PantherU

Faith rewarded

Ant Hill scored 23 and pulled down 8 rebounds to wrap up a title.

It was at a point, about mid-January, when posters on the UWMFreak discussion board had reached an end.

 

There was a large contingent, growing by the day, that believed head coach Rob Jeter had reached the end of his tether, and it was time to let him go.  The team was 9-11, but the 4-5 record in the Horizon League halfway through the conference season.  And Jeter’s supporters, for the most part, had enough.

Arguments about Jeter’s job and the season were reaching their breaking point, and everyone was tense.  It had been five years since our last championship, and the arguments had gotten so heated and one-sided that it was just too hard to even argue in favor of the coaches.

So we didn’t.  We let them talk, and put our faith in the coaching staff that in the end, that faith will be rewarded.

In Jeter We Trust.

And here we stand, Horizon League Champions.  That isn’t to take away from Butler and Cleveland State, two very, very good basketball teams that will absolutely be playing in the postseason.  Co-Champions, for sure.  But the one seed, based on our 3-1 record against the other two (to Butler’s 2-2 and CSU’s 1-3) is all-important.  Because we want to play in front of the U.S. Cellular Arena crowd.  A small but loyal contingent is there during the season, but the Cell’s crowd grows enormous during the conference tournament, and that kind of home court advantage can’t be found at Hinkle or Wolstein (for us, I mean).

 

Coach Jeter weathered the critics and kept moving to a conference championship.

What’s lost in this is the fact that Jeter has built aprogram. Take a look at the class sizes.  Unlike Jeter’s first year, when Bruce Pearl had stacked the classes to have seven graduating seniors, Jeter has four seniors, three juniors, four sophomores, and one freshman who have played significant minutes this season.  Our seniors – particularly Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle – are the drive behind the team, but they’re not the whole team.  Next year, the focus is behind Tony Meier, Ryan Allen and Kaylon Williams.

Coach Jeter, along with Brian Bidlingmyer, Chad Boudreau, and Duffy Conroy – have put together a program that won a conference championship this year, yet has the balance of classes that guarantees we have a shot at a conference championship next year; perhaps even an at-large resumé if the team takes the non-conference season seriously.

But the task at hand is winning the Horizon League Tournament, adding a second banner to the 2010-11 season and, with it, the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

We don’t yet know who we will play; our side of the bracket has Valparaiso hosting Youngstown State on Tuesday and Detroit hosting Loyola that night as well.  The winners face off on Friday in Milwaukee, and the winner of that gets the unhappy task of beating the #1 seed at their house on one day’s rest.

The Panthers have a 6-2 record against their side of the bracket, with losses at home to Loyola and on the road at Valparaiso.

And for today?  Celebration.  We can take a break, bask in the glow of the greatest regular season comeback in conference history, and get ready to defend the Cell.

The team goes back to practice ready to win two games and go to the Big Dance.  The fans?  Do your part and get everybody excited for the conference tournament, which has only been here four times before.  Milwaukee is 3-1 in Championship games, but we won’t even get that chance if the team falls flat because their arena is stagnant, quiet and more empty than full.

Now, some videos courtesy of Kevin O’Connor:

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