Party of 16: table or Booth?

I know there are several questions surrounding college basketball. The most important question might be: will it even happen? I was looking at the Mavericks basketball roster and I ended up asking myself a couple questions I’ve never really asked since UNO has transitioned to division 1. Does UNO have too many players on the roster?


I hope you’re excited about this season happening if it does. Mostly because the year has been an unending nightmare. Hasn’t been that bad for me, actually. I paid off my student loans. But then a week later someone ran a red light and totaled my car. I’m fine and healthy and I got a pretty large pay out for my car. I’m currently deciding between two cars. One is the obvious answer as to which of the two is better, but the other one is black and slapping an Omaha O on it would look real nice.


The Mavericks roster stands at 16 players. The only other seasons the Mavericks had 16 players on the roster since transitioning to division 1 were 2015-2016 when the Mavericks finished 18-14 on the year and lost in the first round of the Summit League tournament, and in 2017-2018 which is a season I pretend didn’t happen. UNO also had no scholarship players transfer, quit, or leave the team over the Summer and I’m not sure that has ever happened. The only player to leave the team was Hayden Miller, who had my vote for the best hair on the team.

With the addition of junior college transfer Sam’i Roe, the Mavericks are going to have a 7 man rotation of all upper classmen*. This is typically a good formula for success at a mid-major program. That’s what South Dakota’s Todd Lee said at the Summit League Media Day last season, and I guess they were okay enough to finish third in the Summit League and lose in the first round of the tournament. South Dakota State was also the least experienced team in the Summit League and they won a share of the regular season title, so there are other factors and it’s not exact science, but you get it**.

*It is still a little unclear if Marco Smith will be a sophomore or a junior.

**I started filtering through the Summit League to see who would be the most experienced team in their 7 to 8 man rotations this upcoming season and then got bored frustrated with Kansas City and stopped. The Mavericks are at least more experienced than Denver.

Looking ahead if this season actually happens, there will be some different questions surrounding the roster about playing time and redshirts.

In addition to working Smith and Roe into the lineup to replace KJ Robinson and JT Gibson, Derrin Hansen and his staff will have to figure out how to mix and rotate in their new young guards La’Mel Robinson and Jadin Booth. Robinson redshirted last season, but there are rumblings that he is good enough to start for the Mavericks this season at point guard.

So question: What do you do with Jadin Booth?

Do you redshirt Booth and allow him to work on his game in the gym and in practice, or do you play him and potentially play stretches with a freshman backcourt and let the two develop their on court chemistry? Keep in mind, Booth is going to have to compete in minutes with senior Ayo Akinwole, Robinson, Roe, Smith, and maybe even walk on redshirt freshman Grant Frickenstein (he’ll be leading nominee for the team’s best hair). That’s a lot of guards to rotate 40 minutes around.

I think Booth is going to be a great player and has the quickness, shooting, and potential to be just as good as someone like Marcus Tyus, but I personally think the right thing for him this year would be to redshirt him and give him time to get stronger.

Which brings us to another question about redshirts. In addition to bringing back front court players Matt Pile, Wanjang Tut, Darrius Hughes, and Nathan Brusseau the Mavericks are adding junior college transfer Devin Evans and Missouri-native freshman Dylan Brougham. Sophomore Kyle Luedtke can also play some minutes at the 4, if necessary.

Brougham is likely to redshirt for the 2020-2021 season, but would you throw a redshirt on sophomore Nathan Brusseau as well? Brusseau played 11 games off the bench as a freshman before suffering an injury. Brusseau didn’t appear to be playing with a load of confidence, but he has some energy and fight in him. The Mavericks have routinely played with a 3 man rotation for their front court under Hansen with a fourth guy usually used in garbage time and foul trouble situations, and that was Brusseau’s role last season.

With the addition of Evans in the front court, this allows the Mavericks some leverage with potentially redshirting Brusseau this upcoming season, which could help him put on more muscle and give him more time to come back from his injury last season.

