Panthers open conference play with Wright State

A new calendar year and a new season, in a sense, will merge together for the Milwaukee Panthers who begin conference play on Saturday afternoon against Wright State at Panther Arena. Saturday’s home game against the Raiders and Monday night’s against Northern Kentucky are both critical for the Panthers to win. These games are important because they are the first two conference home games of the season – win both and it’s off to the races.
Wright State comes into this game playing their best basketball of the season, having won three games in a row.  Wright State is a good three point shooting team led by Senior Forward JT Yoho who shoots almost four three pointers a game. Yoho has hit three pointers at a 52% clip so far this season. He did not appear in either game against the Panthers last season due to an injury. As a team the Raiders make 7.5 point three pointers per game. Three point line defense has been a struggle for the Panthers so far this season as they have allowed nearly seven made three pointers per game.
In addition to Yoho, Raiders sophomore Grant Benzinger also attempts nearly six three pointers per game. If you combine the number of Yoho and Benzinger they account for nearly half of the Raiders made three pointers for the season. The Panthers need to make it a defensive priority to force them off the three-point line on the catch. Force them to catch the ball and dribble inside the arc. They cannot be allowed to shoot catch and shoot rhythm three pointers. Provide strong defense and a home atmosphere, and Wright State could crack. The Raiders have not won on the road yet this season in five attempts.
From an offensive perspective the Panthers need to be careful to not fall in love with three-point attempts themselves. The Panthers have shot almost 60 three pointers in the last two games. The Panthers have many excellent three-point shooters but becoming dependent on it is dangerous living, especially against the Raiders whose opponents only hit five three-pointers per game or under 30% by percentage. The Panthers need to get back to the offense that made them successful early in the season. Getting the ball inside first and forcing the defense to collapse then kicking the ball back out to the many talented three point shooters at their disposal.
These games are important partly because of how the schedule sets up. Following the home games on Saturday and Monday the Panthers will be looking at playing nine of the next twelve on the road including the next four. All conference road games are stacked together in either a four-game or five-game road trip. The Panthers will spend the final four conference games in the latter portion of February at home. The key to the conference season will be ensuring those games are important and meaningful. A good conference start at home will provide a stable foundation to navigate what lies ahead.

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