Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meier, Williams, Haarsma Should Be Among League's Best In 11-12

The Panthers did lose a pair of key performers from this past season in Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle, and there is little question that filling in those gaps will be a prime focus for Milwaukee when practice starts about three months from now.

But, UWM seems to have a pretty good base to start from, as the Panthers will likely have three of the league's top players in Tony Meier, Kaylon Williams and James Haarsma. The numbers can build an awfully good case for that.

Meier is the fourth-leading returning scorer in the Horizon League. His 12.0 points per game rank just behind Ray McCallum (13.5 ppg) and Chase Simon (13.5 ppg) of Detroit as well as Trevon Harmon (13.2 ppg) of Cleveland State. Just five of the top 20 league scorers from a season ago return.

Haarsma sat out last season after transferring from Evansville. But in 2009-10, he averaged 7.1 rebounds per game with the Purple Aces. That figure is the second-best among returning Horizon League players, with Eli Holman of Detroit leading the way at 9.6 rpg.

Williams is actually the fifth-leading returning rebounder, having averaged 5.6 boards per game last season. But we all know his forte is in dishing the ball out. He led the league in assists last season, so of course he is the leading returnee this season. But, he appears to be right around the top 20 of returnees nationally. Officially there were 22 ahead of him at the end of last season with eligibility remaining, but seeing a handful of early entries and/or transfers above him should place him just above that 20 mark.

A Volleyball Numbers Game

As the start of our fall sports season grows closer, we’re busy working on preseason information, online guides and all of the background and facts we’ll use during 2011.

Yesterday, volleyball was on my plate, and now that Susie Johnson has been the head coach for four seasons, it seemed like a good time to add up all of her numbers in those typical “record when” categories.

Overall, Susie is 85-36 in four season and 53-11 in Horizon League regular season matches. Impressive numbers to say the least and ones you probably already knew about. But, how about these numbers – some pretty good tells on what the Panthers do to be successful.

Hitting Percentage – It seems to be the best go-to stat for determining a winner. In four seasons under Johnson, UWM is 81-8 when hitting better than its opponent and 4-28 when hitting worse. Plus, Milwaukee is 55-5 in the last four seasons when hitting above .200.

Defense – Milwaukee has held its opponent under .200 92 times (winning 76 of those matches), while opponents have hit better than .200 just 29 times (UWM is 9-20 in those contests). The Panthers have also outdug their opponent 81 times (winning 65 of those) while being on the short end of the dig category 38 times (19-19).

Winning The Close Ones – UWM has gone to five sets 34 times in the last four years, winning 22 of those matches.

League domination – The 53-11 league mark over the last four years – plus a 7-2 mark in the league tournament – has seen the Panthers almost always take care of business against the teams that have typically been in the bottom half of the league. Milwaukee is a combined 39-4 against Loyola, UIC, Green Bay, Wright State and Youngstown State.

All pretty impressive numbers and ones we’ll use to follow trends during the 2011 year.

By the way, the most impressive number of all is this – this year, Milwaukee will be looking for either a league regular season or tournament championship for the 15th-straight season.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Do You Believe In Plus-Minus Stats?

Among the many things I am going back and taking a look at as we begin to construct things for the 2011-12 men’s basketball season is the plus-minus from 2010-11. I actually share this with the coaching staff after every game – they had been constructing it on their own but it is now a feature of the stat program we use in our office. How much of a story it really tells is a subject of debate among basketball people everywhere.

It’s a regular feature in NBA box scores and analysis, and a few years back The New York Times referred to it as the “stat du jour” of the NBA. It has stuck and has moved into the college ranks – that’s why it’s in our stat program now – but there are varying schools of thought on how accurate it truly is.

Here is a recent NBA example. In game six of the NBA Finals, Brian Cardinal was a +18 off the bench for the Mavericks, but that was in just 12 minutes where he had three points and one assist. Brian Cardinal had a noticeable impact in the Finals, yes, but +18 in 12 minutes was hardly his doing alone. Meanwhile, in the same game, LeBron James was a -24 (insert your own analysis of James’ here).

For what it is worth, the three best regulars in the plus-minus last season for the Panthers are back for this coming season.

