Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Few Men's Basketball Things

In the midst of working on a bunch of season wrapup stuff that will appear on the main site over the next few weeks, I did want to drop in a few additional men's basketball notes here on the blog.

First, in case you missed it, here is Rob Jeter's take on Butler as it heads to the Final Four.

Next, I've been doing a bunch of record updating and one of the things of note this year would be the freshmen-year records, which we've been working on putting together. Actually, we're in the midst of getting year-specific records together for freshmen-seniors, both for season marks and single-game marks. I'll put all of those supplemental records on the main site when they are complete.

But, on the freshmen front, Ja'Rob McCallum's 241 points are now fourth on the post-1990 freshmen list, and his 42.3 percent shooting clip from three-point range tops that list. He is also fifth in three-pointers made (44). Lonnie Boga is now first and McCallum second on the games played list, with Lonnie having played in all 34 games and Ja'Rob in 31.

Finally, a quick look at the schedule for next year - based on signed contracts - has Marquette, Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Northern Iowa all coming to Milwaukee. UNI and UWM will actually be starting a four-year series. You'll recall the two Panther squads played a home-and-home in 06-07 and 07-08, with UWM playing in the first-ever game in UNI's new arena. The two schools took a couple of years off with the full intention of restarting the series when schedules allowed, and now that series will resume for the next four years. The two coaching staffs have an excellent relationship that actually dates back to when Greg McDermott was still at UNI.

McCafferty Trophy Update

The latest Horizon League McCafferty Trophy standings have UWM tied for the top spot and it looks like quite a battle for the Panthers to hang on and win another crown.

Only a few opportunities remain for Milwaukee to add points, while Butler - the school tied with UWM - typically scores points in the spring sports of golf and tennis.

Basically, UWM has two ways remaining to add points - baseball and women's tennis. The Panthers cannot add points through track, as UWM is already credited with the maximum number of points after winning both indoor crowns. The indoor and outdoor championships count as one "sport" for McCafferty purposes, meaning the Panthers could actually lose points by not finishing first in track this spring.

On the men's side, you count two priority sports (among soccer, basketball and baseball) and the next three best finishes among all sports. For UWM, that is full points for track and swim, plus points for cross country and basketball. Then, the Panthers could add points with baseball.

On the women's side, you count three priority sports (among soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball) and the next three highest finishes. For UWM, that's full points for soccer and track plus points for volleyball, swimming and cross country. Again, the Panthers could add points for tennis.

For Butler, which is tied with UWM at 46 points, points in sports like men's or women's tennis and men's or women's golf - all places the Bulldogs usually do well - would likely put the total out of reach.

UWM is also trying to hang on and win another women's all-sports trophy. The Panthers currently have 27 points to 20 for Butler.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting to know: Charlie Gross

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Athletic Department welcomed Charlie Gross as the new associate athletic director-finance, Director of Athletics George Koonce announced in early February. Last month, we sat down with him for an opportunity to get to know the newest member of the UWM staff.

It’s been just a few days, but how are things going?

“It feels great … it feels good to be a Panther. I told people [the first day] that I felt a little bit like a first-grader with big eyes, a little anxious when I got here. But I settled in. People are very welcoming, very friendly. And, knowing that there hasn’t been anybody in this position for a few years, it means there are just a lot of pieces and loose ends that will take time to fully understand. It’s a process to fill this position.”

What made the job so appealing?

“I think it’s just an exciting time for UWM Athletics. I think with a new athletic director and the bold vision that George has, it has generated excitement. There is talk of growth, talk of facility enhancement. The opportunity to grow and develop with a program professionally made it a very exciting and appealing opportunity.”

