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UW- Milwaukee: Can They Hang Tough Again this Year?

It’s been five years since a team won back-to-back titles in the Horizon Conference. In 2000-01 the Butler Bulldogs did the deed and this year the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UW-M) repeated as league champs. They came into their tournament with a league best 12-4 record and were favored to win the Horizon title.

Last year under coach Bruce Pearl, the Panthers had quite a run in the NCAA Tournament, redefining March Madness as they beat Alabama and Boston College handily to make it to the Sweet 16. There they lost to number one seed Illinois, 77-63. Pearl, whose Panthers ended the season ranked 23 in the Coaches Poll, left for Tennessee and Rob Jeter was named the club’s head coach.

A new year brought a new philosophy, which focused on a slower, more deliberate game. Jeter stressed sound defense, passing to create the best shot, and a ball control game. Although critics said his style would lead to low point totals, and it did to a degree, there was no lack of games where UW-M scored 80 or more points. On the team stat sheet the Panthers beat opponents in every category.

As they head to the NCAA Tournament with Rob Jeter, the Panthers have something they did not have in 2005—experience. All of their starters—five seniors—were in the tournament last year. This season the bench is also fairly seasoned also with one senior and one junior and two sophomores contributing an average of 10 or more minutes per game.

The team offers a balanced attack, with forward Joah Tucker and guard Boo Davis each averaging a little over 16 PPG and forward Adrian Tigert hitting for almost 13 PPG. Guard Chris Hill is a handy ball handler and assist man while forward Jason McCoy offers solid inside defense.

How will this team fare this year? Can they make it to the Sweet 16 again or perhaps even the Elite 8 or the Final 4? It will be a difficult task. The Panthers play in a conference that is much less competitive than the Big East, ACC, USA, Big 10, Big 12 and many others. They are the only team in their league that has made the top 60 in the NCAA’s RIP. This year when they played Memphis (RPI ranking 4) and Missouri State (RPI ranking 21), the UW-M lost by 27 and 9 points, respectively.

Those two games probably say more than all of UW-M’s victories, conference championship, and team stats combined. Along with winning the Horizon a second year in a row will the Panthers repeat as a Cinderella team? Is it possible to be a Cinderella team in succeeding years? If it is, the UW-M is one team that has a chance to make it happen.

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