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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Get pumped, Milwaukee. The Panthers pulled off the seemingly impossible. Next stop: March Madness. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

A little crow for dinner as Panthers earn NCAA tournament berth


The Twitter world was abuzz last night after the UWM basketball team topped off an amazing run through the Horizon League championship with a 69-63 win over the Wright State Raiders in Dayton.

The victory earned the Panthers not only the league title, but more importantly, a trip to the NCAA basketball tournament – their fourth in team history and first since 2006.

The title was made even more remarkable because the Panthers were picked to finish last in the Horizon League in preseason polls.

Twitter was full of UWM fans proclaiming their joy and what many felt was the restoration of UWM as a basketball force to be reckoned with. Among the tweets, retweets and re-retweets were a few wondering if I would now apologize.

Before the season began, I predicted – as did the conference coaches – that UWM would finish in last place. Those coaches were wrong. And I was wrong. I admit it. My mistake, but that's life. Sometimes you guess right; sometimes you guess wrong.

I don't need to apologize for my prediction, and the Panthers don't need me to apologize. They proved they don't pay much attention to predictions and outside talk by roaring through the conference tournament, knocking off one big win after another.

They played top-seeded Green Bay on the Phoenix's home court in the semifinals and won convincingly. Before that game, Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said that if UWM managed "some miraculous way" to pull off the upset over Green Bay, Wright State was headed to the NCAA tournament.

Well, so much for all of that.

The Panthers enter the big dance with a 21-13 record and a 7-9 conference tally, good enough for fifth place in the nine-team Horizon League. Admittedly not the most impressive numbers.

But the Panthers were tough and resilient. They have this knack of playing lights out in the first 10 minutes of each half, and they then ride home to a victory. They are a workmanlike team without a huge star. They have a rugged front line with enough speed and endurance to get up and down the court all night long. And with the season on the line, they won four games in eight days – three of the four against higher-seeded foes – on their way to the title.

On the team's website, coach Rob Jeter was obviously ecstatic over the title.

"I'm so proud to represent the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the city, our fans, our team," Jeter said. "We all have battled through and persevered to bring home the Horizon League Championship for everybody that believed in us, and everybody that stuck with us through the good times and the bad.

"From day one, you could tell these guys really liked each other," he continued. "It's not really talked enough about in sports. A key ingredient to winning is you have to have a group of guys that really care about each other."

Right now, there's only one thing the UWM Panthers squad might care about more: who they play next. I guess we'll all find out when the bracket is announced late Sunday afternoon.


Talkbacks

bh2681 | March 14, 2014 at 2:49 p.m. (report)

The commenter above me nailed it on the head. Way to miss the forest for the trees. The backlash you got wasn't about making a poor prediction, it was for suggesting that UWM's basketball program was such a complete failure, it should be shut down. Your words: "We are a laughing stock in the world of college basketball entertainment. So, let's just throw in the towel and move on." Do you want to address that?

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pfan | March 12, 2014 at 2:13 p.m. (report)

I'm not sure that any Panther fan was looking for an apology for a prediction that aped what the rest of the Horizon league coaches thought before this season began. People make wrong predictions all the time. The original piece suggested shutting down the basketball program for lack of recent success. It also suggested that nobody cares about Milwaukee basketball, even though the Twitterverse was aflutter last night. So, the question remains: should Milwaukee still shut down it's basketball program? You know, the one that's headed for the NCAA tournament. Never heard mention of that in this piece. Lastly, it was Gary Waters from Cleveland State that made the remark about Milwaukee beating GB and WSU going to the dance, not Bill Donlon.

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