A talk with Chris West
Michigan State fans know all about Duke from the teams' previous meeting on November 30. And Wisconsin fans already know a good deal about North Carolina State through simple ESPN-osmosis (Princeton offense, Julius Hodge, the seemingly perpetually hot-seated Herb Sendek, etc.).But where's an Illinois fan to turn for current in-depth information on the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers? (As opposed to 15-year-old in-depth information on their coach?) Wonk heartily suggests those fans turn to Chris West, the blogosphere's leading expert on the Panthers.In addition to being a Milwaukee resident, Wisconsin (Madison) graduate, and creator of one of the finest hoops blogs around (The Chris West Basketball Journal), Chris has followed UWM avidly all season--long before they were this popular (or this noteworthy to Big Ten fans). Wonk chatted with Chris about the Panthers' season, their thrilling tourney run, and tomorrow night's game against the Illini.Q. Chris, you graduated from Wisconsin in Madison and yet your blog, which I love, is equally devoted to Wisconsin-Milwaukee basketball. How did that come to pass?A. I grew up in Milwaukee and moved back after finishing school almost two years ago. I was drawn to UWM for a variety of reasons. Mainly, without easy access to Badger tickets (and they are still my favorite team) like when I was a student, I needed a college basketball fix. Marquette and UWM were in town and easy to get to. I actually grew up a Marquette fan, but they’ve been brutal to watch this year. Plus, I found myself simply having a lot more fun at UWM games this year. They’re almost like a secret here in town and I like being in on it. Marquette and Wisconsin get much more press in Milwaukee. Q. Not any more, I trust.A. No, but most of the time no one talks about UWM. Socially, it’s a school made up largely of non-traditional students and commuters. It’s not a place that elicits great loyalty. The Panthers are certainly an underdog in the NCAA tournament but the team (and the school itself) is pretty much an underdog at home every day of the year, as well. It’s tough not to root for that. And there’s a high nostalgia factor, as the Panthers play home games in the arena that used to be home to Marquette and the Bucks when I was growing up. That’s always fun to see. Q. For any few remaining fans who haven't seen the Panthers play, how would you describe the team?A. High energy. The Panthers like to get out and run. Their success is based largely on their ability to force turnovers in their full-court press and knock down three-point shots. There are only a few guys on the team that I would call particularly skilled players but UWM has athletes that can get up and down the floor. They can wear teams out, though that’s not really their primary goal. Coach Bruce Pearl worked under Tom Davis at Boston College, Stanford and Iowa, and you can see a lot of that influence in his full-court press, which is simple, but intense. Trapping immediately following the inbounds pass is their first order of business. It’s a fun style of basketball to watch, and you won’t be hurting for excitement if you go to a Panther game.Q. Yes, Wonk remembers being a wee lad and watching the 1-2-1-1 press run by Tom Davis at Iowa, keyed by tall geeky Brad Lohaus harassing the inbounds passer off of made baskets.... Now, walk us through the Panther starting five, if you will. What can we expect to see tomorrow night?A. Chris Hill: Quick point guard from Chicago. At the beginning of the year, he lost his starting job for a bit to Boo Davis, but Hill's back in the starting line-up more often than not, as UWM now tends to start the game with a quick three-guard lineup. More than anything, Hill's another guy to have running around disrupting people in UWM's trademark full-court press. He's adequate with the ball and can penetrate but he won't be the guy to stop for the Panthers. As long as he runs like a madman on defense and doesn't turn the ball over, no one will be upset.Ed McCants: The superstar. A transfer from Northwestern, McCants is the Horizon League player of the year and the team's go-to guy. He can do a bit of everything, but is most dangerous when he starts shooting the ball well. I was in attendance when he knocked down nine three-pointers against Detroit earlier this season. Q. Yikes.A. The guy can be nearly unstoppable when he's on. Against a team like Illinois, UWM's chances will be greatly diminished if he doesn't get into a rhythm. He'll pull up for shots pretty much whenever he feels like it, so sometimes he doesn't take the best shots in the world. That's OK, though. If I may use a stereotypical Wisconsin analogy--he's like a basketball version of Brett Favre--sometimes he'll toss the ball up in an ill-conceived manner, but if he's not doing that, he's also not doing the thing that makes him win games for