The Summit League and UMKC: A match made in convenience

A few weeks ago, the UMKC Kangaroos made it official they are coming back to the Summit League.  Came back like a Kangaroo with his tail between his legs and stuffed into his pouch.  Dang, that was a good one!

Congratulations Summit League fans, we fixed a conference problem of having a weird number of schools by going from 9 schools to 10 schools in the conference.  We did it. We made a move that we just kind of expected was going to happen at some point.

The Kangaroos’ return to the Summit League fixed a few annoyances of the Summit League. There is now an even number of schools, so we can go back to having travel partners. Denver has an airport to fly to. Oral Roberts now has a school that is only a 4 hour drive away from Tulsa. Omaha fans have an actually fun city they can drive to. Maybe all 10 schools will be able to play in the conference tournament and someone won’t have to sit out at home…the conference tournament group pictures of a few Denver Pioneer cheerleaders mixed in with all the Summit League mascots minus the weird Denver thingy were all awkward.

The move probably helps UMKC more than anything. They don’t have to compete in the geographically challenged Western Athletic Conference (is that what WAC stands for – I don’t care enough to look it up and double check and I’ve always just assumed that is what it stood for).  This is the second school with a geography problem the Summit League has been able to save in the last few years.  Look us up Chicago State and Texas Rio Grande Valley, maybe the addition of Dixie State will be enough to help your sad situations in the WAC, but we all know what you want.

I imagine this move would only help UMKC with their recruiting, which may in turn hurt the likes of Omaha’s recruiting.  I’m sure the conversations between coaching staffs and local recruits and their parents have gone something like this…


Recruit’s Dad: So the closest conference opponent for me to come watch my kids’ games is where?

UMKC Coach: Dawg, it’s in Edinburg, Texas.

Recruit’s Dad: Where the (expletive) is that?

UMKC Coach: Hold on, let me go out to my car and grab a map.

UMKC coach exits the home to retrieve a map out of his car…Recruit’s Dad locks the home’s front door and turns all the lights off.

Recruit’s Dad (to their child): Okay, so that was dumb. Let’s call up Omaha.


There is an alternate universe out there where UMKC stayed in the Summit League and received commitments from Zach Jackson, Matt Pile, and KJ Robinson. I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous in that universe.

Does UMKC coming back help strengthen the profile of the Summit League?  No, no it doesn’t.

The Kangaroos just finished up a rebranding and they got a new coaching staff for the men’s basketball program – which appears to be a fairly competent staff.  The Kangaroos basketball team has the potential to at least help the Summit League be more competitive in a few years.

Another advantage for Summit League teams is that bringing UMKC back into the league means one more guaranteed home game for programs.  Sorry to the elementary school kids who were looking forward to Kids Day for a 1pm game on a Wednesday against a D-3 opponent from Westchesteronville, Iowa. Let this be the first of many lessons that life can often be a disappointment.

UMKC’s return could be rated anywhere from decent to good (on the poor to great scale). It’s a move we all expected to happen some day. It helps the league, it helps UMKC, but now we have to wait for the next expected domino to fall for when Fort Wayne bolts for geography.

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Are the Mavericks finally turning a page here?

Fact: The Mavericks are still writing their story for their most successful basketball season since transitioning to division 1.

Thought: Does this program have the momentum to keep this going to the future?

The 2017-2018 Omaha men’s basketball season was filled with several thoughts of wondering what could have been had things just gone better for them. Injuries plagued that team from top to bottom. There were only a couple games where the team had their entire roster healthy to play. Several games were lost of bad plays down the stretch, and the team saying: we’re one or two plays away from a winning record. The team was also trying to mesh together a hoard of new faces and get everyone on the same page.

The 2018-2019 season has been the complete opposite. The Mavericks are actually several Mitch Hahn baskets and double digit comebacks away from having a pretty average season.

After Hahn’s game winner against South Dakota State, I checked the Jackrabbits’ fan forum page to see their thoughts on the game.  As I’ve done this in the past after Mavericks-Jackrabbits games, it’s typically filled with just some fans whining about Gary Sharp’s sarcasm. Something else really caught my eye this time.

Someone begged the question: Have the Mavericks finally turned the page and are moving away from mediocrity?

The question being asked by a Jackrabbit fan sets it up for me to think that the South Dakota State fans think they’re the Texas of the Summit League, or the Gonzaga of low major basketball.  They’re not, though, South Dakota State is the South Dakota State of the Summit League.