Tony Meier +3.88 (40 minutes - +5.50)
Kaylon Williams +1.36 (40 minutes - +1.67)
Ryan Allen +0.16 (40 minutes - +0.38)

When you begin to look at the numbers from certain games, they do match what you saw with the eye. But do you need plus-minus to tell you Kaylon was spectacular at UIC in February? That said, I would offer to you that the three players who made the most consistent positive impact in their time on the court this past season are the three on the list above. You might throw Tone Boyle and Anthony Hill in that group, too, with their respective plus-minus numbers at -0.21 and -0.98. But T Meier was clearly the most consistent contributor last year, and Kaylon easily outdid his few poor games with a laundry list of good to great performances.

This season, I will post the plus-minus on the blog throughout the season. Another feature of our stat program is to analyze the different rotations and the plus-minus while that group is on the floor. You see those stats on the PDF, as well. And, as always, there are a few things the computers do that you can’t control – like the fact Evan Richard apparently played for 25 seconds against Florida Atlantic. We know he didn’t, but there doesn’t seem to be a good way to eliminate that from this computer report. Oh well.

You can view the entire season worth of plus-minus and rotations here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Panthers Playing In Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am

A number of current and former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men’s basketball players will take part in the 2011 Scion Dental Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am over the next month.

The league, which is certified by the NCAA, will play its games beginning Friday at Greenfield High School. The finals will be at the Al McGuire Center in early August.

The 10-team league will include a number of current Division I players, as well as many of the top players from Wisconsin’s Division II and Division III schools. A large list of former collegiate players from the area, many of whom play in the NBA, the D-League or in Europe, will also participate.

Current Panthers planning to play include Tony Meier, James Haarsma, Kyle Kelm and Ryan Haggerty. Former Panthers on team rosters include Ricky Franklin, Allan Hanson, Deion James, Jason Averkamp and Avery Smith.

A full schedule of games and team rosters are available here.

Friday, July 1, 2011

An Inside Look into the Sports Information Office

Recently, we had a chance to get caught up with one of the members of the UWM Sports Information Office with a question-and-answer session. Kevin Conway, Assistant Sports Information Director, just finished up his seventh season at Milwaukee, the school he also graduated from. Prior to returning in 2004, he spent a year as the media relations intern at Miami (Ohio) University. He and his wife, Jen, live in Greenfield.

~For those who don’t always know what an SID is/does, tell us a little bit about the sports you cover and your other responsibilities in the sports info office.

“I tell people I work in media relations. That is the easiest and most succinct way of putting it because that is the primary role of an SID and it needs the least amount of explanation. After that, we get into record and statistic keeping (which is probably my favorite part of the job). To put it in an over-the-top way, we are the keepers of records. We compile them and try to make people aware. Not everybody gets to be the all-time leading scorer, but I think some people take pride in having the best assist-to-turnover ratio and we have to go through and find that. Back in the day, record books had the basics, but throughout the industry, we have used the summer to get lost in stats and come up with more in-depth records. The more records you have, the more you have to write about. That makes my job (often times as the only writer covering a game) and the media’s job easier.

“In addition of being the primary contact for my assigned sports, I have undertaken the task of designing all promotional items the department puts out. That includes posters, schedule cards, postcards, flyers, program covers, ads, etc. That’s all I have to say about that.”

~List your top three favorite memories from UWM games you witnessed in person.

“No. 1. The first men’s basketball Horizon League Championship in 2003. I was a senior at Milwaukee and was doing stats. It was an awesome experience as we had 10,000 people in the U.S. Cellular Arena and we jumped up big on Butler early and it was a great game. Before this, the UWM/Butler series was not even close to even. It was a big game and a great atmosphere with everybody storming the court. Then, of course, we went on to the NCAA Tournament. I still maintain that the final shot vs. Notre Dame was partially tipped … though I may be the only one.

“No. 2. The women’s basketball run to the 2009 championship game. We entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed and hosted a first round game on Monday and ended up going to the title game Sunday at Green Bay after some tremendous games. Monday was a win over Youngstown State in Milwaukee. Wednesday we beat Butler in Indianapolis. In that game we scored the final 11 points of regulation to win by one. Friday, we spotted Cleveland State a 14-0 lead in Green Bay, but came back to win that game. In that game, only three players scored for us. It was a wild week, playing five games in eight days (including regular season finale) in three different cities.

“No. 3. The 2006 women’s soccer NCAA Tournament. The 2006 team was a great team to watch. They led preseason No. 1 and national power Portland 2-1 as late as the 79th minute in the regular season. They got an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, waiting until the last announced bracket to see its name called. We then went to Notre Dame and played Michigan to a 0-0 tie and advanced on PKs. If you have never watched a PK shootout with your team’s season on the line … don’t. It’s stressful. The women’s team played to shootouts in the 2005 league title game and NCAA First Round, so I had had my fill. In the second round, we played No. 1 Notre Dame. Despite giving up a goal in the fifth minute, UWM gave them their toughest match of the season, limiting them to just nine shots. It was a great game to watch and a great game for the program to announce its presence in the region and nationally. Also, Kate Megna, a student worker of ours for three years, played both games with a separated shoulder. It was impressive.”

