PantherU

Three-point defense could prove costly for Panthers

Note: Hey everyone! I’m sorry that I’ve been away from PantherU.com for quite awhile at this point. I took a step back to focus on work, and as such writing anything in-depth hasn’t really been possible, especially considering how long I drone on. I’m hoping to be back regularly, but it will still be spotty for the time being. If you’d like to blog for PantherU, feel free to shoot me an email at jimmy@pantheru.com and we’ll discuss it!

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With just weeks left before the Horizon League season, each team has enough under their belt to give us a fairly decent idea of where the strengths and weaknesses (oh boy, the weaknesses) are for the entire conference. Detroit Mercy may score 100 points in some games, but so will their opponents. Northern Kentucky is going to take care of the ball and take it from you. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a real problem outside the arc.

Milwaukee opponents are shooting a blistering 41% from beyond the arc against the Panthers. That number is solidly higher than every other team in the Horizon League – IUPUI is almost a full percentage point less – and a full 5% higher than the next-worst three-point defending conference contender, Wright State. Northern Kentucky and Oakland, the two teams picked to top the conference, are both defending the three very well (28.6% and 32.5%, respectively). If there’s any consolation for Panthers fans, it’s that we all play different schedules in the non-conference season so these percentages aren’t exactly apples-to-apples comparisons.

So how is Milwaukee’s three-point defense, really? First off, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s been awful in half of the team’s games where opponents are shooting higher than that 41% average from beyond the arc. So let’s take a look at some of those games, and the teams they played against.

Obviously missing Brock Stull for the Western Illinois game led to a whoopin’, but the Leathernecks are better than they have been in the past and are already a great three-point shooting team. WIU’s 40.4% is good for 31st in NCAA Division I right now, despite the fact that they’ve attempted fewer threes than half of the country. The Leathernecks were 16 of 25 from the outside against the Panthers, a ridiculous 61.5% and far better than their average. If you were to take those numbers out of their 78-for-193 season thus far, the Leathernecks would only be shooting 36.9% from three. Still good, but not amazing.

Against Montana State, the Panthers gave up nine three-pointers over 21 attempts for a 42.9% day. The Bobcats’ 37.6% season average is good for 92nd in the country, and without the Milwaukee game they’d still be shooting 37% from three. So while Milwaukee gave up enough threes to sink them, it wasn’t like Montana State had some out-of-character big number.

On the road at Wisconsin (ugh), the Panthers couldn’t keep the Badgers from hitting shots. Their 10-for-19 (52.6%) night was uncharacteristically strong for the Badgers, as they are only 256th in the nation in three-point shooting. Without the Panther game, the Badgers (72-for-221, 33%) would be shooting just over 31% on the season.

Elon shot 57.9% against Milwaukee (11 for 19), but they’re only averaging 32.9% on the season. This was a huge jump for the team, and the Panthers barely eked out a victory.

Jacksonville is only shooting 33.6% on the season from three, so while their 2-for-11 number against the Panthers was bad, it wasn’t extremely out of character. Northern Illinois’ 5-for-18 was actually a poor shooting night from outside for the Huskies, as they average 36%. Florida International’s 5-for-19 was also lower than their season average, as was Iowa State (3-15, 20% compared to 37.4% on the season).

The graph cut off the “l” in Florida International and I’m too lazy to fix it.

This spreadsheet breaks down what we just talked about, which is how Panthers’ opponents fared against them compared to the rest of their seasons. Iowa State, Florida International, Northern Illinois and Jacksonville all shot worse than their season averages from three against Milwaukee, while the other six shot better.

That may sound like three-point defense is hit-or-miss for Milwaukee and that their problems lay in other areas, but in most of the losses the Panthers have had this season – against Concordia, Wisconsin, Montana State and Western Illinois – the opposing team didn’t just shoot better than their season average, they destroyed it. Montana State shot 5.3% better than their season average, but Concordia (17%), Wisconsin (19.6%) and Western Illinois (21.1%) shot the lights out.

Simply put, Milwaukee has pretty major problems with their three-point defense that ranks 318th in the country. While much of the Horizon League has problems shooting the three – Milwaukee is one of six teams shooting under 33% – the fact is the Panthers have some tough players to guard on the perimeter in conference play.

Oakland has dual threats. Kendrick Nunn hasn’t played in three of their last five games, but if he does play he brings a 39.4% shooting clip from beyond the arc. His back court compatriot, Martez Walker, is playing every game and hitting 38.4% from outside. Neither are blow-you-away numbers, but the team as a whole has a green light with 35.5% from outside. Milwaukee opens with the Golden Grizzlies two weeks from tomorrow on December 28th.

The Panthers are doing well, better than most expected in the non-conference season. The question now surrounds whether or not the Panthers will be continuing without Brock Stull, who had an MRI on his knee Monday.

Milwaukee’s rise under first-year head coach Pat Baldwin hasn’t been entirely by surprise. The 2016-17 season was as rough as expected after the exodus of top talent following Amanda Braun’s Series of Unfortunate Events. There was silver lining, however, and that was opportunity for players to develop last season who would have otherwise remained in small roles had Rob Jeter remained coach in the final year of his contract. Had that core of Jordan Johnson, Akeem Springs and Austin Arians stuck around and been joined by another year of Chad Boudreau’s junior college plug-and-play recruits, several players would not have seen as much playing time in 2016-17 as they did. Brett Prahl jumped from four-and-a-half to nearly 20 minutes per game. Jeter recruits Bryce Nze, Jeremy Johnson and Bryce Barnes had plenty of time on the court, and so did LaVall Jordan’s recruits in Cameron Harvey, August Haas and especially Jeremiah Bell. There were minutes to go around, and player development was boosted for it.

Now it’s up to Baldwin to get those guys headed in the right direction on perimeter defense. Hopefully they take the next step against Belmont tonight.

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