Milwaukee opens season in Bay Area tournament

A new season of Milwaukee Panthers Basketball begins this weekend with the team traveling to San Francisco to take part in the 49th Annual Cable Car Classic. The format for this tournament is round robin as opposed to bracketed so that means the match-ups and times for the weekend are already set as opposed to being results-dependent. So the Panthers will face Denver on Friday evening, Lipscomb Saturday evening and Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon. Here is a more in depth look at what lies ahead of the Panthers this weekend.
The Panthers will open the weekend Friday night by playing the University of Denver. The Pioneers are one of the youngest teams in the country. Of the 17 players on their roster, 13 of them or 76.5% of them are classified as freshman or sophomores. Denver finished the 2014-15 season in the top 30 in several statistical categories. The ranked 9th in free throw percentage (76.6%), 18th in field goal percentage (48%), 20th in fewest turnovers (338) 23rd in assists to turnover ratio (1.35) and 28th in assists per game (15.2). Their roster is comprised of six freshman on scholarship and six returning players.
Of the six returning players, three of them are seniors. Marcus Byrd averaged 8.7 points per game last season and 3.7 rebounds per game and hit 49.2% of his field goal attempts while starting 17 games last season. Nate Engesser averaged 10.1 points per game last season and hit 51.4% of his shots last season. Engesser also hit 82.9% of his free throw attempts. Byrd and Engesser combined to hit 101 three pointers last season.
The team’s final senior is Bryant Rucker, who averaged 4.7 points per game in eight starts last season. The Pioneers will look to their four sophomores to provide height to their roster as all of them are 6’4″ or taller. Denver is predicted to finish 8th in the Summit League this season. The Panthers have a significant edge in experience in this game and they should use that to their in advantage in the opening game of the season.
The Saturday game of the tournament will be against the Lipscomb Bison of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The finished last season with a record of 14-17 with a 7-7 record in conference play. The Bison will return all three of their starting guards from last season. Denny Talbott averaged 5.9 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game last season in just over 23 minutes on the floor on average last season.  Junior JC Hampton also returns to the backcourt where he averaged 7.5 points per game in an average of 26 minutes last year.
The Bison offense will be centered on junior Josh Williams. Williams led the Bison in scoring in 14 of their 31 games last season. He was the team leader in scoring last season averaging 16.9 points per game. He played 978 minutes last season on a roster where no one else played over 760 minutes. Williams made 48% of the 369 shots he attempted. He attempted more than 100 shots more than anyone else on the Bison roster last season. He has already been named to the Atlantic Sun Preseason All-Conference team. He was also named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Henson award, an award given annually to the top mid-major player in the country.
With the second leading scorer on last year’s team having graduated and other knew front court players around him the Panthers need to be fully prepared for Williams to go up with shots wherever and whenever he gets an opportunity. He is an extremely talented player and he is capable of hitting both two and three point shots. He hit 48% of his overall shots last season and 40% of his shots from long range. Williams is a top the scouting report player and how the Panthers handle him will determine the result of the game.
The final game of the weekend will be Sunday afternoon against the hosting school the Santa Clara Broncos of the West Coast Conference. The prior to games this weekend will be considered neutral site games but this game will go into the books as a road game. The Broncos went 14-18 last season and 7-11 in conference play. They return six of their top eight scorers led by junior guard Jared Brownridge who averaged 15.9 points per game and was named to the West Coast Conference all-conference team last season. His scoring average was the sixth highest in the conference last season and he had seven games last season where he surpassed 20 points. His 93 made three point field goals ranked him second in the conference last season. He played 35 minutes or more on 21 occasions last season. He is currently the school leader in free throw percentage (.862) and three point percentage (.434).
Sophomore forward Matt Hubbard was named to the West Coast Conference all-freshman team last season by averaging 6.8 points per game and four rebounds per game in just under 23 minutes on the floor per game last season. Also junior forward Nate Kratch started 19 games last season totaling 5.2 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game.
This weekend will provide the Panthers good competition this weekend. Playing three games in three days should provide the Panthers plenty of opportunities to try various combinations of players. It should also provide an early indication of how deep the roster is. The Panthers have a big experience advantage to the other teams in this tournament and while it is early in the season and it can be expected for all four teams to be feeling themselves out I expect the Panthers to have a productive weekend with nine players on the roster that have played at least one season entering this tournament.  

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