his team. Q. Wow, the ultimate Wisconsin praise. How about the guy espn.com refers to as "Ronald (Boo) Davis"?A. Boo Davis: The athlete. Davis is the bald guy wearing the headband. He's a juco transfer, playing in his first year following an injury. Of everyone on the team, he's probably the most athletic. He's 6-3, but plays bigger than that, since he can leap out of the gym. Davis was in contention for the starting point guard spot at the beginning of the year. However, Hill has worked his way back into the lineup, and given Hill's more traditional point-guard skills, Davis has shifted over to one of the other guard spots in the three-guard lineup. He does everything well, but nothing spectacular. He's perhaps the most likely person to grab a steal and do some damage in the open court. Davis is far from the top offensive option on the team, but is capable of getting the job done when called upon.Joah Tucker: Second in command. Tucker's a transfer from Bradley who went to high school in the Milwaukee area. I remember when he was still going by the more workman-like name "Joe." McCants may be the Horizon League Player of the Year, but Tucker isn't too far behind him as the Panthers' best player. I wouldn't be totally stunned next year if Tucker became UW-Milwaukee's third consecutive conference player of the year. At 6-5, Tucker is a small forward who has some definite bulk to him. He is a decent enough three-point shooter but is better at slashing and taking the ball to the hoop. If McCants isn't finding his shot, Tucker's the guy that the Panthers will go to in order to get back on track. Perhaps the best quote of the year regarding Joah Tucker came from Air Force guard Antoine Hood, who, after his team lost to Marquette and UW-Milwaukee, remarked to a Milwaukee reporter "I would say Tucker is a larger, blacker version of (Travis) Diener." Indeed, both Tucker and Diener had huge offensive outbursts against Air Force but that's pretty much where the comparison stops. Diener and Tucker don't really play the same type of game (or even the same position), but you have to love that quote.Q. Yesterday in the blog I posted the PPWS numbers for every player in the Sweet 16 and UWM's Adrian Tigert showed up as number 2 out of 114 players, second only to Salim Stoudamire. What's Tigert's story?A. Adrian Tigert: The consistent one. Tigert was recruited to UW-Milwaukee out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin back when Bo Ryan was still leading the Panthers--and it shows, since he's exactly the type of fundamentally sound big man that Ryan prefers. Tigert's the only real post presence that will start for UW-Milwaukee. That being said, he's not a traditional big man, and has an inside-outside game, having hit clutch threes during both of UW-Milwaukee's games in the tournament. You're not going to see too many games where Tigert doesn't grab at least a half-dozen rebounds. He's one of the best defenders on the team, which is good, given his status as the only post player that starts. Recently I heard Rick Majerus comment that Tigert is really the unsung hero of the UW-Milwaukee team, doing plenty of things that don't always garner notice. I couldn't agree more. And it should also be noted that Tigert's game has noticeably changed and improved this year after he dropped 30 pounds in the offseason.Q. Anybody coming off the bench we should know about?A. James Wright is the sixth man and probably my favorite Panther player. He actually committed to play at Oklahoma but never became a Sooner, deciding he wanted to stay home and play for a smaller school. He's only 6-6, but he's muscular and generally looks intimidating. UW-Milwaukee's style of play and his own aggressiveness usually ensure that he'll have four fouls at some point in the game. He's also a horrid foul shooter--under 50 percent--with a shooting motion that resembles Shaq's. So he won't wow you in the stat column but the truth is he's one heck of a sixth man.Mark Pancratz is basically a walking stereotype: the scrappy white kid who runs around looking to take charges while giving his teammates a rest. And while I have no information on this next point, I theorize that he was the person that provided the champagne for the ill-conceived Panther locker room celebration following the Horizon League championship game.Jason McCoy is tall, skinny and long. Given the upcoming Illinois matchup, the best explanation that I can give of McCoy's bulk is that if he ever ends up standing next to Nick Smith, Smith will be the one that resembles the Incredible Hulk. Q. Again: yikes.A. During the last UW-Milwaukee game I attended, my friend Dez noted that the only reason that McCoy was given a scholarship (he's a transfer from Rutgers) is probably so that he could guard the inbounds pass on the full court press.Q. I have to be honest. Before these last two games, the only time I saw UW-Milwaukee