~This field continues to “emerge”, what is your take on social media and how it can be used for the Panthers?

“I think social media, whether it is Twitter or Facebook, is a unique tool to reach out to fans and offer interaction they previously did not have. I think the key to being successful in this area is to offer what the fans want. We have to give them a reason to, not only follow or ‘like’ us, but to do so actively. Twitter is an area where some people follow hundreds of others. If you’ve ever looked at a Twitter feed with 150 people, a lot can get lost. There is no point in tweeting something when it’s just buried in a dense Twitter feed. We need to give people a reason to seek out our department or staff tweets and receive our message. I enjoy giving out prizes to people for trivia questions and whatnot because it generates active interest in what I have to say. More people may follow me or scroll back to my tweets if there is something in it for them. I don’t always have interesting things to tweet, but I can bribe someone to be interested. :)

“With Facebook, it’s the same thing. We need to make sure our message does not blend into the background. It’s a tricky proposition.”

~Any unusual stories that happened to you as an SID in your time at UWM?

“I thought I miscounted Traci Edwards’ career point total once. It was at Wisconsin ... for a TV game on the Big Ten Network … when she was 10 points away from breaking the 24-year-old school record. With so much pressure, I wanted to make sure I was right, so I double-checked my previous work. I then realized she was actually 20 points away. I cursed myself silently and went to inform everybody that the numbers were wrong (I had to tell a lot of people). I returned to my set and returned to quietly cursing myself and wondering how I could have gotten it wrong. During this process, I realized that I was RIGHT. She was 10 points away … You think its embarrassing telling a bunch of people your math was wrong? Try telling them your math was right all along and the last time you came over you were wrong. I always suspected no one focused on the fact that I was right to begin with and they just remembered that I twice came running up to them, out of breath, telling them I was wrong. If you want to hear it told better, ask our radio guy Scott Warras, he loves telling the story.”

~If you could hand-pick a sport for both men and women to add, what would it be?

“That’s a tough question to answer. If money’s not an object, I’d say hockey for both men and women. Hockey a sport that gets people interested. If I called it a ‘niche sport’, some people would be offended. But, it has the same effect. There is a strong hockey culture that I think blends well with college athletics. It allows for a band, a rowdy student section and action. There are surprisingly few college hockey programs, so few, in fact, that there is no Division II. Milwaukee is more of a hockey city than most people know and I think it’s something the students and community would really gravitate to.”

~Favorite sport to cover and why?

“Picking a favorite sport is tough. It’s like a parent picking its favorite child … okay, not really, but I’ve been fortunate to work with so many student-athletes that I have genuinely enjoyed watching play and interacting with that it makes it hard. As women’s basketball contact, I’ve been on the road with the team for almost five months a year. With soccer, I’m around them for about three months and with the larger team, ironically, it makes it easier to get to know who they are. I don’t really know many track and cross country kids, but I have grown a tremendous respect for what they do and their achievements. I’m quietly a big fan our track and field and cross country teams and get excited when they do well. That being said … soccer. It’s one of my favorite sports and our women’s team plays an attractive style of soccer that is fun to watch.”

~Funniest story that happened while on the road?

“SIDs get left behind from time to time. The first time I got left behind (and found out before the team came back for me) was at Illinois State in 2004. I was with women’s soccer and after the game told an unidentified staff member that I would remain in the press box and walk over to Redbird Arena (where the team was showering) when I was done. I finish my story and start walking across an expansive parking lot when I see a bus driving away from the Arena. My first thought was that, despite being in central Illinois, there was a second Wisconsin Coach Lines bus on campus. That evolved into, ‘okay, they are coming to pick me up’. When the bus hit the street and turned the other way … well, I was concerned. My work cell phone battery was almost dead, so I pulled out my personal cell and tried to remember the aforementioned staff member’s phone number. When I did, I got his voicemail. Uh oh … then I called another staff member. His response was, ‘Where are you?’ At this point, I pictured him innocently looking around the bus wondering why I was calling him from the seat behind him. I informed him I was at the field and was hoping they could come back and get me. I have not been left behind since.”