The Panthers go dancing…to Daytona

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Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Athletics

While Milwaukee’s Horizon League season ended with a disappointing showing in the tournament semifinals, their season isn’t over yet. The team accepted an invitation to the CBI, and drew a matchup with Stetson in the first round.

Stetson is led by sophomore Jalen Blackmon, who was named all-conference first team. He’s a dynamic scoring guard, averaging over 15 points per game. He’s a threat all over the floor, shooting 34% on over six threes a game, and makes most of his twos. Stephan Swanson and Luke Brown are the two other Hatters scoring in double figures, and are major threats from outside. The pair combine for over seven attempts a game at 44%. Swanson was named all-ASUN third team after leading the league in assists per game with 4.8.

The Hatters went 17-13 and finished third in the ASUN thanks in large part to their offense. A top 40 KenPom unit, it all starts behind the arc where they play a four-out style. One of the best shooting teams in the nation, Stetson scores nearly 40% of their points off of 3-pointers, a top ten mark in the country. They do so with a healthy mix of attempts (36th in the nation) as well as top ten efficiency.

Perimeter shooting might be an issue for a Panthers team that gives up a lot of shots from downtown. Look at their upset by Green Bay in February for an example of what happens when they face a team that can knock down shots. The Phoenix shot 38% on 42 attempts and earned their biggest win of the season.

The Panthers have a solid interior defense featuring Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Ahmad Rand, who blocks over two shots a game. However, against a team that doesn’t score much inside the arc anyway, he’ll have to impact the game in other ways.

For as good as the Hatters are offensively, they’re equally as bad defensively. No one on the team averages more than a steal or block per game. Finishing sub-300 in nearly every defensive metric, they are especially bad at forcing turnovers. This could prove to be a boon for the turnover-prone Panthers.

Perhaps the biggest difference between these teams is their tempo. Milwaukee finished 15th in adjusted tempo per KenPom. Stetson? 311th. Very rarely will the Hatters speed their game up preferring to use as much of the shot clock as they can. Milwaukee will try and speed them up with their press defense, but Stetson is very good at hanging on to the ball.

One player who could end up having a huge impact is Stetson’s Wheza Panzo. The forward is a sharpshooter, making 47.4% of his nearly five threes per game. If the Panthers pack the paint or help off of Panzo, he’ll make them pay. He’s not much of a threat with the ball in his hands, but he’s capable of taking over games with his shot. He did just that against North Alabama in February, erupting for 19 points on 6-8 shooting from long range.

I’d expect this game to be a shootout. BJ Freeman should be able to get to his spots and take whatever shot he wants, and Stetson will get off as many threes as Milwaukee lets them take. The Hatters perimeter scoring could bury the Panthers in a deficit too deep for even them to come back from, but if Milwaukee manages to speed up Stetson’s offense they have a chance to pull off an upset. The game will be on FloHoops on March 19 at 5:30 p.m. eastern.

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