The Panthers made major men's college basketball headlines last night; refreshingly it was for something good, and it was on the court.
Milwaukee blew out Iowa State on the road Monday, cruising 74-56 against a heavily favored Cyclones squad that had won 44 of its last 50 home games, made the NCAA Tournament each of the last six seasons and hadn’t lost an opener in Ames in 20 years. It was a non-conference buy game the Big 12 member was supposed to take easily; instead, the plucky Panthers had perhaps their best moment in two years.
The past 20 or so months have been a turbulent time for the program, particularly off the floor. To briefly recap: In March 2016, Rob Jeter was fired after 11 seasons as head coach, which provoked criticism of Director of Athletics Amanda Braun and speculation about the department’s motives. A month later, Milwaukee hired LaVall Jordan as Jeter’s replacement, but following an 11-24 season, Jordan left to become the head coach at Butler. In June, Northwestern assistant Patrick Baldwin was named the Panthers’ third head coach in three years.
Considering the rumored athletic department tumult, and especially the recent men’s basketball head coaching turnover, the reaction after their big win Monday night of Baldwin and his players was understandably exuberant and very fun to watch.
Given the transfer of several players from the Jeter and Jordan recruiting classes, and its overall struggles since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2014, Milwaukee’s expectations going into this season were low. The Panthers were picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Horizon League, according to a preseason poll of the conference’s head coaches, sports information directors and media representatives.
But Milwaukee beat Iowa State with toughness, balanced scoring and stingy defense, as six players scored at least eight points and the Panthers held the Cyclones to 38.1 percent shooting. That's a reliable recipe for an unproven-but-hungry group.
"That has to be our staple; we've talked about that a million times with our guys," Baldwin told the school’s website. "And we really preached that when we came out from (halftime) break, that the defense was going to have to carry us the rest of the way."
Even though rebuilding Iowa State wasn't expected to be the powerhouse this year it's been of late, routing a Big 12 opponent on the road is a significant accomplishment for a Horizon League squad with a new coach. It was a statement for the program, and a signature victory for Baldwin.
Positive feelings about the Panthers have been missing and much-needed the past couple of years. So whether it’s an early apex of the entire season or a sign of more success to come, if this is a modestly talented team or an intrepidly overlooked bunch, Monday’s win had lots of people happy about Milwaukee basketball – and that’s a good start.
This is not just our team...this is all of UWM’s team. Take ownership and have that civic pride in supporting your team!!! Go Panthers!!! — Patrick Baldwin (@CoachBaldwin23) November 14, 2017
The Panthers now return home for the Black & Gold Shootout, a tournament in which they’ll host Elon, Florida International and Concordia-St. Paul at the UWM Panther Arena this weekend.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.