Tuesday, March 7, 2017

UW Milwaukee Could Make Dubious History Tonight

Anyone who has been keeping an eye on the early Conference Tournaments may have noticed that the Horizon League Tournament has been littered with upsets from day one.  In the 8 games played so far, 5 have been won by underdogs of 3 seed positions or more.  The top 3 Seeds (Oakland, Valparaiso, and UW Green Bay) were all eliminated by the end of the Quarterfinal Round.  Tonight's championship will pit Northern Kentucky (#4 Seed) against UW Milwaukee (#10 Seed).

What's happening with Milwaukee is stunning.  They are being led by a first year coach, who has only 2 players who ever wore a UW Milwaukee Jersey prior to the first game this season.  Several transfers who left after the controversial firing of Rob Jeter last spring are significant contributors on Teams that will be dancing this March, including Akeem Springs at Minnesota and Austin Arians at Wake Forest, indicating just how much talent was taken off a team that sits on the precipice of making the NCAA Tournament.  UWM (as the school is known in these parts) entered the Horizon League Tournament with a 7-23 record against Division 1 opponents and having lost 9 straight games by an average of 13+ points per game.   And since then they have won 3 straight.  A win tonight would be their first 4 game winning streak of the season.

Should Milwaukee win tonight, and clinch an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament, they make history as the worst team to be included in the field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.  Should they win, they will enter the tournament with a record vs. Division 1 competition of 11-23.  Here is how historically bad that would be.
  • Since 1985, 20 teams have qualified with losing records, but none have ever lost more than 20 games.  Milwaukee will have lost 23!
  • Only two teams have lost 20 ... Liberty in 2013 (15-20) and Coppin State (16-20) in 2008. 
  • Three teams have managed to qualify with only 11 Division 1 victories, but all with fewer losses.  They all had matching 11-18 records (Fairfield in 1997, Central Florida in 1996 and Florida International in 1995).  Milwaukee will match the record for fewest wins, which will be coupled with holding record for most losses.
  • Those same three teams currently possess the record for worst winning percentages (.379) of any teams ever to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  If Milwaukee were to win tonight they will shatter that record, and qualify with a winning percentage of just .324.  

I confess ... I'm all in on rooting for UWM tonight to make this dubious history.  Some of it is my love for chaos in this tournament.  Chaos makes the NCAA Tournament more fun.  But it goes beyond that.  Living in a suburb of Milwaukee, there is a certain amount of homer-ism that drives it as well.  But I don't follow Milwaukee ... hadn't seen one of their games all year until last night ... and frankly would rather have seen Green Bay be the Wisconsin representative from the Horizon league.  Mostly it's because it has been a very tumultuous year for UW-Milwaukee Basketball, beginning with the controversial firing of head coach Rob Jeter a year ago which followed a 20 win season that included a win over Wisconsin.  The firing by AD Amanda Braun brought accusations of racism by a sitting state Senator, Lena Taylor, who represents the UWM District, harsh criticism from players, donors, alumni and local leaders.   After all that, and then a very challenging regular season led by a first year head coach (LaVell Jordan), and a roster that includes 4 Freshmen and 2 Sophomores among its top 9 minute loggers, its hard not to be happy for the opportunity those kids now have to make history, no matter how dubious it may be.

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