Perhaps, we should rephrase this question into a tone that doesn’t offend me. Have the Mavericks moved into position to consistently be in contention for a Summit League regular season championship?

Regardless of how this season has gone down, 19 wins and a 2nd place seeding in the Summit League Tournament has proven to be the most successful season in the division one era for the Mavericks, but how is the future?

The Mavericks are only going to be graduating two players, but those players are Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson, two of the best players this program has ever had.

The Summit League will be graduating two of the best players the conference has ever had, so the field is already open in 2019-2020.  Actually, I think North Dakota State and South Dakota are going to be the toughest teams to beat next year, but this is for another day.

Omaha will presumably bring back a Big 3 of Matt Pile, JT Gibson, and KJ Robinson. None of them have shown that clutch killer instinct of the likes of Hahn or Jackson, but they certainly have that potential. This Big 3 is going be one of the most talented in the Summit League next season.

You never know, though. Pile could get a bizarre toe injury and his feet won’t be able to support his pro wrestler body, or Gibson or Robinson could transfer to Nevada just for kicks.

No one can ever replace Hahn or Jackson, but we’ll find out what Logan Strom can do. We’ve been teased with the potential of Zach Thornhill.  Ayo Akinwole has proven to be a weapon when given the opportunity. Wanjang Tut is a quality defensive post player, and there have been glimpses of offensive potential.  Incoming freshman Lamel Robinson’s game seems similar to Devin Patterson’s.

A successful season like this can lead to Omaha being an attractive transfer destination for former Nebraska kids to come back to. Let’s just say hypothetically that Tim Miles gets fired from Nebraska, Omaha could definitely be a possibility for someone like Brady Heiman. Omaha can absolutely be a place for any of the former Nebraska kids in the Mountain West looking for more playing time.

Perhaps, this is all a conversation for another day. The Mavericks have North Dakota to worry about to continue building on this season for a hopeful present and future.

 

 

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Hey, I’m going to talk about last night’s Jackrabbits-Mavericks game

I haven’t been able to get to many UNO games this season, and I didn’t even get to go last night but that was the best Omaha men’s basketball game I’ve ever watched.

In December, I had a detached retina that required surgery to fix that problem.  I’ve been messing with that, and haven’t gotten out much because of it.  I’m watching my parents’ house and their dogs as they are out of town, so I watched the game from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen as their dogs shuffled between begging for food and going outside and playing in the snow.

Baxter Arena hosted its largest crowd for a men’s basketball game with 4,228 in attendance.  It could have been 4,230 had I forced my parents’ dogs to fend for themselves for an evening and convinced a friend of mine to go.  My bad.

From home I could see the intensity in the arena, I mean, it was pretty intense from the kitchen I was watching from. It was almost like the game was played out from a screenplay.

After missing chip shots and officials appearing to protect and favor the famous Mike Daum, the Mavericks found themselves down 13 at halftime.

There was so much on the line in this game. It’s the Summit League’s top two teams playing for the top spot, a guaranteed spot in the NIT, and both teams would appreciate a top 2 seed in the Summit League tournament so they can have that Sunday night off from basketball – assuming they take care of business against their first round opponents.

According to Mitch Hahn in his post game interview, the Mavericks met at half time and discussed what they needed to do better to win that game.  No one sat there thinking the Jackrabbits got them.

My friend and I have agreed that if the Mavericks lock up the 1 or the 2 seed in the conference tournament, we’re heading to Sioux Falls.  We’re sports lovers and we’d go Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday if the Mavericks were playing but we’re adults and have jobs*.  I admit, when David Jenkins hit a three to open up the second half and push the lead to 16, I seriously debated of texting my friend that we should just prepare to go to Bockfest at the German American Society on March 9th, instead.

Eventually, Mike Daum went to the bench and I thought to myself that this was the Mavericks’ chance to make a push to cut into the lead and make this a game.  If it wasn’t going to happen then, it probably wouldn’t happen at all.  With Daum on the bench, they cut into the lead. All of a sudden, I had faith.

Even with Daum back on the court, the team the Summit League sees as perfect started messing up.  Turnovers and missed shots over a 4 minute stretch allowed the Mavericks to spark the comeback.

That’s the great thing about this year’s team.  They take care of the ball and they have so many weapons on offense that if their opponents can’t take care of the ball, the Mavericks can take advantage.  It’s not like a few years ago when the Mavericks as a team would have 8 assists on 20 turnovers, it’s the opposite of that now.  They’re not spending a large portion of the game just shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and bad shot selection over 8 minute stretches.

