The most improbable team in recent memory is on the brink of making the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. UW-Milwaukee, who entered the tournament with an overall 8-23 record and only 4 wins in Horizon League play will play in the Horizon League Championship game where the winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. If the Panthers win they will have the most losses and worst winning percentage of any team in NCAA tournament history, which would make them the ultimate Cinderella team.
On this historic path as the tenth and last seed in the tournament the Panthers have defeated Detroit, second-seeded Valparaiso and Chicago 74-68 last night. The final team in the way of history is Northern Kentucky who holds almost the opposite record of UW-Milwaukee’s at 23-10. UW-Milwaukee split its two regular-season meetings against the Norse winning 68-58 at home and losing 69-63 away.
Not a single person would be surprised if told the Panthers would be the worst team in the Horizon League before the season. Following the end of last season coach Rob Jeter who was beloved by both the fans and players was released in a controversial manner in a power struggle with UW-Milwaukee’s athletic director. This led many of the Panthers best players to transfer such as Akeem Springs who’s been impressive at Minnesota, Austin Arians who transferred to Wake Forest and Jordan Johnson who joined Jeter at Las Vegas. In came LaVall Jordan, a former player at Butler and assistant coach at Michigan who’s only notable player to stay was Cody Wichmann. After losing nine straight games including not getting a single win in the month of February prior to the Horizon League tournament it is not fathomable how the Panthers have won three straight to make it to championship game.
What has caused this improbable streak to happen is a mixture of solid defense, great shooting, heart and a miracle. Brock Stull, Wichmann and Bryce Barnes have been shooting lights out, stretching and cutting off any opposing team’s hope of comeback in critical moments. The heart part plays into their solid defense and to be honest no one knows how Coach Jordan has been able to get his guys to play the way they are currently at probably the best time to play well. It is truly a miracle and because of this Coach Jordan has been viewed as kind of a miracle worker even though he won’t admit it.
“They’ve earned this. We’re not here by accident,” said Jordan after their win against Chicago. “Our guys are playing like they’re supposed to play.”
When asked by ESPNU’s announcing crew how his team could make such an improbable run Jordan said, “Strong faith. Guys that have strong belief in each other. Now they’ve bought in, and we’ve formed a team.”
It is truly the will, heart and determination that is driving this improbable Panther team and they’ll look to make history at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit tonight on ESPN at 6 p.m. central time.