Panthers predicted to struggle in 2021
Milwaukee’s season seemed like a drawn-out version of many of its late-season games. The Panthers got out to a solid start and looked to be well on the way to a successful result down the homestretch before things came crashing down in disappointing fashion. With five games to play in the Horizon League season, it looked like Milwaukee might earn a bye in the first round of the Horizon League Tournament thanks to Detroit Mercy being ruled ineligible for the postseason. Five straight losses later, the Panthers wound up the 8-seed and lost on the road to Youngstown State in a round it previously looked like the team might not have to play in.
The Panthers bring back four starters from the end of the season, but clearly the end of the season didn’t instill much confidence about that lineup in voters’ minds. The biggest question about Milwaukee’s potential this season seems to be finding another go-to scorer to replace Darius Roy. All-League guard Te’Jon Lucas can be relied on to produce on offense most nights, but Josh Thomas is the only other returning player who consistently hit double-figures last year and he never broke 20 points in a game.
While a pending waiver for UTEP transfer Jordan Lathon could go a long way toward solving the offensive problem for the Panthers, he’s not eligible at the time of this article.
Tafari Simms – Simms was Western Texas College’s third leading scorer with 11.9 points per game and its leading rebounder with 6.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 junior has been an efficient scorer at both of his Junior College stops and seems like a player that could have a lot of room to grow after not playing organized basketball until his sophomore year of high school.
DeAndre Gholston – Gholston was a hot commodity within the Horizon League last year, securing offers from four of the team’s 10 schools before choosing the Panthers. He was a Second Team All-Panhandle Conference selection after averaging 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Vin Baker Jr. – The son of former NBA All-Star and current Milwaukee Bucks Assistant Coach Vin Baker, Baker Jr. transferred to the Panthers after two seasons at Boston College. Baker Jr. played in 41 games over his two seasons in the ACC. While he hasn’t shown the three-point shooting prowess that his father was known for, the 6-foot-9 wing brings an intriguing combination of size and skills to the Panthers.
Grant Coleman – The 6-foot-7 freshman was a First Team Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Boys Basketball All-State Class 3A selection as a senior at Mahomet-Seymour High School. Like many of the Panthers’ new players, Coleman brings an intriguing combination of size and three-point shooting ability. Coleman averaged 21.6 points per game as a senior.
Donovan Newby – A 6-foot-1 point guard recruit from Chicago Bloom High School, Newby was one of five players on Bloom to earn the opportunity to play college basketball. The team’s starting point guard was considered an underrated recruit and noted for his abilities as a floor general and a defender by the Chicago Sun Times.
Jordan Lathon – The UTEP transfer isn’t technically available for the Panthers yet as he’s pending a waiver for immediate eligibility, but if his waiver is granted he’ll be in a position to be an immediate impact player for Milwaukee. Lathon averaged 11.9 points and a team-leading 2.7 assists as a freshman with the Miners. While decreased minutes and lower shooting percentages caused his scoring to drop as a sophomore; he improved his rebounding totals, assist totals and his assist-to-turnover ratio in 2020.
Te’Jon Lucas – Milwaukee’s best overall player last year, Lucas returns for his senior season after earning Second Team All-Horizon League honors as a junior. Lucas led the team with 5.1 assists per game while finishing second in scoring and third in rebounding. Following the graduation of the Panthers’ leading scorer Darius Roy and leading rebounder DeAndre Abram, it’s not out of the question that Lucas could do what Tarkus Ferguson and Sandy Cohen III have done in recent years and lead a Horizon League school in all of the major counting statistics.
Josh Thomas – For the first half of last year, Thomas looked like a shoe-in for sixth man of the year as an offensive spark plug off of the bench. As the year went on, Thomas frequently found himself in the starting lineup. The 6-foot-4 guard lost his chance at the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award by starting 19 games, but provided a consistent option in the starting lineup. He ranked third on the team with 10.2 points per game last year and second with 4.3 rebounds per game. An interesting potential development here is UTEP transfer Jordan Lathon’s pending waiver for immediate eligibility. Lathon averaged 10.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as a freshman on a bad UTEP team before settling into a smaller role on a Miners team that got a significant influx of talent last year. He’d likely replace either Thomas or Courtney Brown in the starting lineup if eligible.
Courtney Brown – Brown was one of the HoriZone Roundtable’s picks on the 2020 All-Freshman Team, and could be in for a nice jump as a sophomore. The 6-foot-7 wing played with great energy that often created loose ball opportunities, but also got himself into frequent foul trouble. Maintaining the same intensity while learning how to foul less isn’t an automatic, but if he can stay on the court Brown could be an excellent glue guy for the Panthers this year. If Lathon isn’t granted a waiver, DeAndre Gholston and Vin Baker Jr. could also be in the mix for this spot.
Tafari Simms – Simms joins the Panthers after averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds at Western Texas College last year. He shot 42.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line, giving him a key element that Pat Baldwin has been looking to integrate into the frontcourt throughout his tenure as head coach. The most likely contender for this spot would be returning post player Amir Allen, but Allen’s minutes dwindled toward the end of the year so it seems like a position where a newcomer could easily figure into the equation.
C.J. Wilbourn – While the HoriZone Roundtable picked Courtney Brown as a member of the All-Freshman Team, the league’s voters selected Panther post player C.J. Wilbourn. Wilbourn’s first season at Milwaukee ended in promising fashion. He averaged 6.5 points on over 65% shooting through Milwaukee’s last 10 games. Even more encouraging for the Panthers, his improved efficiency came as his shot volume increased. Wilbourn could be a player to watch for to make a big jump during his sophomore season.
Milwaukee is in an interesting spot. The team brings back four players who became starters by the end of the year, but those starters were in for every game of the team’s season-ending six-game slide except Senior Day. The hope is likely that at least a couple players will either improve dramatically or get passed over in the lineup. If some of the seven new players shake up the rotation or last year’s promising freshmen break through, don’t be surprised to see Milwaukee climb this list. If not, expect the team Milwaukee was to end the season to show up earlier and more often this year.
Prediction: 11th Place