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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Will fans travel to see UWM on the road at the NCAA Tournament? (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Will Milwaukee travel for Panthers?


A big test comes up Thursday but it's not just about whether the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (or as it calls itself, "Milwaukee") can beat the third-ranked team in the nation.

Certainly the odds are stacked against the Panthers as they face Villanova, proud owner of a 28-4 record and winner of the regular season in the Big East Conference. Eight of the 10 teams in the Big East had .500 records or better.

The Big East doesn't compare to the Horizon League, where four of eight teams were above .500, not including Milwaukee, which finished the conference season with a 7-9 mark.

But the Panthers put on a stirring performance during the league tournament, first beating top seed Green Bay on the road and then soundly defeating Wright State, also on the road.

The team is playing with a lot of confidence and has the ability to get up and down the floor with the rest of them. Nobody has to spell out the number of times major upsets have taken place in the NCAA tournament.

But it's not what happens on the floor that is the only important thing for the Panthers.

It's going to be critical to see how many fans show up to cheer on this team.

Milwaukee is the second biggest university in the state. There are almost 30,000 students and thousands and thousands of alumni. The Panthers once again call U.S. Cellular Arena home, and still play occasional home games in the 4,300-seat Klotsche Center on campus.

The problem is, as it has always been, that very few people show much interest in Panthers basketball. They can't consistently fill the tiny places they play.

There is, of course, maniacal excitement about this NCAA berth. There are pep rallies, and yellow and black are all over the place. Cheerleaders cheer and players talk about "leaving it all on the court."

But the money question is how many people are willing to go to Buffalo to cheer this team on. Thursday's game will be televised on TBS starting somewhere around 8:30 central time.

I truly hope that thousands of people travel. One of the marks of a successful program is active and significant fan support. That's something that has clearly been missing from UWM, despite the success the team has had.

No matter how good the record, if students and alumni don't show up to follow their team, something is seriously amiss.

And if they can't raise a crowd, the Panthers might just as well play chess.


Talkbacks

pfan | March 19, 2014 at 8:10 a.m. (report)

@AndrewJ - My comment wasn't directed at you, but rather some of the more bitter responses below. I agree with you Buffalo isn't exactly the most glamorous of destinations... I won't be able to make the game tomorrow. Wish I could, but work commitments won't allow for it. I generally travel to an away game or two every year, and did attend the Sweet 16 game in '05. There are many on their way right now though. Let's hope for a W, and solid representation from Panther fans out east.

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Photodavie | March 19, 2014 at 8:01 a.m. (report)

pfan - Get over yourself. Read the article. Dave was optomistic thousands of Panther fans would travel to Buffalo to support the team. Commenters agree that will never happen. FYI Allstate arena is an hour drive. Buffalo is a 4 hour flight. HUGE difference. I will put a full page apology in the JS to you and the 10 faithful Panther fans if the more than 100 Panther fans are seen in Buffalo tomorrow night (relatives of the players excluded).

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AndrewJ | March 18, 2014 at 3:39 p.m. (report)

@pfan - Not tearing them down at all. Just don't see travel happening. Would be awesome if there were thousands making the trip. Are you going?

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pfan | March 18, 2014 at 3:12 p.m. (report)

I wonder where Begel's obsession with slamming Milwaukee basketball comes from? Denied admission to the university? Either way, it's amusing to see what the new metric is for success... Back in '05, some 3,000 to 4,000 Panthers supporters made their way to Allstate Arena to root on the team. More amusing are the few angry commenters that apparently want to follow Begel's lead. Disgruntled Marquette fans? Sad that some have to tear down to make themselves feel better.

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AndrewJ | March 18, 2014 at 12:58 p.m. (report)

Maybe if they made the side of the bracket playing in Orlando you'd get some kids travelling on an impulse. MAYBE. But Buffalo? There are probably parents of kids on the team making up excuses not to go.

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