The Milwaukee Panthers named Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin to be its head men’s basketball coach on Tuesday. Baldwin is considered an excellent recruiter and a key to Northwestern’s 2016 NCAA Tournament bid, the first in program history. He replaces LaVall Jordan, who left Milwaukee after one season to become the head coach at his alma mater Butler.
Baldwin steps into an unusual situation in Milwaukee. The late hiring of Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, and as a result the very late hiring of Jordan at Butler, was unusual enough as is. The fact that Jordan posted a 11-24 record in his only season at Milwaukee before heading to the Big East made it even more bizarre. Despite replacing a coach who left for greener pastures, expectations shouldn’t be particularly high for Baldwin early in his tenure.
As is frequently the case during coaching changes, Baldwin’s biggest task out of the gate will be to retain members of the incoming recruiting class. Dylan Alderson, who helped bring Clarkston High School a Michigan Class A State Championship as a senior, is considered the prize recruit of Milwaukee’s recruiting class. To this point, he hasn’t said anything definitive either way about his plans for the future.
Unlike former Butler-commit Kyle Young — a composite Top 100 recruit who left for Ohio State when Chris Holtmann departed — it’s unlikely that Milwaukee has a recruit that will follow LaVall Jordan to the Big East. Despite even the high praise for Alderson, the jump from Milwaukee to Butler is a lot bigger now than it was in the not-so-distant past when the two schools were together in the Horizon League.
If Milwaukee is going to lose a recruit, it would most likely be to another school the Panthers were recruiting against previously. While losing a coach in June causes a number of logistical problems for a program, it can make holding onto recruits simpler. In that regard, time could be on Milwaukee’s side when it comes to holding together this year’s recruiting class. At this point, most schools’ rosters are set and there simply isn’t enough time or roster availability for most kids to reopen recruitment.
If Baldwin is able to keep all of Jordan’s recruits in Milwaukee, he could be in for a pleasantly surprising debut as a head coach. The Panthers lose just one starter and one reserve from 2016-17 while bringing in what looks to be a very promising four-man recruiting class and 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Zac Saddler.
Early projections still have Milwaukee near the bottom of conference for the upcoming season, which is understandable given the team’s eight regular season wins and its 10th place finish in the Horizon League last year. Still, there could be reason for optimism in Milwaukee.
The Panthers had one of the youngest teams in the nation and possessed very little front court depth. While an injury to Valparaiso star Alec Peters undoubtedly helped, Milwaukee came together at the end of the season on its way to an unexpected Horizon League Tournament Championship Game. If the Panthers can build off of the late-season success, they could make one of the bigger jumps in the league standings in 2017-18.
The development of returning players and addition of five newcomers could put Pat Baldwin’s Milwaukee team in a position to finish near the middle of the table in the Horizon League. While that might not seem like a big deal, especially for a school that was in the running to be bumped up to the Missouri Valley Conference this offseason. But the Panthers will once again have an incredibly young roster. Forward Brett Prahl is the only scholarship senior, leaving the door open for another potential jump in 2018-19.
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Photo by: Milwaukee Panthers Athletics