Last question: How freaking excited are you for this basketball season? Actually, allow me to rephrase. How Frickenstein are you excited for this basketball season? I’m sorry I haven’t gotten out much lately. Something in the world happened and I’m still adjusting.

This team is deep, experienced, and can play with a lot of hustle and energy. We can just assume Matt Pile, Wanjang Tut, and Zach Thornhill will be back in the starting lineup, while the backcourt is still in up in the air, you should feel confident with just about any decision the Maverick staff makes with the starting lineup. If Hansen ends up starting Robinson at the point guard, the team could have Akinwole and Marlon Ruffin first up off the bench with a hopefully more developed Darrius Hughes off the bench as well.

The Mavericks have loved their versatility over the last few years, and this might be the most versatile basketball team they’ve ever had. They could potentially have 40 minutes of just non-stop movement and offense.


Omaha women’s basketball was always about potential under Brittany Lange, and still is

Chance Lindley apparently just didn’t show up to work one day.

He left college coaching and just moved away or something with little to no notice.  I think I saw somewhere a while back that he actually moved to Wichita and ran a bakery, for some reason. It’s also possible this life isn’t real and we’re in a simulation and there was just a glitch in Lindley and he was written out of the coding in this matrix.  I don’t know, I’m not into conspiracies, but it sounds like it could hold up.

Lindley spent just two seasons as the head coach at Omaha, and he was actually pretty successful in his tenure at the school, even if you legitimately forgot who he was.  He posted a 32-23 record with stars Paige Frauendorfer and Jamie Nash on Maverick roster, as they were transitioning to division one.

In that time, he assembled a really good recruiting class with Mikaela Shaw and Madi Robson in the group.

Either way, Lindley left us and ghosted us like a match on a dating app.  His departure created an opening for 26 year old Brittany Lange to take on the opportunity as an interim coach.  Lange was taking over a roster filled with fresh faces, but also filled with potential.

Most of us think we can do our jobs better than our boss.  Hell, my direct boss is socially inept, and she has said a total of 9 words in person to me in 2 1/2 years.  Regardless, I can’t imagine coming into work one day and having her boss say: “yeah, so they just aren’t answering their phone.  You’re in their role now, and all your subordinates need to be trained.  Cool, I’ve got some golf to go play. don’t mess up” and then me actually doing the job, let alone have the local newspaper reporting on it…and at 26 years old.

I am the same age as Brittany Lange, so naturally she’s the Omaha Maverick head coach I would want to sit down and talk to the most, if ever given the opportunity to talk to any Omaha Maverick head coach.  I’d literally be made of questions around her, and they’d all be questions about being a head coach at 26 years old, in a scenario in which she didn’t even really apply the job.

I’m trying to think of all the things I was doing at 26 years old. I was working a job I didn’t really like, thinking Blue Moon was craft beer, drinking a lot beer, starting a really bad basketball blog, and watching endless amounts of videos of people online skateboarding off of things.

My friends were either starting grad school or finishing grad school, drinking craft beer, and drinking a lot of beer, working jobs for way less than they were worth, having kids, and sharing endless amounts of videos of people skateboarding off of things.

Just thinking of how different Lange’s life was from other people’s lives around her age has always fascinated me.  She was the head coach of a division one basketball team, and while you all say “I could do that,” no you can’t.  The Mavericks went 12-16 in her first season as head coach, a team made up of just one senior, 5 freshmen, 3 junior college transfers, and two injured wing players; Brianna Bogard who played just 4 games and Cathleen Cox who missed the entire season.

Lange had the interim taken off of her title and she was awarded the head coaching position with the Mavericks.  In her second season as head coach, the Mavericks roster consisted of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and the future appeared bright with Mikaela Shaw and the young core.