play this season was the game they played against Wisconsin--and the Panthers looked (or were made to look) really bad. How did a team that struggled so against the Badgers take care of Alabama and BC?A. Of all the UWM games I've seen this year, BC was probably the best game that UWM has played all year, and Wisconsin the worst, so you’ve definitely seen the two extremes. Again, the Panthers like to run, shoot threes, and disrupt their opponents with their full-court press. It’s a system that can bury teams when shots are falling and the press can be set up, but it can also lead to lead to painful collapses when no one can find the bottom of the net. The first half of the Boston College game is a textbook example of the system working. UWM was shooting well, BC couldn’t handle the traps being set on the press and, consequently, began running around wildly to try to get the ball over the half-court line. So the Panthers consistently forced turnovers and looked as good as they have all year. Conversely, UWM came out flat against Wisconsin and shot very, very poorly. They couldn’t set up their press and on the occasions that they could, they were defending a well-coached Wisconsin team that didn’t panic. The key to keeping UWM down is not panicking. They may hit some shots, and they may get a steal or two, but if you run with them or lose your poise when they’re pressing you, that’s when they get dangerous.Q. What's your read on tomorrow night's game?A. First off, there’s a lot that will make this game an interesting story. There's the whole Bruce Pearl-Illinois saga, of course....Q. (Confused, flipping open a note pad) Really? What is that, exactly?....A. And then Bruce Weber is a UWM grad. Plus James Augustine’s uncle, Jerry Augustine, is the coach of the UWM baseball team. As for the game itself, I wish I could add a more profound analysis, but I’m sticking with the popular take on this game: It’s a bad match-up for UWM. As I’ve noted, UWM relies heavily on the full-court press, but I think Illinois will be ready for that. The guards for Illinois are very mature but I think something bigger than that will propel the Illini to victory. I’m a huge fan of Bruce Weber and I know he’s not taking UWM lightly. Weber won’t let his team lose its poise like BC did. He'll have the entire team, not just the guards (though having three ridiculously good guards can't hurt), getting to the right spots and working to break the press. Basically, I really like a Weber team when he has a week to let them know what to do. Once the pressure gets broken (and this, of course, assumes that UWM’s red-hot shooting will continue and allow them to set up the press), I think Illinois will be stronger in the half-court game. Really, the only semi-positive that I could come up with for UWM in this whole scenario is that Illinois has a short bench, and any foul or fatigue problems could severely hurt the Illini. The Panthers can’t put too much stock in that, though, since Illinois has played up-tempo ball all season and they’ve managed to avoid fouls and fatigue remarkably well. I don’t see why that would change on Thursday.Of course, I also thought Alabama was a terrible match-up for UWM, so read my opinion at your own risk.Oh, and if you’re looking for something in particular to watch tomorrow night, I’m going to be very interested to see how Ed McCants will get shots off with Dee Brown following him around all night. McCants hasn’t seen a defender like that all year, and believe it or not, Brown probably hasn’t seen a ton of guards with McCants’ combination of talent and a scorer’s mentality. In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... AP's All-America Team was announced yesterday: Andrew Bogut, Wayne Simien, Hakim Warrick, J.J. Redick, and Chris Paul comprised the first team. Second team: Dee Brown, Luther Head, Sean May, Salim Stoudamire, and Ike Diogu. It's official: Indiana coach Mike Davis will return for the 2005-06 season. Now he has to fulfill some high expectations.Wisconsin (and former Wisconsin-Milwaukee) coach Bo Ryan is profiled here by columnist Dale Hofmann of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (Ryan will make an appearance on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" this morning.)...Profile of Mike Wilkinson here....Mark Stewart of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says "it's not likely that the Wisconsin-North Carolina State game Friday will lead your favorite sports highlight show." Badgers'-eye views of the Wolfpack here and here....What if Devin Harris had stayed? Boastful speculation here.Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he goes deep into his bench for a reason: "This time of year, some (teams) have only six players playing and it feels like only six are involved. Everybody in (MSU's) practice knows they're involved with this team. I think it's made for better chemistry for our team, on the court and off the court."