Adjusting expectations

College basketball teams across the country usually enter a season with the expectation of advancing their season into March and into post season play. The Panthers however, are forced to enter this season against a different background due to a postseason ban put on them by the NCAA for low Academic Performance Rating scores. The Panthers season will indeed end at the end of the regular season, but there still will be plenty of expectations placed on the team and many reasons for excitement for Panthers fans. In this season, the definition of ultimate success will need to be redefined, not eliminated, by both the Panthers as well as their fan base.

The Panthers return many of the contributors from last years team that won the Horizon League Tournament and received an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Three of the Panthers five starters from last season return this year. Point guard, Steve McWhorter, returns for his senior season after staring ever game at point last season. Junior forwards Matt Tiby and Austin Arians are each looking to build off sophomore seasons where both averaged in double figures.

The Panthers also have plenty of experienced returning players that could slide into the starting line-up potentially. Guards Cody Wichmann and JeVon Lyle both figure to be asked for more scoring production in an expansion of their roles off the bench last season. Junior forward J.J. Panoske has the ability to either start or add depth to the forward position off the bench. Contributions from any freshman would be viewed as a bonus since they are an unknown at this point in the season. So the Panthers certainly have enough talent and experience on this roster to make for a very competitive if not good team this season.

Against that background what should be expected of the Panthers this season? What should be the definition of a successful season? There are several avenues through which the Panthers season can be defined as a success. The Panthers will face several highlight worthy games in the non-conference portion of the season.  The first of these games will come in the season opener when the Panthers travel to Auburn. This game is important for the Panthers because they will be playing against their former head coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl and his team will be fired up to play their first game together and it will be important for the Panthers to match their energy and effort to try and come out of this game.

Several weeks later the Panthers will have their biggest spotlight home game of the season on December 10th against Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers. There are several things that will makes this games important form the Panthers perspective. The Badgers open the season ranked 4th in the country in the coaches poll and it will be the highest ranked team that the Panthers face this season. Secondly, this game obviously is a match-up of two in state teams so there will be a tremendous amount of build-up going into this game. Thirdly, this game will likely generate the biggest crowd for any Panthers home game this season so it will be important for the Panthers to give a good showing from that perspective so that the crowd stays engaged in the game.

Another definition of a successful season for the Panther’s could be how well they perform in national television games. Partly due to their success last season and partly dues to the competition that they will be facing, the Panthers will be on some form of national television five times during the season. The national television games will be November 14th at Auburn on ESPNU, December 7th at DePaul on FOX Sports 1, December 10th at home against Wisconsin on ESPN2, December 22nd at Arkansas on ESPNU and January 9th at home against Green Bay on ESPNU. These games are important for the Panthers to have good showings in because they will have more publicity and coverage then games that are just televised locally.

A successful season for the Panthers could also be defined in how the Panthers perform in their home games. This past spring the University invested a significant amount of money for the naming rights of the building that was formerly called the US Cellular Arena to now be called UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. There is no better way for the Panthers men’s basketball team to pay off that investment than to win in the building that now has their name on it. If the Panthers are able to win in that building it should help with future marketing and recruiting efforts of the University.

A final definition of success for the Panthers this season would be winning the regular season league title. While the Panthers are banned from postseason play, they are eligible for the regular season title. Winning the regular season title would be the Panthers biggest sign of continued progress and continuing momentum off of last years NCAA tournament appearance. While winning a single game such as the Auburn or Wisconsin game would provide the Panthers with a one night high of good feelings, wining the regular season league title would be a consistent sign of success established over the period of a couple months worth of time.

The Panthers are not going to be able to have a successful season as it is defined through college basketball so it now becomes important for both the Panthers and their fans to use one of the above definitions of a successful season when evaluating the team this season.

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