammates what to do.

So that's the game in a nutshell. Like I said, it was a great end from the Panthers. If they don't go ice cold to start the second half, or if this game is 5 minutes longer, it's probably a much different outcome. If they could learn to put a full 40 minutes together, this would be a solid team. As it is, they're not playing to their potenetial all the time, yet.

In the coming days, if I don't get to check out a basketball game (stupid football bowl games are keeping hoops off the air), I'll try to at least recap my Fantasy Big Ten draft, which just like last year, is shaping up to be quite an adventure.


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