The Panthers look to build upon a 22-12 campaign
To call Year One of the Bart Lundy era in Milwaukee a success would be an understatement. The team that was picked ninth in the preseason poll ended the season at 22-12, including 14 wins and a second place finish in the conference. It was the Panthers’ first winning season since 2016, and their most wins in a season since the 2006 team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps most impressively, this was with a nearly entirely new team; 13 players last year weren’t on the roster the year before.
From a 56-point win over Milwaukee School of Engineering (a team the Panthers had beaten by only six points the year before) to open the year, to sweeping the field in the Cream City Classic, to having two separate win streaks of at least four games (which they hadn’t managed to do even once in a season since 2016), the regular season was one to remember for Milwaukee.
After dominating Wright State in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament, the Panthers headed to Indianapolis, where they would lose to Cleveland State in the semifinals. The season wasn’t over however, as the team was invited to the CBI. You probably know the story here; BJ Freeman exploded to the tune of 44 points against Stetson, setting the CBI single-game scoring record, and the highest scoring total by a Panther in nearly two decades. After squeaking past the Hatters, Milwaukee lost the next night to eventual CBI champs Charlotte.
This year, Milwaukee is looking to build upon last season’s success and push for a conference championship. Star Freeman is back, as are multiple other starters in Kentrell Pullian, Elijah Jamison, and Markeith Browning. Throw in a few key additions from the portal like Faizon Fields and Langston Wilson, and the Panthers should be contenders for the Horizon League crown.
Kentrell Pullian, Guard – 6-0, 182 lbs. – Junior
Getting his first taste Division 1 basketball, Kentrell Pullian began last year as a rotation piece for Milwaukee, checking into the game if the team needed his shooting. But after going off for 20 points, nine rebounds, and three assists against UC-Davis off the bench, Coach Lundy inserted him into the starting lineup and kept him there for the rest of the season.
Pullian is Milwaukee’s most efficient returning guard, sporting a 57.5 TS%. He made the most of his attempts at the charity stripe, knocking down over 80% of his free throws. More importantly, he made over 39% of his threes on impressive volume, over four attempts per game. He and Freeman were the only Panthers to take more than three shots per game from beyond the arc. If he can maintain his efficiency while improving his ball control (59 assists to 54 turnovers last season), Milwaukee will be loaded in the backcourt.
Elijah Jamison, Guard – 6-3, 196 lbs. – Sophomore
Coming off a campaign that saw him named to the Horizon League All-Freshman team, guard Elijah Jamison is ready to take a huge leap forward his sophomore year. Mostly coming off the bench to start last season, Jamison entered the starting lineup on New Year’s Eve against Detroit-Mercy, and started every game for the rest of the way, save for one: Senior Night against Cleveland State. He elevated his play when the team needed him most; a career-high 19 points against Wright State in the conference tournament, as well as an efficient 12 point, seven rebound performance against Stetson in the CBI.
In the CBB Alamanc, Horizon League coaches named Jamison the league’s breakout player, and it isn’t difficult to see why. His sterling play in the postseason didn’t come out of nowhere. In his last seven starts, he averaged over 11 points and nearly three rebounds a game. Add in his conference-leading 43.9 three point percentage, and it’s clear that Jamison will play a large role for the Panthers this season.
Markeith Browning II, Guard – 6-4, 196 lbs. – RS Junior
The sturdily built Markeith Browning isn’t the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense, but he is definitely the leader of their defense. He doesn’t get the most steals or block the most shots, but he puts himself in good positions to contest shots and make plays. His five game absence at the end of the regular made clear his importance to Milwaukee’s defense. Although they went 3-2 in that stretch, the Panthers surrendered totals 77, 87, 80, 94, and 72 points. Unsurprisingly, opposing guards like Jalen Moore, Dwayne Cohill, and Jared Godfrey gave Milwaukee’s defense fits to the tune of 19, 18, and 21 points respectively.
Browning’s offensive impact shouldn’t be understated. He averaged a well-rounded 9.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He also shot a solid 36.2% from three on 2.4 attempts per game. One area of Browning’s game could use improvement is his free throw shooting. He got to the line more per gamethan any other Panther not named BJ Freeman, but shot only 63.5%. That’s a lot of meat being left on the bone. His defensive prowess already makes him one of the team’s best players; if he can stay in the lineup Milwaukee’s defense should be much improved.
BJ Freeman, Forward – 6-6, 200 lbs. – Junior
Mid-Major Madness Player of the Week. CBI All-Tournament Team. Second Team All-Horizon League. Fifth triple-double in school history. CBI single-game scoring record. First 40-point game for a Panther in nearly 20 years.