After seeing a group of players leave after her second year, Lange brought in arguably her best recruiting class into the 2015-2016 season.  The class included sisters Michaela and Moriah Dapprich, sisters transferring from Wichita State, as well as Texas Tech transfer center Courtney Vaccher.  Freshmen players like: Kalen Phillips, who was a 4 star athlete on ESPN, Sara Echelberry, a 6’2″ versatile forward who appeared to have the skills to play all three front court positions, Amber Vidal, a streaky floor general point guard, center Caroline Hogue who averaged 3 blocks a game as a freshman at UNO, the sharpshooting Ellie Brecht, and local center Jay Bridgeman.

In 2015-2016, the Mavericks finished 15-15, and made it to the second round of the Summit League tournament.  The future never appeared brighter for the Maverick women.  As fans, we saw the potential in the freshman and knew we were going to be adding Vaccher and the Dapprich sisters to this roster. I haven’t even mentioned Remy Davenport, who was fantastic with the Mavericks.

We thought the only problem the team might have would be having maybe too much talent and the coaching staff figuring out how to divide up all the minutes.  In our minds, we really thought we were going to have a three deep rotation at center with Vaccher, Hogue, Bridgeman, and maybe even Echelberry.  The 2015-2016 team also had 6’3″ rim protector Vanessa Barajas as a back up center.

In March 2016, I was convinced the Mavericks would win the Summit League tournament a year later.  The team even picked up Jess Walter, a transfer from Indiana, who would sit out the year, but it felt like another ingredient for the future after the expected greatness.

Over the Summer, Hogue and Barajas both left the program and the Mavericks lost their rim protection.  The Mavericks still had their most talented roster since transitioning to division one, but it wasn’t enough as the team finished below expectations for a 5th place finish in the Summit League.  2016-2017 was the only season Lange would finish with a winning record.

Make any excuse you want for Lange, but through injuries and early departures, Lange was constantly left struggling with trying to figure out how to get her teams to gel. Having to change the team’s starting lineup game-after-game, players appeared to struggle with their constantly changing roles.

Lange would consistently recruit solid recruiting classes, but each class consistently brought players transferring out of the program.  With all the potential in her recruiting classes, Lange only had 3 players play 4 years in her program: Mikaela Shaw, Taijhe Kelly, and Kalen Phillips.  Yet, when you account for all of the injuries that occurred in her tenure to Jay Bridgeman, Ellie Brecht, Kalen Phillips, Cathleen Cox, and others you can understand the complications in finding the right lineups.

With the constant turnover to players and assistant coaches, the Mavericks struggled to find an identity.  With the exception of the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, the Mavericks were always looking for leadership on the court.

This last season was another example of all that turnover.  The roster was once again filled with new faces. The lineup was changed a number of times, roles were changed, the team kept coming close to wins but lost several chances late in the game, and players struggled to find consistency.

Like any other season under Lange’s tenure, fans can take note of the team’s potential.  Lange recruited wine players to the Omaha program, and year-after-year we saw the potential of where the program might be a year or two later.  As a fan, I wish we could see where the program might go with this core of talent and Brittany Lange, but year-after-year, we saw the mass exodus in the program.  Perhaps, a coaching change can take the potential Lange brought to the program and bring it some stability.  Maybe even be competitive with the likes of South Dakota and South Dakota State.

Lange leaves the program with some pieces attractive to a new coach.

Freshman Ella Ogier had perhaps statistically one of the most successful freshman seasons since Mikaela Shaw.  Sophomore center Mariah Murdie was named 2nd Team all conference, the first time a Maverick has been awarded to (1st or) 2nd Team since 2017.

The Mavericks finished 2-14 in the Summit League in Lange’s last season, but had 6 conference losses by 6 points or less.  The Mavericks will lose just one senior, and the foundation for a great team is there.

Lange took on a job no one really wanted at the time.  She will find an assistant coaching job and hopefully grow into the potential in her we all saw as fans, and I have no doubt she will be a head coach again. She will leave the Omaha program with pieces for a bright future, for the right coach.

As far as a head coaching search goes, all I’m going to say is: Connie Yori currently lives in Omaha.