...Izzo is 0-4 lifetime against Duke....Profile of Shannon Brown here. Illinois guard Dee Brown has been named national player of the year by The Sporting News. Bruce Weber took national coach of the year honors....Brown was dee-hydrated (har!) and suffered cramping in his legs and stomach during the win over Nevada Saturday. Bruce Weber vows that the training staff will assure it won't happen again....Wonk's not saying the Illini's working press is confident that the season will extend past this weekend or anything but here's part one of what is promised to be "a week-long series" on assistant coach Wayne McClain. (Wow. Wonk doesn't even want to think of the karma implications.)...Will-this-really-help-recruiting? pondered here.The Chicago Sun-Times' Herb Gould isn't looking past Wisconsin-Milwaukee, mind you, but he still can't help contemplating a potential Elite Eight match up between the Illini and Arizona. The notion inspires Gould to recall the three games these teams played in 2000-01, culminating in an Elite Eight victory for the Wildcats over the Illini. But Wonk's favorite memory from those three games was the hilarious moment, nicely detailed by Gould, in the United Center in December 2000 when inveterate scrum creator Lucas Johnson got into a typically Johnson-esque tangle with oh-so-NBA-bound Richard Jefferson, resulting not only in a whistle but also in Lute Olson running onto the court, pointing to his own head, and screaming (with reference to Johnson) "He's nuts!" (Just writing this passage makes Wonk resolve to watch that on tape tonight.)Panther-palooza! Gregg Doyel of cbs.sportsline ensures that his email will be filled to overflowing for the next 30 years by saying Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl "absolutely" did the right thing in 1989 by taping a phone conversation with high school recruit Deon Thomas and turning the tape over to the NCAA. Wisconsin State Journal columnist Tom Oates says it's too bad that all the fuss over the Pearl-Illinois bad blood (known 'round these parts as the Geezer Meme; known elsewhere as "soap opera for guys") is taking away from what should be a euphoric time for the Wisconsin-Milwaukee program....James Augustine's uncle, Jerry Augustine, says he wishes his nephew well but he'll be pulling for Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is, after all, UWM's baseball coach....Panthers'-eye view of the Illini and their rabid fans here....Milwaukee-inflected profile of Milwaukee native and UWM grad Bruce Weber here. Profile of Bruce Pearl here. Profile of UWM guard and Northwestern transfer Ed McCants here. Two-headed monster profile of McCants and Joah Tucker here. Profile of scrappy Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther and Schaumburg, IL, native Mark Pancratz here. Profile of sixth man James Wright here.BONUS mostly-David edition of Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Joey Graham and PPWSWonk,I was interested to see your Sweet 16 PPWS rankings today. It was great to see Adrian Tigert of UW-Milwaukee up at number 2, obviously a major reason his team is still alive. My first thought on seeing the rankings was "I wonder how low Joey Graham is." Every time a pundit has talked about Oklahoma State in the past few days, they've mentioned that Graham has played "poorly," only scoring 15 points over two games, and that Ivan McFarlin has played lights-out. Not having actually seen either game, I had assumed they were right. Imagine my surprise when I saw:15. Joey Graham, Oklahoma State (1.28)16. Ivan McFarlin, Oklahoma State (1.28)Thanks for shedding light on the fact that despite Graham's low scoring totals, he's not hurting his team by jacking up a ton of missed shots. It looks like what has happened is more along the lines of McFarlin simply being more assertive on the offensive end and using up possessions that might otherwise be reserved for Graham.Informative as always. Go Illinois (at least until the final against UNC).David H.Thanks, David! Keep in mind, though, that the numbers take in the entire year. So Graham could indeed go on a Bracey Wright-esque spree of egregious bricklaying and it would show up as a dip of but .03 or so. (On the plus side, the media would then promptly select Graham as first-team all-Big-Ten. Missing a ridiculous number of shots apparently impresses the writers.)(P.S. Whaddya mean "until the final'?)If Wonk were a Hoosier....Dear Wonk,
If you were an Indiana diehard, what would you have wanted to see done at IU this past week? Would you have wanted to abandon ship on Mike Davis and go after Bruce Pearl or would you have stuck with Davis, thinking that Pearl is likely gone if Davis doesn't pan out? Would you have wanted neither Pearl nor Davis and, if this is the case, then who would you have liked to see take over IU, given its rich tradition and history?