The list of accomplishments for the Panthers’ returning star BJ Freeman is vast. Like his coach, Freeman received interest from other schools last offseason. Like his coach, he decided to stay put. After making the all-conference second team a year ago, Freeman enters the season as one of the favorites to take home Horizon League Player of the Year. Averaging only ten points per game in his first 11 contests last season, a 23-point performance against Detroit Mercy on New Year’s Eve jumpstarted his season. Freeman averaged 22 points per game over the rest of the season, never failing to score in double figures. He ended the year leading Milwaukee in scoring and rebounding.
A key Freeman’s scoring is his ability to draw fouls. He shot twice as many free throws (160) as second place Pullian (76), and shot 83.3% from the line. He’s more than just a scorer though; his 19.7 assist% led the team. His balanced game has turned him into a possible NBA prospect. Like most of the team, BJ needs to improve his ball security, ending the season with more turnovers than assists (101 to 94), but if he manages to maintain his play from the end of last season for an entire year, he’ll be an easy contender for conference player of the year and Milwaukee will be contending for a conference championship.
Faizon Fields, Forward – 6-10, 220 lbs. – Junior
As the sole newcomer to the Panthers’ starting lineup, Old Dominion transfer Faizon Fields has some big shoes to fill, replacing last year’s Horizon League DPOY Ahmad Rand. Many signs point towards Fields being capable of living up to the hype. He’s great on the offensive boards, and while Fields’ isn’t quite the shot-blocker that Rand was, that might work in Milwaukee’s favor.
Despite ranking sixth nationally in block rate, the Panthers were tenth in the conference in opponent offensive rebound percentage. The frontcourt sold out for blocks, which gave opponents easy offensive rebounds and uncontested looks at the rim. This year’s team likely won’t get as many swats, but if Fields and the rest of the bigs can play solid defense, life will be harder for opponents at the rim.
Langston Wilson, Guard – 6-9, 215 lbs. – Graduate
One of two players this offseason to transfer to Milwaukee from the high-major ranks, former Washington guard Wilson called the move a “no brainer.” Before getting to Washington, Wilson spent a year at JUCO Georgia Highlands College, where he played in a high-tempo system similar to the one Lundy employs; flying up and down the floor on offense and pressing on defense. After being named the number two JUCO prospect in the country by 24/7 Sports, Langston spent two years in Seattle, mostly as an end-of-the-bench piece. The high-flying guard remains confident, believing he could be the “missing piece” for a Panthers squad that was “one piece away” from reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Aaron Franklin, Guard – 6-5, 210 lbs. – RS Sophomore
Pulling from the JUCO ranks has worked wonders for Coach Lundy this far, hitting on players like Freeman, Pullian, and Browning, and he might have found another contributor in Aaron Franklin. The guard was named an NJCAA Third Team All-American after stuffing the stat sheet at Hutchinson County CC, averaging 22 points, eight rebounds, and nearly two steals per game. He paced his team in scoring, assists, and steals, and even led the Jayhawk Conference in scoring. While he won’t be asked to carry the offensive load in Milwaukee, Franklin is still young and carries with him an impressive track record.
Erik Pratt, Guard – 6-5, 185 lbs. – RS Junior
The second of two former Power 5 players on the squad, former Texas A&M guard Erik Pratt is ready to shine in the Horizon. A big-time scorer at juco Seward County CC, Pratt committed to A&M last year as 24/7 Sports’ No. 7 juco prospect. He only saw action in nine games last year, sitting behind two all-SEC guards in Wade Taylor and Tyrece Radford. Although he only knocked down three of his 12 three-point attempts last year, Lundy thinks Pratt can be a “knockdown shooter” given more opportunities to hoot, which he will certainly have in Milwaukee. Add in his “great positional size and decision-making”, and Pratt should be a rotational guard that Lundy can count on.
Pierce Spencer, Guard – 6-3, 175 lbs. – RS Junior
Although he may not be the best scorer in the Panther’s incoming class, Nicholls State transfer Pierce Spencer is likely the best defender. He made the Southland Conference All-Defense team as he led the Colonels in steals with 1.6 per game, which would’ve been the fifth highest average in his conference had he played enough games to qualify. He also averaged over two steals per 40 minutes in each of his three seasons at Nicholls State, which is something no Panther was able to accomplish last season. His shot from distance is shaky, knocking down just 31.4% of his threes in the last two years. However, he will still be able to provide value as one of the teams best perimeter defenders alongside Markeith Browning.
Unlike last year, Milwaukee isn’t going to be sneaking up on anybody. They’re going into the season with a target on their backs, getting every teams best each night. For Lundy though, he says that isn’t an issue. “I don’t really change anything. We do what we do… there’s a lot of fuel for our engine.” We know the offense will be uptempo and fun to watch, but if Milwaukee can cut down on their turnover problem and give up fewer offensive rebounds, the defense should be just good enough to push them closer to the big dance.
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