Thursday, November 02, 2006

UWM vs. UW-Parkside: A Long Season Begins

Well, I didn’t see that coming. Last night when I headed downtown with my friend Adam to see the new UWM team take on UW-Parkside, I didn’t expect that the Parkside Rangers (15-13 in 2005-6) to take down the new-look Panthers. It would be easy to pack it in and proclaim that this will be the longest season known to man, but I’m not going to do that. While UWM looked brutal at times last night, there’s definitely some potential there. And let’s not forget, there was a world of difference between last season’s early-season UWM team and late-season UWM team. Let’s hope that Rob Jeter’s ready to do some teaching, though, because last night wasn’t pretty. My notes below:

1) It was sort of jarring to really face up to seeing a totally revamped UWM team. After losing 9 guys, it almost feels like I’m watching a totally different program. The best analogy that I can come up with (which isn’t great, as it’s going to seem harshly cruel, which isn’t my intent) is that the difference between the 2005-06 UWM team and the 2006-07 UWM team is sort of like the difference between watching Caddyshack and Caddyshack II. In both situations, there are just enough ties to the past (Rob Jeter, Avery Smith; Ty Webb, Bushwood Country Club) that you can’t deny that there’s a link, but there are so many perplexing new things (Sam Mauldin, Paige Paulson; Jackie Mason, Jonathan Silverman) that it doesn’t really seem like you’re watching something that’s totally related to the past events.

2) I was most excited to get a look at the UWM starting guards in this game, since they would appear to be the strength of the Panther squad. It wasn’t a great impression. Allan Hanson, who I had pegged as the charismatic new leader of this team, just sort of seemed like another guy (with the exception that it appears he’s worked on his long-range shot a bit). The highly anticipated debut of Ricky Franklin was remarkably anticlimactic, and resulted in me occasionally forgetting that he was on the floor, despite him being the guy that I was trying hardest to watch. And Avery Smith was decent, but didn’t seem like he’d taken any steps forward from last season. The most frustrating thing about all three guys was a major lack of aggressiveness on offense. Most of the first half was spent passing the ball around the perimeter, and occasionally making a one or two dribble half-assed attempt to attack a gap, before pulling the ball back out. It was like watching a team conduct a defensive shell drill in practice. And it’s not a particularly good thing when your team is acting like the offense in a defensive drill.

3) The one guy from UWM that deserves some praise for aggressiveness was Myles McKay. I was not surprised to read after the game that McKay is a walk-on, as his skills seem to be limited, but he deserved every bit of playing time that he got last evening, since he was the only guy who seemed to be consistently attacking (though I briefly wished that he had perhaps toned down his aggressiveness on the play where he got stuffed by the rim attempting a break-away dunk). I’m not normally a champion of the under-talented guy who does everything right, but McKay was the major bright spot for me last night. Let’s hope his attitude rubs off on his teammates.

4) I’m not sure what to make of UWM’s big guys yet. For starters, they’re not that big. With the exception of Sam Mauldin, there’s no one over 6'7" on the team. And though Mauldin’s 6'9", he’s not exactly the quickest guy on the floor. While I certainly wouldn’t say that the group as a whole played well last night (it’s a rough night when a division 2 team is hurting you on the blocks, and you have no size advantage), there’s actually some potential there. I want to get a further look at Paige Paulsen, because it seems like he’s got an array of skills. Marcus Skinner was active, picking up a lot of points off of putbacks of misses, and seems to have a solid ponytail going. And Kevin Massiah, though largely a letdown last year, still just has a presence about him that makes you think he’s going to suddenly become an excellent player. You just want this guy to "get it." Of course, Massiah also wasn’t called on to be a big guy last year. This unit is undoubtedly the biggest question mark for the Panthers, and while they didn’t do much to erase the questions surrounding them, most of them have the potential to become productive players.

5) It’s always notable when UW-Parkside’s Tyrone Deacon is on the floor, mainly for three reasons. First, the pasty white Deacon would be a perfect member of ESPN’s Bill Simmons’ "Reggie Cleveland All-Stars" list, which notes players whose race is not what their name would seem to imply. Second, you know that some chuckle-head (actually, I was that guy last night) is going to repeatedly note that Deacon played at Michigan State for a year before transferring to Parkside. This would be a much more interesting fact, had Deacon not been a walk-on who was basically filling bench space for the Spartans, but hey, I still give him credit for living the dream. Finally, Deacon’s actually a pretty decent division 2 ball player, and torched UWM for 18 first half points last night.

6) Big props to UWM mascot Victor E. Panther. Early in the evening, I noted to Adam that it appeared that Victor E. had dropped a few pounds in the offseason. As if his offseason dedication to the gym wasn’t enough, it appeared that Victor E. was bound and determined to get everyone in the crowd excited about the game. At one point he even made it up to shake hands with Adam and I, who were seated second-highest of any people on our half of the arena. You don’t see a lot of mascots going the extra mile to involve the folks in the cheap seats, so again, kudos to Victor E. for his egalitarian sensibilities.

7) Very disappointing to see that Popeye’s Chicken is no longer a sponsor of UWM basketball. Jimmy John’s has taken over the vaunted rubber chicken catapult game and replaced the rubber chickens with sub sandwiches. While I may be much more likely to actually eat at Jimmy John’s (I had my first taste of Popeye’s while stuck in an airport two weeks ago, and thought I was eating fish at one point), it’s a lot less fun to watch sandwiches fly through the air than rubber chickens. I didn’t really notice if Jimmy John’s is giving away anything for free if UWM tosses down five dunks in a game this year, but it doesn’t really matter, since the odds of that happening are virtually nil.

8) Though he otherwise had a pretty decent night, one of the more entertaining moments of the night was when Parkside’s LaVontay Fenderson appeared to pop his jersey in front of the UWM band, totally unaware that he had just been called for an obvious charge after running Marcus Skinner over like a freight train.

9) The full court press was not a strong point for UWM last night, with Parkside twice going long to a guy who got behind the defense for an easy layup and a foul. Staying behind the offense on a full-court press is a pretty basic thing, but I suppose the basics were largely out the window for the Panthers last night.

10) Maybe the most mind-boggling moment of the evening was the UWM dance team’s halftime performance. Long story short, the dance team’s routine was performed to Pearl Jam’s "Better Man," a song with a long, non dance-worthy intro. I’m still not sure if it was the song which the routine was intended to be performed to, as there were a number of sound gaffes affecting the dance team last evening. But assuming that it was the right song, I’ll be interested to see what other non dance-worthy tunes the UWM team tries to force into its program this year.

11) Worst part about the game? It honestly seemed to me like the refs were trying to keep UWM in the game. Parkside got called for an incredible number of non-shooting fouls that seemed particularly picky to me. That’s probably the most discouraging thing about the night to me–UWM failed to win a game that at times, it seemed like the refs were trying to hand to them.

12) I was impressed by the UWM student section last evening. Considering that the game was an exhibition game against a division 2 opponent, and it takes some coordinating to get from the UWM campus to games downtown, there was a halfway decent crowd. Hopefully the play of the Panthers picks up, because it would be a shame to lose support like that.

And with the final buzzer, Adam I and I walked out of the Mecca saying the word "wow" to one another roughly 30 times. It was going to be an interesting season for UWM anyway, but things just got a whole lot more interesting.


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