The Mavericks face North Dakota with more at stake than it just being the last home game of the season

This last Maverick home game will have more factors than “I’m just a simple cave man. North Dakota on road – bad; Omaha at home – good.”

JT Gibson and KJ Robinson already played their Senior Day at Baxter Arena, but unless Omaha plays a CIT or CBI game at Baxter Arena* this will be their game in Omaha.

*Highly unlikely they accept a CIT or CBI invite, if offered.**

**Though, maybe they’d benefit from giving post season experience to the young core of Wanjang Tut, Zach Thornhill, Marlon Ruffin, and Darrius Hughes.  Actually, can we just schedule a late season exhibition game against the Huskers in Baxter Arena?  That should be their punishment for – a lot of stuff.

The Mavericks will be entering this game on a three game winning streak, aiming to build momentum for the Summit League Tournament.  The Fighting Hawks come to Omaha facing consistent inconsistency, winning then losing every other game for the last seven games in a pattern.  If they continue the pattern, North Dakota will lose this game.  It’s not about patterns, and according to Steve Smith’s commentary on NBA 2k20 – This is WHY we play the game!

With the exception of a few, most Summit League teams have been bad on the road this season, so it’s easy just to say Omaha has the dominant advantage against North Dakota.  The Fighting Hawks did win their last road game in Macomb, though.  A three point win, they also had a recent three point win against North Dakota State over the weekend.

Facing injuries and players adapting to a new system, North Dakota has had an inconsistent season.  However, with three seniors capable of hitting clutch shots and decent three point shooting, the Fighting Hawks keep themselves in games.

Last year in the Summit League Tournament, when Omaha and North Dakota faced in the first round, the Mavericks appeared to be the better team, but the Fighting Hawks just wouldn’t go away as they kept knocking down threes.  The same thing happened in Grand Forks in January.  Omaha was up 10 points with 13 minutes to go, but North Dakota went on a run to keep the game close.  They again just wouldn’t freaking go away.  Marlon Stewart is a player who won’t let his team just go away.  Which, is pretty respectable.

Matt Pile and Filip Rebraca battled in Grand Forks forcing both to bad offensive games, but both grabbed double digit rebounds.  Pile struggled on the road against Fort Wayne and Western Illinois, and the Mavericks won both games, but if Pile can make an impact on offense against North Dakota, he could be the difference between the game being close down the stretch, or the Fighting Hawks not going away.  Denver couldn’t stop Pile late in the Mavericks’ latest home game, and it helped put Denver away and keep the Mavericks going to a 23 point win.

Both teams can go on hot and cold streaks, and the Mavericks will want to play as well as they most recently did in Baxter Arena against Denver, if they want to keep North Dakota away from a lead late in the game.  The Mavericks let Kobe Webster keep it close on Saturday in Macomb.  That’s right, I said Kobe Webster, since he was the only Leatherneck who appeared to want to win that game.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Fighting Hawks are undefeated playing in the state of Nebraska this season.

The emotions may run higher for Gibson and Robinson in their last game at Baxter Arena.  There is a lot to play for in this game.  This is their last chance for a win in front of their home crowd  They also have a chance at securing a 3, 4, or 5 seeding in the Summit League Tournament.

That’s dumb, I hate that last sentence.  I don’t think college basketball teams really concern themselves with tournament seeding outside of winning the regular season, or securing a top 2 spot in the Summit League Tournament for a day off in the tournament.

But hear me out.

standings

South Dakota, Omaha, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota are all competing for the 3-6 seeds in the Summit League Tournament.  Maybe seeding matters to teams, maybe it doesn’t.  Omaha and North Dakota play each other tonight, and Oral Roberts will be a strong favorite to beat Western Illinois tomorrow night and Fort Wayne on Saturday night.