Once the Mavericks evened things up, the teams traded blows.  Daum would hit a three, and then Hahn would answer. KJ Robinson would hit a big three, and David Jenkins was there to rip our throats out.

While Jenkins was lighting up the Mavericks, Omaha did the unthinkable and actually slowed down Daum.  Daum was still creating space for Jenkins just by his presence on the court, but Daum was actually struggling in the game for a stretch.

For literally the first time of me ever watching Mike Daum play basketball, I thought he was actually intimidated.  He appeared to be completely confused by Matt Pile.  Excuse me, I want to retype that.  Daum appeared to be completely confused by Matt ‘effin Pile.  Daum looked like he couldn’t believe the sophomore wasn’t backing down from him.

In four years of witnessing Mike Daum, I have never thought he took a bad shot.  In the second half, he was going right after Pile and for the first time I ever I actually said “what are you thinking, Daum?”

On the other end, I literally had a debate with myself asking if Mike Daum was bad at defense. Like, I really just couldn’t tell. Pile and Hahn weren’t afraid to get after him, and when guards penetrated Daum just kind of let them do their thing. It is worth considering, though, that the Jackrabbits really don’t have much of a bench so they seriously cannot afford Daum to get in foul trouble and go to the bench.  I mean, look what sparked when Daum spent less than two minutes on the bench.

Don’t worry about Daum, he went 9-23 from the field and was the 3rd best player in last night’s game, but he’s still going to be voted Player of the Week.

The ending to this classic was about as perfect as they come.  The Nebraska-native, who is probably the best player the Summit League has ever seen knocks down two free throws to force the Maverick fans to say to themselves “son of a…”

But 5.7 seconds is too much time for Mitch Hahn.  The fellow Nebraska-native takes the ball the length of the floor and drills the baseline jump shot to seal the deal, and to create an even more intense final two weeks of the regular season for the Mavericks and Jackrabbits.

Third place Fort Wayne, who has won 5 consecutive games, comes to Omaha on Saturday for what should be another intense game.  I’m not the smartest person alive, but I just kind of assume Fort Wayne wants a top 2 seed in the tournament.  South Dakota State is at North Dakota State, the fourth place team in the Summit.  The Jackrabbits are historically kind of bad in Fargo, but they won there last year.

Even with this being the best basketball game to be played at Baxter Arena to this point, the Mavericks can’t stop now. It appears Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson understand this, and as they say: there is still a lot of basketball to be played.

*When are we going to stage a protest to have the Summit League tournament moved from Sioux Falls? The conference might get a third South Dakota school, and the rest of us have to suffer for it. If it’s going to remain in Sioux Falls can we at least set it up to where the conference championship isn’t on a Tuesday night?  If Denver made the conference championship, they would have less than 50 fans at the game on a Tuesday night.

 

 

Don’t think I’ll be doing a blog this year

There has been a lot of thought into this, but I don’t think I’ll be blogging this year.  You’ll all be fine.

Last year I wasn’t really into this, and I think it showed with this blog pretty much just turning into weekly Summit League rankings.

I went through a stressful divorce last year, and just really want to just focus my energy into other activities for the time being.

I still love Mav sports and discussing them with others, but I just don’t have the energy to do anything here right now.  I may return in the future. Thanks for reading and following.

You can follow my regular Twitter/Instagram accounts: @andrewintho

Summit League predictions: Feb 14-17

Happy Valentine’s Day, or Happy Not Caring What Today Is Day, whichever you want to call it.  We’re in the second half of the Summit League schedule, and nearing toward Summit League tournament positioning, so things are going to get pretty interesting as teams are looking for a little revenge over the teams that beat them.

February 14

Western Illinois @ Fort Wayne

I got it right when Western Illinois won at Fort Wayne in January, and that is pretty big because when picking Western Illinois to win, I am right 5% of the time.

Western Illinois hasn’t won during the week of Valentine’s Day since 2013.

John Konchar really struggled against the Leathernecks last month, but he has been improving as the conference season has been going on.  Perhaps, the length of Brandon Gilbeck bothered him, but Konchar will be able to figure it out at home against the Leathernecks.

South Dakota @ Oral Roberts

With an overtime win against North Dakota State and a 10 point loss against South Dakota State, the Golden Eagles appear to be bouncing back from their struggles.

The Coyotes are 4-1 on the road this season in the Summit League, and they’re a roster filled with competitive defensive players.  Competitive defensive players that are all currently in “playoff mode” trying to earn that top spot in the Summit League tournament and an automatic NIT bid.

