The Milwaukee Panthers have peaked at the right time of the season and they hope to continue their five game winning streak. This next game will be their toughest foe of the season and it will be on the biggest stage of the players' lives as they face the Villanova Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
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Looking at Villanova, this seems to be a match up of two fairly equal sized teams who like to play a similar style, but it's the talent level that clearly separates that two teams.
What to expect?
When Milwaukee has the ball:
Milwaukee runs a lot of inside out offensive sets with sophomore Matt Tiby and senior Jordan Aaron. They have a true point guard in Steve McWhorter, who is a great ball handler and passer, and two key role players in the rebounding Kyle Kelm and shooting Austin Arians.
Aaron is a true shooting guard, and loves to put the ball up, shooting 27.4 percent of the teams shots. He may not be the most efficent with his shot, shooting 35.6 percent from three, but he can score. At 5-10, he might have some trouble getting his shot off against the bigger guards like Ryan Arcidiacono.
Tiby is a big who at times can put the ball on the floor, though he is prone to turn the ball over, and can shoot a three. He loves to get to the free throw line, scoring 40 percent of his points there. He's an good free throw shooter, and if Milwaukee is going to win the game, Tiby will need to get to the line more that his average 6.4 times per game.
McWhorter will be an interesting piece against Villanova. Arcidiacono seems to be the one who will defend Aaron, so one of the Wildcats 6-6 guys will have to guard McWhorter. The junior point man has no real back up and plays 85 percent of the team's minutes. He scores 8.0 points per game, but his key contribution is his 4.0 assists and ability to run the offense.
Kelm was the Panthers second leading scorer this season. Like Tiby he makes his living off the free throw line scoring 44 percent of his points from the charity stripe. He's also a brute down low, getting nearly two offensive rebounds per game. He doesn't make many outside shots, but he's due to take one each game.
Arians is a combo guard/forward who does a little bit of everything. He has the team's second best field goal percentage, made nearly as many threes as Jordan Aaron, and pulls down 3.4 rebounds per game. He's good at just about everything, but not great at any one skill. He could be the X-factor for this game.
Malcolm Moore and J. J. Panoske are the main guys who come off the bench for the Panthers. They aren't a major factor on the offensive end and are bigs to fill in for Tiby and Kelm. Should any of the guards get into foul trouble JeVon Lyle has filled in admirably.
The Panthers will be facing a straight man-to-man defense against the Wildcats.
When Villanova has the ball:
The Panthers play a man-to-man defense. Jordan Aaron will be a liability on the defensive zone, while he's quick, he's a little small to try to check Ryan Arcidiacono. Outside of that, McWhorter will have to try to defend a guard either James Bell and Darrun Hilliard, who are both four inches taller than McWhorter. The other assignment will go to Austin Arians who should be able to slow down his man, as he's an above average defender. Daniel Ochefu will bang bodies down low against Kyle Kelm. It should be an advantage to the Wildcats, but don't count out Kelm's ability to rebound against bigger opponents (See: Valparaiso, Green Bay).
The match up that intrigues me the most is how Matt Tiby will do defending the much more athletic JayVaughn Pinkston. This could make or break Milwaukee's chances and I think Pinkston could have a field day against Tiby.
Having to win four games in seven days, the Panthers overcame steep odds to the the Horizon League championship. They are going to have to have some more magic to get past Villanova. While on paper this isn't the major blowout some are predicting, I don't think the Panthers are this year's Cinderella.
No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 15 Milwaukee
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, New York
Time: 9:25 p.m., Thursday