Here is where seeding does matter…

Neither of these teams want to finish in 3rd place and go up against South Dakota, as the potential 3 seed, in Sioux Falls.  Omaha’s best options are to finish as the 4 or 5 seed.  Aside from not playing South Dakota in the first round, if they play in the 4 versus 5 game, they get to play at 6pm on a Sunday night, instead of 8:30, so there will be more of a possibility of their fans making the drive to Sioux Falls.

An 8:30 start time on a Sunday and a three hour late drive home isn’t ideal for those of us who have to work early on a Monday morning.  Trying to justify a half day with your boss because you were up late on a Sunday driving back home for a 3 seed versus 6 seed Summit League Tournament game isn’t the dream conversation.  Thanks a lot Summit League.

bracket

From the 4/5 game, the winner would likely go up against South Dakota State.  It would essentially be a home team for a  young South Dakota State team, who hasn’t really been tested.  Still, while young, they are a team who only has one game in the last week of the regular season, and was one of three teams in the Summit League to never play more than 2 consecutive away games in the conference, and also had week long rests heading into some of their biggest games.  Again, no conspiracy that the conference favors anyone here or tries to help them out a little bit the year after they lose one of the conference’s best players ever and 85% of their scoring.***

***Some Maverick sports fans may note the Frozen Four as their moment they really felt like UNO really had a sports community and felt like they were part of something when so many fans made the trip to Boston.  For me, it was sitting in the hotel lobby next to the Denny Sanford Premier Center with Maverick fans watching South Dakota State lose a historic game to the 8 seed Western Illinois.  We drank and cheered the shit out of a Western Illinois’ win.  After the game, we all gleefully marched into the arena as the Jackrabbit fans walked out with their tails between their legs. We talked smack, they had nothing to say.  The arena emptied.  We took over the lower bowl because the arena and Summit League staff stopped giving a shit about the tournament, but we cared.  My most memorable moment as a Maverick fan, so far.  Probably pretty sad it wasn’t an actual Omaha game, just watching a rival go down together, and that march into the arena.

After that tangent…anything can happen.  Seeding may not or may not matter, but this is the point the intensity level goes up.  There is more at stake for the JT, KJ, and the Mavericks.  These games matter, the momentum matters, you never know what’s going to happen this game or the next game.


The laziest Summit League predictions.

February 26th

Denver @ Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne is better.  I do think Denver has a brighter future, but for today Fort Wayne is better.

North Dakota @ Omaha on ESPN+

I closed my eyes, I’m biased, and I like Omaha more.


February 27th

Western Illinois @ Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts is better.

South Dakota State @ North Dakota State on ESPN+

The Jackrabbits may have won in Brookings, but North Dakota State is better.


February 29th

It’s Leap Day, anything can happen.

Western Illinois @ Denver

This game is a toss up.  Denver is probably better, and they’re at home.  Denver as the 8 seed, baby!  Billy Wright gone!  One more year of Billups!

North Dakota @ South Dakota

South Dakota is better, but maybe they rest some dudes after locking up the 3 seed?  It’s their senior day, so that’s doubtful.

Omaha @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

North Dakota is better.  Sigh.

Fort Wayne @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

Oral Roberts is better, but come on Mastodons!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 19-22

February 19th

South Dakota State @ North Dakota on ESPN+

Look, I’m kind of rooting for the Fighting Hawks in this one, since I picked the Jackrabbits 5th in my preseason rankings and I don’t want to look so stupid; but I cannot find much of a reason for North Dakota to be a favorite in this game.

North Dakota State @ South Dakota on ESPN3

The Bison won their first match up with the Coyotes in Fargo by 2 points. It was a weird ending with a late offensive foul call on Cody Kelley. It was a foul that could have gone either way, and even the referee stood there for a few seconds trying to figure out what to call.  Expect the senior loaded Coyotes to come out focused against the Bison, as they’re also looking to secure a top 2 seed in the conference tournament.


February 20th

Omaha @ Fort Wayne

The Mastodons are not perfect at home. They’ve dropped home games to South Dakota State, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota State.  I’m hoping a dunk by Marlon Ruffin, which didn’t even count, will spark a fire in the Mavericks through the rest of the season.