Omaha @ Denver

Denver will be seeking revenge after their double-overtime loss in Baxter Arena.  It was a game that anyone could have won, but the Mavericks just happened to escape with the win.  A game that showed their post players being just plain afraid of Matt Pile.

Also, how freaking great was that play at the end of regulation to get Daniel Norl that three point shot?  That play almost never works out, but the Mavericks executed it perfectly.  Really makes you feel like maybe they would have won the Summit League Tournament last season if they had a timeout near the end of the game to set up a play.

Either way, here we are now.  We’re in the revenge part of the season.  Daniel Amigo is back in the starting lineup for the Pioneers, and you could see how he felt frustrated with the referees and especially Matt Pile in Omaha.  Now, both players will be in the starting lineup, and Amigo will be looking to go right at the freshman.  If the Pioneers get off to a hot start at home, it should be difficult for the Mavericks to play catch up.


February 17

Western Illinois @ South Dakota State

I’m getting super good at making home made burritos.  I’ll use some bison, or some ground turkey with taco seasoning…then I’ll spread some avocado on the wrap, a little ranch, corn, almond cheese, and sometimes I’ll throw in some red or yellow peppers.  I’ll try and get some brown rice and black beans involved, when I can.  It’s pretty incredible.

Fort Wayne @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

Who even knows what’s going on with these two teams?  North Dakota State squandered a big lead the last time these two teams played, and I thought that was Fort Wayne’s specialty.

This is the last home game for North Dakota State’s AJ Jacobson and Paul Miller, and even though Paul Miller may not even play, we’re taking the home team in a situation like this.

Omaha @ South Dakota on ESPN3

With their defense, and mixture of personnel issues, the Coyotes should be able to pick up an easy win against the Mavericks.

It’s nice that Mitch Hahn came back with 21 points against Fort Wayne, but there are too many IFs for the Mavericks to pick up an upset in Vermillion.  They can win if Mitch Hahn plays like vintage Mitch Hahn.  They can win if Renard Suggs and/or Ayo Akinwole give some meaningful minutes off the bench.  They can win if KJ Robinson can score efficiently.  They can win if Matt Pile comes plays like he did in the first half of the season.

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 8-10

February 8th

Western Illinois @ Omaha

The Mavericks have played well at home this season, and they’ll be taking on Western Illinois with 9 days since playing a game.  The 9 days of rest will have proven to be beneficial for the Mavericks, and there really cannot be too many reasons for it to have not been that great for the Mavericks since there have been so many injuries they are considering taking the good body parts of all the injured players and fusing them into one person to construct a Frankenstein basketball player.

The Mavericks were able to out rebound the Leathernecks by 9 in Macomb, and they can probably do the same in Omaha, even without Lamar Wofford-Humphrey, as Matt Pile and Mitch Hahn can work to keep Brandon Gilbeck off the glass.

Fort Wayne @ South Dakota

The Mastodons are bringing a 2 game winning streak into Vermillion, but they were 1-3 on the road in the first half of the conference season.  They played 2 of those losses close and only lost by 1 and 2.

The ‘Dons may not have be able to keep this game as close as they would like.  The ‘Dons live and die by the 3, and they’re playing on the road against the best perimeter defense in the Summit League.  They were 3-of-20 on threes when these two teams met in Fort Wayne.

North Dakota State @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

The Golden Eagles may have started the conference season off strong, but the youth and the lack of depth has really been starting to show.

South Dakota State @ Denver

To win, Denver will have to outscore the Jackrabbits.  That is the most obvious thing to ever be said, but to do that, they’ll have to defend the Jackrabbits.  The defending seems to be the problem for the Pioneers.

February 10th

North Dakota State @ Denver

I completely think the Bison are a better basketball team than the Pioneers, but traveling to Tulsa and then Denver might be a bit much for the Bison.

Fort Wayne @ Omaha

So for John Konchar’s 2 career games in Omaha, he has averaged 30 points and 11.5 rebounds.  He has also shot 24-of-29 from the Baxter Arena floor.  Okay, I’m going to go hit random objects with a hammer.

It is 90’s night at Baxter Arena.  Apparently, an original Blockbuster card will get you in for free.  It’s a good thing my counterfeit Blockbuster card business is going to finally pay off.

South Dakota State @ Oral Roberts

I’m trying to imagine all the ways that Oral Roberts could take control of the Jackrabbits and win this game.  I’ve got nothing.

