For the next entry in our look back at the decade of the 2000's in UWM men's basketball, I thought I would step away from reflecting on our side for a moment and put together a quick list of the best opponents UWM faced over those 10 years.
In all cases, these are non-league opponents. Within Horizon League play, the Butler teams of the early 2000's were probably the best UWM saw, though honestly the UIC team in 2003-04 was as talented as any league opponent Milwaukee has faced in the last 10 years.
But, in the non-league, here is a quick top 10 and some honorable mentions ...
First those honorable mentions, all from the mid-major ranks. I would include a pair of Bracket Buster opponents in there, with Southern Illinois in 2003 and Manhattan in 2004. My personal favorite, though, was the Montana team in 2005-06. Maybe it was the crowd and the whole atmosphere, maybe it was the god-awful officiating UWM was able to overcome, maybe it was that Missoula was a really cool place to visit, but the Grizzlies were a solid club that made the second round of the NCAA Tournament that year.
#10 - Wisconsin in 2002-03. The Badgers were unranked when UWM lost to them in the Kohl Center but wound up in the Sweet 16.
#9 - Marquette in 2007-08. You could put the 08-09 team at this line, too, as I suppose there wasn't a ton of difference between those two squads. But, with the beat-down they laid on the Panthers at the Bradley Center, this Golden Eagle team gets the nod.
#8 - Boston College in 2004-05. One could make a strong argument for placing this team higher on the list, because it was #1 in the country at one point during the season. But, the Eagles struggled late and UWM took full advantage in the NCAA Tournament Second Round. If not for a slow start and a ton of BC free throws, UWM would have won easily. The Eagles were 14th at the time of the game, making them the highest-ranked opponent UWM has ever beaten.
#7 - Wisconsin in 2006-07. The Badgers were #7 when UWM went into the Kohl Center, and eventually rose all the way to #1. If not for an untimely injury, Wisconsin may well have been in the Final Four and wound up much higher on this list. But, that Badger team was knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by UNLV.
#6 - Kansas in 2004-05. At the time the game was played, everyone would have thought this team would rank much higher on this list. But, the Panthers seemed to expose some things in the Jayhawks that they never really got solved. And, a team that was #2 in the country when UWM faced them at Kemper Arena wound up knocked out by Bucknell in the NCAA Tournament.
#5 - Wisconsin in 2004-05. At the time the Panthers went into the Kohl Center in mid-December, the Badgers were unranked. But they drubbed the Panthers on that day and wound up going all the way to the Elite 8. We can leave it to Badger fans to decide if this was, in fact, Wisconsin's best team of the decade. But, considering they went to the Elite 8 and beat a Sweet 16 Panther team by almost 30 points, they have to get the highest nod of all UW teams on this list.
#4 - Illinois in 2000-01. What more do I need to say besides the final score - 85-44? Sitting at floor level watching Illinois play that night was a sight to behold, though not a very pleasant one from the Panther perspective. Dunks, runouts, blocked shots and a long four-hour journey back from Champaign. The Illini shared the Big Ten title and went to the Elite 8.
#3 - Memphis in Preseason NIT in 2005-06 season. When we got to the FexEx Forum for the game, we thought there was a Grizzlies game that night based on what Memphis looked like in warmups. And the Tigers did not disappoint, rolling past the Panthers. Memphis wound up in the Elite 8, falling to UCLA.
#2 - Illinois in 2005. What might be most noteworthy here is that you can make an honest argument that if the game between UWM and Illinois were played somewhere besides Chicago, it might have gone down to the wire. But, the talent and crowd were too much for the Panthers to knock off the Illini, who wound up falling in the title game to North Carolina. But make no mistake, that team was loaded, and the success a couple of those guys have had at the next level should show you that.
#1 - Florida in 2006. Hard to argue with this one, considering the Gators won the national title. This team was beyond loaded and got to play UWM in Jacksonville. But just look back at the roster ... Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and it goes on and on. That was a squad, and undoubtedly the best the Panthers saw in the 2000's.