Newcomers key for Milwaukee in promising start


Led by Te’Jon Lucas and Josh Thomas, Milwaukee’s newcomers help the Panthers to 4-1 record

Milwaukee is off to a 4-1 start, and its newcomers are a predictably large part of the reason why. Before the year, the success of Milwaukee’s newcomers was expected to determine the success or failure of the Panthers’ season and so far that’s showing to be true. While many of the predictions made in the Panthers’ season preview have come to fruition, there have been some surprises (both positive and negative) that have developed already this year.

Te’Jon Lucas has lived up to the hype that at least some of us put on him before the year. The 6-foot-2 transfer from Illinois is second on the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game and leads the team with 6.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. One of the most exciting elements of the new lineup is watching Lucas catch a defensive rebound in a good position and immediately take off the other way, putting the entire defense on its heels and frequently generating a good look on the offensive end. The fact that Milwaukee’s opponents so far have all been on about the same level as the Panthers — and fairly similar to most of the Horizon League — seems to bode well for Lucas’ chances at keeping up similar production.

As predicted, keeping Lucas on the court as much as possible could be make-or-break for the season. The Panthers’ secondary plan at point guard is leading scorer Darius Roy, who seems most productive catching passes from Lucas. Lucas fouled out with the Panthers up 5 in double overtime against Western Michigan, and the Broncos went on to force a third overtime and eventually deal Milwaukee its lone loss of the season. Less significant runs have been a recurring theme when Roy spells Lucas, including a stretch where Milwaukee’s 11-point lead quickly dwindled to five against North Dakota on Tuesday. If Milwaukee can find a way to keep Lucas healthy and well-rested, it’s not out of the question that the team could exceed expectations.

Josh Thomas put up very respectable numbers as a junior college player. The junior averaged 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game on his way to being a First Team All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference selection while leading Wabash Valley College to a 25-8 records. Still, it’s difficult to tell how players will translate from the Junior College level. So far, Thomas has translated beautifully. He’s matched Te’Jon Lucas’ 14.8 points per game and given the Panthers an extra scorer to lean on plus some versatility, with the option to pair Thomas with Lucas and returning go-to-guy Darius Roy in a dangerous three-guard lineup.

CJ Wilbourn has had an interesting role with Milwaukee so far. The freshman has quietly started all five games and is the minutes leader among frontcourt players, but his impact hasn’t translated to the stat sheet. Wilborn’s 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game both trail behind the production of Amir Allen and Will Sessoms.

Harrison Henderson looked like a potential starter in the post after transferring in from USC, but the 6-foot-10 junior has been just a rotational big man to this point. Wilborn, Amir Allen and Will Sessoms have all been above him in the pecking order, with Henderson playing 11 minutes or less in each of the team’s three contests against Division I opponents.

Courtney Brown Jr. has shown potential to be a future glue-guy for the Panthers. He hasn’t been one to take many shots, but he’s regularly made hustle plays and caused a bit of havoc by tipping passes on the defensive end. Brown is still a raw player, but his length and athleticism are proving to be assets for Milwaukee while the rest of the skillset develops.

It’s difficult to get a good read on Shae Mitchell and Arturro Bingham, as most of their minutes to-date have come against the team’s two non-Division I opponents.

While the start has been encouraging, Milwaukee should get a lot more information on the newcomers in the coming weeks. So far, the Panthers have played all home games and each of its Division I opponents has been roughly on Milwaukee’s level according to KenPom. All of that changes starting on Friday at the Island of the Bahamas Showcase. The Panthers take on a 4-2 Rice team fresh off of letting a win over Preseason Top 25 Houston slip out of reach.

Milwaukee will then face either Morgan State or Liberty. The other side of the bracket features an Evansville team that just knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena last week, George Washington, ECU, and a potential rematch between the Panthers and Kansas City. Milwaukee closes out its non-conference with a trio of tough road games at Defending MVC champion Drake, fifth ranked Kansas and Wisconsin plus one more home contest against Eastern Illinois.

Leave a Reply