 

 

Hey, I think Matt Pile might be Captain America

I was never really a Marvel guy until about 2010, but I have seen enough of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to build an understanding that Matt Pile could actually be the real Captain America.

I am not going to sit here and start a conspiracy that Matt Pile became the way that he is, physically, because of some super serum put together in some lab, but I’m not going to sit here and tell anyone that it’s not possible.  I’m sure Pile built his physical presence up in a gym, but his 6 blocks against the Pioneers would likely have Denver wanting him to be tested for any scientific advantages he may possess.

Okay, I don’t really want to talk about Pile’s physical characteristics anymore, because, well, this is weird enough.  But what else does Pile possess for me to come up with such a claim?

Captain America doesn’t back down from a challenge, and neither does Matt Pile.  Capt moves without fear, as does Matt Pile.

When faced up against one of the most prestigious basketball programs in the country, Pile had to go up against NBA prospects.  Pile went right at them because he didn’t want to show fear.  When going up against South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, when Pile first got the ball, he looked right at Daum and took it right to the basket for a bucket.  On defense, when first against Daum, Daum tried going right back at him, and Pile blocked his shot.

Captain America is the tactician of whatever team he is on.  It would be a stretch to refer to Pile as a “floor general” in any sense, but he’s quite tactical on the court to use his strengths to help his team.

Watch Pile whenever he first gets the ball down on the block in any game.  With his back to the basket, he’ll look at his defender, he’ll look at the basket, and he’ll figure out his first move to show his defender who is stronger, and not that he’s not afraid.

As the game progresses and he catches the ball down on the block, with his back to the basket, he’ll stand there, maybe take a few dribbles, and watch teammates on the perimeter move around for an open basket, and he is completely capable of finding them.

Random thought:  The dumbest scene in all of the Marvel Universe is in “Captain America: Civil War” when Steve Rogers is holding the helicopter from flying away, and he switches arms positions, which the director wanted to do apparently because he just thought it looked cool.  Why wouldn’t the powered chopper just pull Rogers clear into the sky with it for the second he lets go of the platform?  I have no idea, but the scene would’ve been just as good, if not better, with Matt Pile as Captain America.

The free throws aren’t there, yet, and South Dakota and South Dakota State both exposed that Pile needs to figure out what to do when being double teamed, but he’s got a long basketball career ahead of him and he will figure that stuff out.  Also, how many freshmen in the Summit League are drawing double teams?  None.  Just Matt Pile.

There was a game in Tre’Shawn Thurman’s freshman year that I thought was really his coming out party.  It was ironically against Nevada, but he played with such confidence and swagger, and you could tell he felt he was the best player on the court.  I thought he was the best freshman Omaha had landed after watching him that game.

After watching Pile play Denver, I thought maybe Pile was the best freshmen Omaha has landed so far.  Pile had 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocks that night.  That may not have the feel of “this kid is the future” but he absolutely boggled Denver’s minds that night.  They couldn’t figure out how to score in the post with Pile on the floor.  Daniel Amigo, one of the best post players in the league, couldn’t match up against Pile.  As good as Thurman was against Nevada in the Baxter Arena, I never felt like Nevada was just frustrated by the guy’s presence like Denver.  I mostly just felt like Nevada was bad.

Also, coincidentally, both Thurman and Pile were able to take advantage of opportunities with older players being slowed down by injuries.  Pile received more playing time with Mitch Hahn, and now Lamar Wofford-Humphrey being injured.  Thurman picked up minutes with Jake White was sidelined, and the playing time probably helped him develop faster.  Hopefully, it can pay off in the same way for Pile.

Captain America may not have the coolest abilities out of all the Avengers, but he has the biggest heart and displays the biggest signs of leadership.  Matt Pile may not be the leader of the Mavericks, yet, but make no mistake that one day he will be Captain Omerica.


The Mavericks still have 6 regular season games remaining, and at least one Summit League tournament game to play, and Pile has already made an impression on the program.  This season he:

  • Had 6 blocks against Denver, which was the most by any Maverick in a basketball game since transition
  • Has 29 blocks on the season, one more and he’ll pass Tre’Shawn Thurman by an freshman since transition.  He’s 7 blocks away from passing Thurman for the most by any Mav for blocks on a season since transition.
  • Was the first Maverick freshman to record a double-double since transition.  It was against Doane, but it still counts.
  • Has the 4th most points by a freshman in a season since transition, he’s 28 points away from passing Marcus Tyus for 3rd.