The 3rd Man In

Milwaukee opens season against Auburn

Milwaukee Panthers vs. Auburn Tigers
Location: Auburn Arena – Auburn, Alabama
Time: 9:00 p.m. CST
Broadcast: TV – ESPNU; Radio – WISN-AM1130

After months of anticipation, the college basketball season is finally here. The Milwaukee Panthers will open their season on the road against former head coach Bruce Pearl and his Auburn Tigers squad late Friday evening.

For four seasons Pearl roamed the sidelines as the Panthers’ head coach, as he quickly took the program to new heights it had never seen before. He quickly became a fan favorite for the way he interacted with the fans off the court while producing a winner on the court. Pearl is now a legend at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and this will be the first time he goes up against the Panthers in his career.

Last season the Panthers went 21-14 while making an improbable run through the Horizon League Tournament to claim the NCAA Tournament automatic bid. The Panthers went on to lose to Villanova in their first game of the tournament, but Milwaukee hoped to use this as momentum in the 2014-15 season.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen as this season the Panthers will be unable to compete in postseason play due to low cumulative Academic Performance Rate (APR) from 2009-13.

Instead, it will be used as a learning experience to prepare for next year. This game is a perfect example of that.

Auburn hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 11 years, but any team lead by Pearl is never easy to beat. When Pearl took over at Tennessee they had good guards, but not much in the frontcourt, and this is the same situation he’s in with the Tigers.

At Tennessee in 2005-06, he took a team that was 14-17 the year before and turned them around, going 22-8 and earning the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

While Pearl knows that it will take some time for the Tigers to be a threat in college basketball, they could make some noise this season.

The Tigers will be lead by two talented and productive guards. First, KT Harrell returns to the Tigers for his final season on campus. Last year he finished six in the SEC in scoring (18.3 ppg), second in free-throw percentage (.870 FT), and eighth in 3-point percentage (.359 3PT) and 3-pointers per game (2.2).

Pearl was also able to get Antoine Mason, a transfer from Niagara, right after being named the head coach. Mason is the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, and he average an incredible 25.6 point per game last season, second in the nation, while recording 10 games of 30 or more points scored.

These two players will be weapons for Pearl this season and the Panthers will have to do an excellent slowing them down in order to remain close in this contest.

Panthers head coach Rob Jeter feels it will be a bit easier preparing for Auburn despite this being Pearl’s first season coaching the Tigers.

“It is not hard to prepare for them because we know a lot about Bruce and his style,” Jeter said. “It’s a 94-foot game, it’s going to be 70 plus possessions, and if you don’t rebound the basketball and if you don’t take care of the basketball you are in trouble. Our focus is simple we can’t turn the ball over and we have to limit them to one possession. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough night.”

Milwaukee will look to counter with the starting lineup of Steve McWhorter, Akeem Springs, Austin Arians, Matt Tiby and J.J. Panoske. The only question to the starting lineup will be Arians, who might not play due to a high ankle sprain.

If Arians is unable to go expect to see JeVon Lyle, Cody Wichmann or Trinson White getting the starting nod depending on how Jeter wants to construct his lineup.

Despite Auburn men’s basketball program not having a recent history of success, this will be a huge test for the Panthers. Milwaukee can’t take Auburn lightly because otherwise the Tigers will run all over the Panthers. This will be an extremely competitive match, with the energy running at an all time high.

Panther fans have dreamed for the day to go head-to-head against Pearl and now Milwaukee will finally have that opportunity. If they can limit the amount of second chances opportunities the Tigers get while making little mistakes offensively, Milwaukee will have an outstanding shot at winning this game.

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