If I were a Hoosier fan I think I would have gritted my teeth and barely--barely--netted out on the side of Davis staying. I think I would be telling myself that if Davis had had the schedule that Dan Monson had this year, then IU would have been dancing. But if I were going to go after a new coach I'd go after Rick Majerus. He may say no but my instinct is healthy: this is Indiana. I don't have to bother with the Bruce Pearls. There are very few coaches in the country that shouldn't be interested in at least talking.(Nor does Wonk buy into the meme that says 17-year-old recruits "nowadays" don't care about tradition and lore. That's doubtless literally true in particular instances but as a general rule it's quite a coincidence, to say the least, how tradition and lore seem to so often accompany steady streams of talent.)(P.S. As long as I'm a Hoosier, I'd also knock down that dreary oblong Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-esque monstrosity known as Assembly Hall, second only to Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor as the conference's worst venue.)In defense of the Badgers, day 2Yesterday Wonk posted a spirited rebuttal (from alert reader Sandon K.) to cbs.sportsline's Dennis Dodd, who had called Wisconsin "stultifying on and off the court." So when yesterday afternoon rolled around and your intrepid blogger saw still another piece with no love for Wisconsin (this time from espn.com's Pat Forde, who says the Badgers winning the national championship would be "the worst thing that could happen to the tournament"), Wonk simply sifted through the resulting avalanche of emails to find the one that, in keeping with today's theme, came from a David....Wonk,Finally, the eternal hatred of the Badgers (for that 2000 run) by sportswriters nationwide finally comes to the fore, now that they have a great shot at getting to the Elite Eight. I've been waiting on pins and needles for it to start up again. The world is finally back in synch. Will the Houston Chronicle have another "On Wisconsin and Don't Come Back" column? We can only hope. And my fellow Badger fans thought Dodd was irritatingly rough on the team. HA! Forde hits it out of the park. Way to go! Nice how he doesn't have a problem with Duke scoring less than Wisconsin in the tournament.Best Regards,David P.Thanks, David!BONUS token non-David email!Always room for a jolly good skewering of CBS Sports' answer to Mr. Burns....Wonk,I'd like to piggyback on Jeromie W.'s comments regarding Billy Packer. Haven't Packer and CBS violated some sort of Geneva Convention torture clause over the years? The end of yesterday's Duke-Mississippi State game provided a couple of prime examples of PACCer's defense of the ACC.
The first was when Duke was whistled for what could be generously described as a questionable foul. Packer blurted "People say Duke gets all the calls, but not today." Now, does that mean Packer also believes Duke gets all the calls (which they do) and the Mississippi State game was an exception to the rule? Or does he mean that Duke is unnecessarily criticized in general for receiving favor from the zebras? As always, he did not elaborate.
Secondly, when Mississippi State crossed halfcourt before calling a timeout, Daniel Ewing saw what was happening and attempted to make a steal. The guy from whom he stole the ball did not call the time out before Ewing got his hands in, but Miss State's coach did. Jim Nantz correctly said that Miss State got the time out. Packer yelled - yelled - "NO SIR!" Packer must not be aware that a coach - not just the players - can call time out and receive it. That's exactly what happened. This was another case of Packer not seeing what was plainly in front of him in his zeal for "Duke University."
Thankfully, that was all the Detroit affiliate showed of the Duke game Sunday, though we will most likely have to listen to Packer when the Spartans take on the Devils. This household will have the mute button glued down, however.
I'm imploring all like-minded Wonk fans to e-mail or call CBS Sports and demand that Bill Raftery is accorded his rightful spot in the color analyst's chair next season in Indy. Packer's terrible performances and shoddy predictions and calls necessitate his removal. We may be saved, though: If Carolina and Duke square off in the Final Four, Packer might hyperventilate from the excitement, and Raf would be called in from the bullpen. To paraphrase your fellow Springfielder, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this scourge of broadcasting may speedily go away."
Matt M.Thanks, Matt!