The ‘Dons are also a young basketball team, and the younger teams tend to get worse as the season goes on. The big difference in their match up with the Mavericks earlier in the season was experience. Late in the game, the youth of the Mastodons’ point guards became an issue against the likes of JT Gibson, Ayo Akinwole, and KJ Robinson.  Jon Coffman said that, I did not say that.

Oral Roberts @ Denver

Matt Pile dominated the Pioneers down low, I can only imagine Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor will do much of the same.  Especially since they already did once this season.

Robert Jones is eventually going to be so good, though.  Hopefully he doesn’t transfer when Rodney Billups gets fired.


February 21st

Omaha @ Western Illinois on ESPN3

Man, I’m just being super biased this week.  The Leathernecks will have a week of rest coming into this game, but it just seems as if these players have given up on Billy Wright, and maybe a week of rest and getting out of any type of rhythm is a bad thing for a team so horrendous at offense.

How crazy would it be if Denver ended up going 2-1 in their last two games and ended up in the Summit League Tournament?  Maybe that saves Rodney Billups’ job…maybe a youthful Denver team sees a youthful South Dakota State team in the Summit League Tournament.  That would be madness.  Some might even call it madness in March.

North Dakota State @ North Dakota on ESPN3

Tough week for North Dakota. They play the two toughest teams in the Summit League at home.  Maybe they drop both games on purpose in hopes of falling to 7th in the conference so they potentially play on Saturday during the Summit League Tournament to get an extra day off in the event they win.  Maybe they don’t.


February 22nd

South Dakota @ South Dakota State on ESPN+

You’re not reading this anymore, are you?

I just think the Coyotes need and want this game more than the Jackrabbits.

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 12-16

February 12th

Western Illinois @ South Dakota on ESPN+

I’ve got this idea for a movie.  It’s like a comedy version of “The Expendables.”  We round up them comedy Hollywood folk like: Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Steve Carell, Dave Chappelle, Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld, and more and it’s just a movie about them playing themselves trying to come up with a parody to “The Expendables” but none of them can stay on track long enough to put together a movie, and they get in a bunch of craziness along the way.

Okay, was that a bigger waste of time to read about, or would it have been a bigger waste of time to hear about a basketball game we already know the outcome to?

Omaha @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

Think about how much the Mavericks had to overcome to defeat the Golden Eagles in Baxter Arena.  Now think of how bad JT Gibson has been struggling shooting the basketball, he’s shot 15% on threes over the last three games, and 23% overall from the field.  Also throw in the fact that Zach Thornhill stole the ball and sprinted down the court to throw down a monstrous dunk as time expired when the Mavericks were already up by 5, and how that must have upset the Golden Eagles.


February 14th

Denver @ South Dakota State

Fort Wayne @ North Dakota State on ESPN+

I’m going over these games together, as it’s fitting both of these match ups take place on Valentine’s Day.  South Dakota State and North Dakota State are the most beloved teams in the Summit League, so I find it ironic they both get home games on Valentine’s Day against the two teams with the least amount of love in the Summit.  Fort Wayne won’t even be in the conference next season, and Denver wishes they weren’t in the conference next season.

It’s so beautiful The Summit League honored Valentine’s Day with match ups that make you feel like you’re watching a bad relationship end, and another game that just plays out like an abusive relationship you want to see end, but the Pioneers think they cannot find anything better.


February 15th

North Dakota @ Western Illinois on ESPN3

The Summit League and ESPN3 invite you to take in a basketball production so low in quality you’ll question if the broadcasters are in an active pursuit to ruin your Saturday.  Yes, tune in to listen to two grown men get paid to mispronounce 19 year old kids’ last names, as they dribble the ball off their knees and miss contested driving floaters 18 feet away from the basket for some damn reason.  You’ll be so frustrated watching this game, you may even take up reading novels again.

