Panthers looking for answers in Oakland

Two teams trending in opposite directions since their last meeting will be the headline as the Milwaukee Panthers continue their road swing Thursday night by visiting the Oakland Grizzlies. If the Panthers are going to get a coveted double bye in the conference tournament, Thursday night’s tilt becomes a must-win for the Panthers. Oakland has a 9-3 conference record compared to the Panthers’  6-5 conference record. That amounts to a 2.5 game difference. Oakland already won the first match-up of the season at Panther Arena and now the Panthers need to return the favor to work themselves back in the double bye discussion.
The Grizzlies have taken off in the right direction since their three point victory over Milwaukee. They have won all four of their games since. All of those victories have been by double digits and three of those occurred on the road.
Oakland continues to be led by Kay Felder. He has won conference player of the week on five different occasions. Felder is nine assists short of becoming the all-time assist leader in Horizon League Conference history. Felder is receiving national recognition as well as he was recently Named National Player of the week. He was selected as a top 25 finalist for the Wooden Award and a top ten finalist for the Bob Cousy award, an award that is given to the nation’s top point guard. Felder is attempting to become the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both assists and points. Toward that effort, he currently leads the nation in assists per game (9.0) and he is fourth in the country in scoring (25.2 PPG). He is the first player since Steph Curry in the 2008-2009 season to average 34.0 assists plus points combined per game. Felder has ten games of at least 20 points and ten assists. He has recorded 13 double doubles, the 14 highest total in the category nationally. The Panthers held Felder to 17 points with 12 assists in the first meeting. Felder is dangerous scorer but his ability to break down a defense and force it to collapse due to his ability to put pressure on the rim and score or draw fouls is what makes him a really dangerous player. This is what caused the Panthers the most defensive problems in the first meeting.
The Panthers were without Akeem Springs in the first match-up and he could prove to be a difference maker this time around. Max Hooper continues a remarkable statistic where all of his 195 shot attempts on the season have been three point attempts. Hooper ranks sixth in the country making an average of 3.6 three pointers per game. He was recently named number two on a list of best three point shooters in the country in an article published by bleacher report at the end of January. He has hit seven long balls in four different games this season. When he hits seven in one game the Grizzlies have a 3-1 record. Whatever defender the Panthers assign to him, I would declare that defender to be on Hooper. Meaning that defender never switches or rotates off him. Hopper hit several impactful long balls in the first contest, including the knock-out punch to the Panthers chances with under a minute to go in the game.
The third big piece in the Oakland offense is sophomore Jalen Hayes. When looking specifically at conference games, Hayes ranks second in the conference in rebounding (9.8 per game) and ninth in scoring at 15.3 (PPG). He has record 11 double doubles including seven during the conference season. Hayes recorded 14 points and ten rebounds in the first game against the Panthers. The Panthers need to eliminate the small periods of lapses that has cost them several games over the last few weeks. If they are able to do that they should be able to get a big win over the Grizzlies.

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