Northwestern is set to play Milwaukee in the NIT on Wednesday night and Ken Pomeroy has them as a decisive favorite. The Panthers have played better late in the season, but they also won a lot of close games in the Horizon League, which kept their rating down at 148 - which is actually below three schools from the conference that didn't even make postseason play. Of course that's not going to stop Milwaukee from getting excited about the game. I brought in Jimmy Lemke of PantherU to give a little heads up about the Panthers.
5 Questions with Jimmy of PantherU
CCB - One of the toughest things to gage about the NIT is the mood of a team going in. Is Milwaukee happy to be in the NIT? Do you get the sense that the team is going all out for this appearance? Or are they bummed that Butler beat them on their home court and they'll have to play in the NIT?
JL - From the players I talked to, the hangover from the Butler loss is over. Yeah, we were all disappointed to lose in front of 10,500 at the Cell and the biggest student section in conference history. It was a very tough couple of days, but the fact that this NIT represents our fifth-ever postseason bid is a big deal to us. That it's against Northwestern, a wonderful university so close to our own, just adds to the fire. They were bummed for sure, but they're not lying down by any means. It's all business for Milwaukee now.
CCB - I've said repeatably that I think Kaylon Williams, not Anthony Hill, is the best player on the Panthers. Who do you think is the key to this team?
JL - Well it's obviously Kaylon Williams. The point guard's rise coincided with the 10-game conference winning streak. When he takes care of the ball, makes his shots and passes well, we win. When he does really well, we kill. For instance, he picked up only the second triple-double in school history during a 24-point schellacking of Butler back on January 3rd. I wouldn't say he's the best player, but he's definitely the one that makes the wheels go round.
CCB - What does this NIT appearance mean for the Milwaukee program? For seniors Hill and Tone Boyle specifically?
JL - Something that a lot of people outside the program don't know is the turmoil that coach Rob Jeter has faced. Despite a steady rise year after year, there were some in the university that questioned his ability to get us back to the Big Dance. They questioned his ability to win championships and develop talent. All of our seniors, but especially the development of Anthony Hill, proved this year that Jeter is the best man for the job. We're going to the NIT; with all its history and pomp and circumstance, Madison Square Garden and whatnot, it's definitely a special time for Milwaukee. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament every year, but failing that, the NIT is the best consolation prize we could ask for. It's a banner, something we don't have a whole lot of.
CCB - If there's one player that is going to make a difference in this game that's not Hill, Williams or Tony Meier, who is it?
JL - The great thing about Milwaukee is that there are so many players who have stepped up and carried the load at one point or another. Tone Boyle, Ja'Rob McCallum, even Lonnie Boga have had very good games this season. The program has guys all over the court that can win a game, and we don't need everyone to be hot. In fact, Tuesday night's loss was so devastating because no one was hot; it took the whole team going cold for us to lose that game.
CCB - From a pure numbers standpoint it appears that Northwestern's offense is uniquely designed to take advantage of Milwaukee's defense. Should we expect an efficient affair at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night?
I expect that the spread-it-out NU offense can give Milwaukee fits at times. There's no doubt that the Wildcats are a good team; their RPI is deceiving. It's funny, Milwaukee is such an unpredictable team and at the same time very predictable. By halftime, we should know who will win the game. If the Panthers score less than 30, they'll be hard pressed to win. If they score more than 36, they're going to go off on Northwestern. The defense can get the stops it needs to, but is definitely buoyed by the tone of our offense. If Northwestern can get the Panthers to force up bad shots and miss on offense, their defense is going to break down enough for Northwestern to win. I expect John Shurna [or whoever he guards] to have a hell of a time trying to score on Ryan Allen. Yeah, I said it, but I really believe it too; up in Milwaukee, we think we've got a Big Ten quality defensive guard in Ryan Allen. He's shut down Norris Cole, Shelvin Mack, and the best our conference has to offer.
I really think it's gonna be a great game.
One last note: Shurna won't be the only player that has a boot and crutches on game day. Meier has been seen with them in Milwaukee. Apparently he's ready to go for the game though.