Why take Western Illinois in this game, you ask? Just because they are the home team, and every team in this conference has been so bad on the road that it just seems like a safe bet? That, yeah sure, but also because these teams aren’t far enough away in talent, depth, or just about anything, but CJ Duff is a good enough defender to throw Marlon Stewart off on the road to give the Leathernecks an actual chance in a basketball game.  Also, Ben Pyle has a chance to outplay Kienan Walter on the perimeter and go off for a big day, and whenever Pyle plays big, the Leathernecks play big. I get that’s rare.

South Dakota @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

The Golden Eagles have already lost to one South Dakota team at home this season.  Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor aren’t great at defending big guys on the perimeter like Tyler Hagedorn.


February 16

Fort Wayne @ South Dakota State on ESPN+

Things Fort Wayne would have to do to win this basketball game:

  • Be good at perimeter defense to slow down Douglas Wilson and Matt Dentlinger
  • Actually, be good at defense in general
  • Be good on the road
  • Not turn the ball over
  • Make free throws

Things South Dakota State has to do to win this game

  • Show up

Denver @ Omaha

Jace Townsend had to shoot 8-of-10 on threes to give the Pioneers a win in Denver, and that’s not likely to happen on the road at Omaha.  The Pioneers shot 55% overall from the field in that game, and they are capable of shooting well on the road, but the young Pioneers have a tough weekend on the road at South Dakota State and Omaha.

JT Gibson is going to have to get out of his current shooting slump for the Mavericks not to drop another game at home.  With the lack of depth of the Mavericks, they cannot afford one of their captains shooting 23% from the floor.  Not many teams could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 5-8

February 5th

Western Illinois @ Fort Wayne

If the Leathernecks can win this game, that will give both teams 3 wins and basically secure them spots in the Summit League tournament.  Unless the Mastodons all of a sudden get bad at rebounding, and the Leathernecks all of a sudden get good at offense on the road, that’s not going to happen.

North Dakota State @ Omaha on ESPN+

I know the Bison are favored in this game.  They probably are a better team than Omaha, overall, but not by a large amount.  These teams have differing styles, and I always find this match up incredibly fun to watch.  I sort of have a stat. I only sort of have it because I once jotted it down in some notes, but the notepad from that computer didn’t transfer over to a new computer.

Dave Richman team’s are kind of bad on weeknight road games, but they’re surprisingly really good on weekend road games.  It was one of the weirdest consistent things I’ve seen in the Summit League.  I thought it was just a common thing among teams at this level, but it’s really not.  They were 1-4 on weeknight Summit League road games last season.  They are 1-2 on weeknight Summit League road games this season.


February 7th

Oral Roberts @ North Dakota on ESPN+

Oral Roberts forces more turnovers than anyone in the Summit League, and North Dakota is one of the worst at taking care of the basketball, which is impressive as they play at one of the slowest paces in the conference.  The Golden Eagles already defeated the Fighting Hawks by 15 in Tulsa.  It sounds like the deeper and more experienced Golden Eagles should have a good shot at picking up a conference road win.


February 8th

Oral Roberts @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

These are evenly matched teams, and this game should be a blast. North Dakota State at home with an extra day of rest should be beneficial.

South Dakota @ North Dakota on ESPN3

Tough week for North Dakota with Oral Roberts and South Dakota coming to town. The home court advantage will be nice, but South Dakota is currently on a roll.

Omaha @ South Dakota State

The biased fan in me wants to say Omaha will win this game. They’ve had luck playing in Brookings in the past, but the Jackrabbits have been an excellent team this season.  Omaha has had many struggles on the road, and South Dakota State has one of the longest active home winning streaks in division one.  Though, Omaha’s did end last week, maybe Omaha can end someone else’s.

Fort Wayne @ Denver

I’m going with Denver in this game. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want chaos at the bottom of the conference.

