Unbelievable Panthers Now Dancing in March

Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressively fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

New York sportswriter Red Smith wrote this 63 years ago when Bobby Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to win the National League pennant for the New York Giants in 1951, but Tuesday night, the phrase seems to fit perfectly to express the incredible shock that the Milwaukee Panthers, a team that went a mediocre 7-9 in Horizon League regular season play, somehow, someway, put it all behind them and played their finest basketball of the year to win the conference tournament and are now in the NCAA tournament.

And to do it, the Panthers stayed the course that had carried them to this position. They played to win and did whatever it took for them to do it. They made the key shots, made the critical stops, made the necessary free throws, and showed no signs of being the same team that, after going 10-4 in non-conference play, went flat against the Horizon League. They asked for the stars to shine, and they did. They asked for the bench players to contribute, and they did. They played with heart and fire, and have become rewarded for it.

Even more so, the Panthers made everyone around them believe; their coach, their fans, and most importantly, each other. They believed that they were better than their Horizon League regular season record indicated. They believed that they could make a run in the conference tournament, even when the rest of Panther Nation felt it to be otherwise.

It had to be seen to be believed, and the Panthers have shown it to be so. They refused to be intimidated, not by Valparasio, who swept them out the arena both times in the regular season; not by Green Bay and their 24-5 regular season record and a supposed dream season; and not by Wright State and the fact that Rob Jeter had never won in the Nutter Center.

The Panthers were more than ready to put that past history behind them and make their own history, which they did.

They became the first 5 seed since 2002 to play in, and win, the Horizon League championship game. They became the first team to ever force the Horizon League championship game, since the tournament went to its current format in 2003, to move to a new venue after the semi-finals. And now, they’re most likely the first ever Horizon League team to be predicted to finish dead last, and win a trip to the Big Dance.

Now, the question is, where do the Panthers go from here? After they find out where they will fall in the bracket, is it really a stretch to say this team could pull up a couple more upsets? They’ve already made the incredible and improbable possible, what’s another big surprise win or two to them? They still have nothing lose and if they can keep playing that way, which they probably will, they can keep adding on to the legendary season that this has become.

Believe it.

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