UW-Milwaukee Panthers Earn 1st NCAA Tournament Appearance Since 2006

Bleacher Report MilestonesB/R StaffMarch 12, 2014

Mar 11, 2014; Dayton, OH, USA; Milwaukee Panthers celebrate after the championship game of the Horizon League tournament against the Wright State Raiders at the Nutter Center. Milwaukee won 69-63. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With a 69-63 victory on opponent Wright State's home court Tuesday night, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee clinched its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006.

The Horizon League tournament champions were picked to finish last in the conference before this season and ultimately entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed.  

That seeding saw the Panthers match up with No. 8 Detroit in the tournament's first round. Playing at home, Milwaukee outlasted the Titans to win by a score of 83-73.

Next up was No. 4 Valparaiso, a school that beat UWM by double-digits in both of the teams' prior meetings this season. However, beginning their surprise run, the Panthers extended a nine-point halftime lead to ultimately win by a convincing 17 points.

With momentum building, Milwaukee's next foe was top-seeded University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the tournament's host for both the quarterfinals and semifinals.

At 24-5, the Phoenix were lauded as a potential sleeper in the NCAA tournament, but in two earlier contests against UWM, Green Bay needed overtime to win in Milwaukee and lost by 10 to the Panthers at home.

Given those previous encounters, Saturday's in-state semifinal figured to be tightly contested and certainly lived up to that billing.

While UWM led by nine at intermission, the home team rallied in the second half to force overtime. In the end, Milwaukee prevailed by seven to reserve a place in the Horizon League title game, leaving Green Bay on the bubble for March Madness.

To earn a spot in the Big Dance, Milwaukee hit the road once again to take on No. 3 Wright State on Tuesday evening. The teams split their season series, but upset-minded UWM would not be denied and won by six to clinch an NCAA tournament bid.

The last time Milwaukee made the tournament field was as a No. 11 seed in 2006, when the Panthers knocked off sixth-seeded Oklahoma to advance to the second round in current coach Rob Jeter's first season at the helm.

Unfortunately, the Panthers ran into No. 3 seed Florida in their second game. En route to its first of back-to-back national championships, Florida crushed Milwaukee by 22 points behind stellar play from future NBA players Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer.

At the moment, ESPN's Joe Lunardi projects the 21-13 Panthers as a No. 15 seed in this year's tournament. However, for a team that has been overlooked all season, Milwaukee may just have another trick or two up its sleeve.