Tell us a little bit about your background:

“I spent a good amount of my professional career in college athletics as a basketball coach and dabbled a little bit with soccer. I moved around at the NCAA Division III level and had a little exposure at the Division I level as an assistant coach. I made the transition from coaching to athletic administration by working in the high school setting. I was an assistant athletic director at Eden Prairie High School – a very large high school in the Twin Cities with 3,600 students and a very successful athletic program. For the past seven and half years, I have been the athletic and recreation director at Homestead High School for the Mequon/Thiensville School District. And when the opportunity developed at UWM, I thought it was a good time professionally for me to make a change.”

What is your plan of action for the first month?

“Everybody keeps asking me from the outside, ‘Is this a new position?’ And I tell them, it’s been there, it just hasn’t been filled. But in actuality, it is like a new position for the department just because of the vacancy. So, right now, I am just a sponge. That is my approach … I am all ears and all eyes. Listening, looking and seeing what the processes and procedures are. Learning about the whole budget process, the finances and the infrastructure of the department. I need to take time to get to know people. Find out from the coaches and other administration what they feel they need out of this position and then try to mold the position into that. I don’t know that there is a blueprint for what needs to be done or how to do it – I wish there was one. We are creating the blueprint for the position every day.”

What is your vision?

“This position is here to service the coaches and the student-athletes. A year or two down the road, I want people to say, ‘What did our department do with that position vacant for so long?’ I am here to help George implement his vision and assist in leading the department, university, and community down the path to get us there.”

How does your background help you out with this position?

“In all of my professional experiences – money, budget, fundraising – all those things came easily to me. So, when the combination of responsibilities came out for this job, I thought, ‘Hey, I can provide fiscal management to the department and be good at it’. But that’s not the only thing I like doing. I come with a background of being an effective athletic administrator at two very successful high school athletic programs. I love working with coaches, spending time with student-athletes and helping give them the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. This is something that I take great pride in. I have demonstrated an ability to work with a variety of people. I bring a lot more to the table than someone who can work with number so the department is fiscally sound. For example, at the basketball game last night (vs. YSU Feb 15), I knew a lot of people in attendance. The fact that I did not have to physically move my family for this position and I already have established relationships outside the university setting can only be a positive. I have an understanding of Milwaukee and the community.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Panthers Open Spring Season With Contest At Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women's volleyball team opened its 2010 spring schedule with four sets of action against Wisconsin at the UW Fieldhouse Saturday.

The Panthers dropped the first three sets before winning the fourth. The coaches had agreed in advance to play four sets.

Scores were 25-23, 25-17, 25-21, 21-25 in favor of the Badgers.

Jena Berg led Milwaukee with 13 kills and 19 digs. She hit a solid .250 in the contest and was the only Panther player in double figures.

Melissa Jansen came off the bench to add seven kills while hitting .294, while Anna Bartz added 11 digs defensively.

UWM hit just .092 over the four sets, but limited Wisconsin to a .141 hitting clip.

The Panthers play their next spring contest April 1 against Loyola.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

MBB Decade of the 2000's - Rivalries

As the later rounds of the Horizon League Tournament are upon us, the games mean more and the memories last that much longer. There have been plenty of memories, good and bad, for the Panthers over the years in the league tournament. Many of those games helped frame rivalries.

It is in that context that I thought I would talk rivalries today in the latest entry looking back the decade of the 2000’s in UWM men’s basketball. I’ll cut to the chase, because there are really only three options in picking Milwaukee’s biggest rival over the last 10 years.

I am not here to make a final declaration on the biggest rival, as I really do think that comes down to the fans. Their interest or lack there of will accelerate or kill a rivalry quickly. Instead, let me present the three options, with a few thoughts or reminders on why that school might have been the biggest rival of the last decade.

Let’s start first with the school just 90 miles or so up I-43 in Green Bay. It is definitely a “built-in” rivalry, because two schools from the same state in the same league are bound to become adversaries.

But, let’s face it, the two schools never really met in an important game in 10 years. In fact, Green Bay beat UWM in each of three seasons the Panthers went to the NCAA Tournament, but obviously none of those losses kept Milwaukee from going to the Big Dance. The two schools also met just once in the league tournament in 10 years, and that was in the quarterfinals in 2000.

