Why I’m okay with being picked fifth

After the Horizon League’s coach and media predictions came out, I was hoping for a third-place pick, expecting a fourth-place pick, and dreading a fifth or lower-place pick.

Ho hum.  Milwaukee was picked for fifth in the Horizon League this season.

I expected to have something out on the preseason picks shortly afterward, but due to some new developments (which I’ll get to in a second), I was forced to push this back.

The extra time, however, allowed me the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the situation.  I looked over our roster as if I was a fan of Valpo, or Butler, or Youngstown State (I hear they exist).  As such, I’ve pinpointed the reason people would vote us fifth or lower (or seventh, which is what Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette did).

We have too many unknown commodities.  Breaking down the roster, I’ve come to the realization that we only have six players that Horizon League media and coaches are very familiar with and don’t have some mystery to them: Ja’Rob McCallum, Lonnie Boga, Jerard Ajami, Anthony Hill, Tony Meier, and Ryan Haggerty.

Now, this is what the general Horizon League fan knows: Ja’Rob McCallum was conference freshman of the year.  Lonnie Boga is a fiery 2-guard that had a pretty good freshman season.  Jerard Ajami was a starter for much of the season, but didn’t have a big impact as a junior.  Anthony Hill started the year slow, but picked up big time and became one of the best forwards in the conference as the season dragged on.  Tony Meier seemed to regress from his freshman year, which was very good, but regression is regression.  Ryan Haggerty was non-existent in the early year, but his rise to starter status coincided with the team’s 9-2 finish.

That’s what a fairly knowledgeable Horizon League member of the media will know about our program.

Now, we’ve seen in the summer games that Jerry Ajami has picked up his game; this is good, but if the conference expects him to start the entire season, then that will not help their expectations for our program.  Our coaches believe in him, but his numbers haven’t warranted that same respect from our opponents.

Ryan Haggerty didn’t post big numbers even when he became a starter, but Butler and Cleveland State both know what he is capable of as a role player.  The best thing about the previous two guys? They’re walk-ons, with Haggerty as a preferred walk-on.  Our scholarship players are still to come.

For the general conference fan, our team has a lot of mystery.  Panther fans often note Kaylon Williams’ stat of leading the MVC in assists as a freshman, but other fans will see a player leaving Evansville for a JUCO; what happened that made him leave that program?  We know that he legitimately wanted to be closer to home, but the question lingers for those who aren’t dedicated to the Black and Gold.

Kyle Kelm committed to Milwaukee without many big offers.  He did have offers from Marquette, Oregon State and a handful of other high-majors, but those offers fell by the wayside after he broke his foot.  After healing and committing to Milwaukee, Kelm showed that not only did he not lose a step, but he got better as a senior.

Ryan Allen is a JUCO guard, the younger brother of an NBA mainstay who averaged around 10 points in a decent JUCO league.  The thing is, so do a lot of JUCO guards, so people see Allen as an unknown quantity.

Evan Richard, should he play and not take a redshirt, had no other D-I offers on his plate.  In the eyes of other teams’ fans, that’s enough to strike him off the books.  What they don’t know is Cuba City was undefeated for much of the season based on the fact that Richard was scoring 20+ points per game in the first half and then sitting much of the second half as a senior.  As a junior, he scored 50 against Brookfield Academy.  They’re far from a powerhouse, but you don’t just score that much without being very talented.

Mitchell Carter, they’ll say, spent much of his career at South Carolina sitting on the bench for a ho-hum SEC team.  But if you look close at the box scores, you’ll see that Carter was being played a couple minutes a game at the end of games, maybe once or twice a month.  It’s obvious that the coach was just trying to burn through his eligibility, which is a joke and should make his homecoming all the more sweet.

Another transfer coming in will be Christian Wolf, who had marginal numbers for a marginal program at Florida Gulf Coast.  That’s all well and good, but the fans in Green Bay and Valpo are spouting off about the importance of height (they both have incoming 7-footers) and Wolf is 6’9” and likely a deep option for the post.  The point is, we’re not going to be looking for much out of Wolf, and for what we’re putting into him, we may get a steal; unlike Hroje Vucic or Alec Brown, Wolf is a bit shorter but a legitimate 250.  He’s going to be a load for anybody to handle.

These players are seen as unknown quantities because the opposing teams’ fans, media and coaches haven’t seen them, don’t know much about them, and have been hearing all about their own recruiting classes or how great their team is.  But one player may have the most mystery of all:

Tone Boyle.  Rob Demovsky, the beat writer for Green Bay who I very much enjoy, labeled Boyle a ‘chucker’ as he garnered second team all-conference as a junior.  As you all know, Tone spent last season on the bench with major back issues, one of the killers for college careers.  However, many months have passed since Boyle returned to full contact; every time I’ve seen him play, I’m paying attention to how hard he is pushing it.  And let me tell you, it’s as if nothing has happened.  Could he tweak it and be done?  Sure, but he also could go twenty years before having back problems again.  In either case, the next reason for my optimism is the load Boyle will handle.

Demovsky and other fans will remember Boyle as the second team player, the one who toiled for 35 minutes per game and led the team in scoring.  What I will point to is the roster during his junior season: look at our guard corp.  After Avery Smith, Boyle and Franklin, what guards did we have?  Deonte is the only one of any consequence.  That was a team that had Deion James on the court for 12 minutes and Zach Holt on the court for three on average.  Where would Roberts, James or Holt be on this roster?  They’d be chasing McCallum, Boga, Allen, Ajami.  The last guard on our roster appears to be Patrick Souter, whereas that year it was Zach Holt.  Souter will be a good player in the long run, but did you see his 18-1 assist to turnover ratio in Italy?

The point I’m trying to make is the rest of the guard corp has grown around Boyle.  There’s no way he’ll attempt 183 three-pointers.  He just won’t be on the court that much.  Partly to protect him from potential injury and save him for the long haul of the season, and partly because McCallum, Boga and Allen are worthy shooting guards who have a place at the table.  The same goes with Evan Richard.

So, that in a very big nutshell is the reason I am not too worried about our fifth-place preseason ranking.  They’re given too much weight by people anyways.  After all, didn’t Butler get picked for sixth in its Sweet 16 year of 2006-07?

Anyways, the reason that it took me so long to put this out?, an excellent national blog that has brought me on as its Horizon League correspondent.  I’ll post a link when my Horizon League primer hits the internets.


  1. Coogles

    October 22, 2010 at 9:36 am

    The Panthers have more known quantities than Detroit. I think you can make an arguement for Cleveland State (which I did) and Valpo (which I didn’t), but I think Milwaukee is going to be one of the best teams in conference this year.

    The top of their rotation is experienced and has shown the ability to play. I debated my #2 pick between CSU and Milwaukee for awhile and basically flipped a coin.

    This relatively unbiased observer is with you. I think Milwaukee should expect to be in the top 3 by the time the season is over.

    • Jimmy Lemke

      October 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm

      Good to know I’ve got coogles on my side.

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