Still, even beyond the in-state part, the Phoenix is clearly on the rivalry chart. There was the infamous dust-up between Green Bay head coach Tod Kowalczyk and UWM associate head coach Tony Jones during the 2003-04 season. Even before that, there was no love lost between the two coaching staffs.

There were also battles on the recruiting trail, with plenty of headlines made in the recruiting of Ryan Tillema and Mike Schachtner to GB. Ironically, after Bruce Pearl battled to get both of them, he never wound up coaching against either one of them when they went to Green Bay. Beyond Loyola and occasionally Valpo, Green Bay is really the only other league school UWM truly finds itself recruiting against directly.

Finally, the competition has been fierce through all 10 years of the decade. In UWM’s best years, GB would pull off an upset. In Milwaukee’s 9-22 season, that ninth win came at Green Bay on the final day of the regular season.

Next, we talk UIC. There is a definite geographic element here that helps, with the two campuses also separated by about 90 miles. And, you can never go wrong with a Wisconsin/Illinois or Milwaukee/Chicago battle, and somehow that was always more apparent with the UWM/UIC contests instead of the UWM/Loyola contests.

But the UWM/UIC rivalry is defined by one thing, and that is the very personal rivalry between Bruce Pearl and Jimmy Collins. I don’t imagine I need to rehash all of the details there, but suffice it to say the Horizon League has never experienced the level of animosity between two coaches like Bruce and Jimmy. Both coaches were even ejected once against the other, while there were battles over handshakes, signs in the stands, gestures to the crowd and treatment in the media.

Still, if both teams were .500 when those coaches were in charge, the juice in the rivalry would fade quickly. Instead, there were battles in the 2003 league tournament semifinals and the 2004 league tournament finals. There were also regular season contests with a ton on the line, like Senior Night 2003 for the Panthers. Even in 2002, UIC won at the buzzer at home and then beat Milwaukee in the league tournament en route to an upset berth in the NCAA Tournament.

So, for whatever the rivalry loses for the years outside of the Bruce/Jimmy days, it clearly had enough juice in those seasons to carry it for a decade. And, truth be told, there is still always a certain buzz in the crowd at The Cell about beating UIC, as many Panther fans will probably always hold a grudge over some of the events of those earlier days. I am sure the same thing can be said about many UIC fans, too.

Finally, there’s Butler. In some ways, everyone in the league wants to consider Butler to be their biggest rival, simply because the Bulldogs were on the top of the league more than anyone in the last decade. But, the game note I use every time we play Butler tells the story of this rivalry in capsule form …

Recent seasons have seen a number of memorable contests between Butler and UWM, including a pair of meetings in league title games. Dating back to the 2000-2001 season, four meetings between the two teams have gone into overtime while four others have been decided by three points or less. Each team has also claimed a win at the buzzer. In Indianapolis in 2002, Clay Tucker hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to give UWM a win. Then, in the final game of the 2003 regular season in Indy, Avery Sheets hit a three at the horn to give the Bulldogs a 76-74 win. In 2005-06 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, A.J. Graves hit a three at the end of regulation to force overtime before Butler pulled out a three-point win. In 2007-08, Ricky Franklin hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime at the U.S. Cellular Arena, though the Bulldogs pulled things out in the extra session. Last season, UWM's win in Milwaukee came as the Panthers hung on for a three-point victory after leading by as many as 13 points in the second half.

Of course, you can add this year’s thriller at The Cell to this list, too. This rivalry goes to the top in many people’s minds because these were the league’s two best teams of the decade. Perhaps the only thing that diminishes it is that there were some years of dominance by each when the other team wasn’t as good. But, when you combine the memorable regular season games – many of which REALLY mattered – combined with a pair of league tournament title meetings, certainly UWM didn’t play more important games against any other opponent.