 

 

KJ Robinson has gone from being benched to The Guy for Omaha

Have you ever been to the Metro Summer League?  Out by 120th and Blondo. There is a mix of current and former metro basketball stars playing weekly basketball for…some prize… I have rarely attended in the past, as it’s never really worked out with my schedule, and if I’m being 100% honest, I forget it exists every Summer until after it’s over.

One year, I actually went to a few games. I went with one purpose, and one purpose only. To see some new 3 star recruit freshman UNO basketball player named KJ Robinson.

There wasn’t much to KJ at the time. The Summer League was dominated by the likes of Mitch Hahn, Justin Patton, Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Foster, Tre’Shawn Thurman, and Khyri Thomas.  I walked in and saw Hollins dominating some game against a hobbled Marcus Foster.  Hollins’ backup KJ Robinson sat on the bench with his arms crossed like he was some little brother invited to just hang out with his older brother and his friends, and they just played video games and wouldn’t give him the controller.

At that point, I had no idea what expectations to place on Robinson. He looked bored and frustrated, but mostly bored, and I didn’t know if he was going to stick it out with this Omaha team or if he would eventually transfer.

I’m not exactly sure who you think of when you picture an All Time Omaha Men’s Basketball team in your head, or if you even think about it it, but I’m willing to place a bet that you likely don’t have KJ Robinson too high on the depth chart on that team.

Actually, I put together some weird math formula to put together the depth chart of the All Time Omaha Division One team.  He’s on the team. Currently 10th on the depth chart, but he still has 9+ games to go, so he may climb.  What can I say, I’m single, ladies.

Currently this season, Robinson leads the Mavericks in scoring, three point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three point field goals made; and it feels like he’s the 3rd most discussed player on the team behind Matt Pile and JT Gibson.  Maybe even 4th now after Marlon Ruffin.

Last season, when the Mavericks found themselves in clutch situations the general feel from fans was: “it’s fine, we have Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.”  I’m not sure if this a collected thought, but now when the Mavericks find themselves in need of a bucket down the stretch this season, I find myself saying: “it’s fine, KJ will get one here.”

He just quietly does all of this.  It’s like that one episode of the ‘The Simpsons” when an Asian mafia fights Fat Tony’s gang in the family’s kitchen, and Marge instructs the family to leave the kitchen to escape the fight, but Homer wants to stay and watch because there is a little guy standing in the corner and he just knows he’s going to do something.

Playing against the Mastodons a couple weeks ago, KJ started the game off hot with three early 3’s, and then went quiet for almost another 30 minutes of the game.  After JT Gibson hit a big three to tie the game, I thought to myself: “you know KJ is going to do something here,” and sure enough he hit a big shot to seal the deal for the Mavericks.

Since the Mavericks have transitioned, there have essentially been 3 point guards:  Devin Patterson, Tra-Deon Hollins, and KJ Robinson.  And they’ve all been incredible, each had their niche.  Patterson was the fastest player Omaha has had, and could penetrate and get to the free throw line more than anyone.  Hollins was a defensive freak.  KJ has arguably had the highest basketball IQ out of all three of them and has done the best at keeping the team under control in high pressure situations, and hitting clutch shots and making big time plays.

As great as Patterson and Hollins were, they would occasionally make that frustrating play that made you want to rip up your program. Actually, why are you buying a program?  The internet has all the information you need.  KJ has never really had that one big time frustrating play.  Actually, one of the most frustrating Omaha plays I’ve ever watched was between Patterson and Hollins that cost them a game against the Mastodons.

We’ve slowly watched Robinson grow up the last 4 years.  His freshman season, Robinson was stuffed away in a talented back court consisting of Marcus Tyus, Tra-Deon Hollins, Daniel Norl, Kyler Erickson, and JT Gibson.  There were games Robinson was thrown into the game for a minute just to give Hollins a short rest, just because the coaching staff thought it might be a decent idea to take him out before a media timeout.

His sophomore season, the Mavericks faced injuries to almost every player on the roster. The team struggled, and I have almost completely put that season out of my mind.  Wait, what season are we talking about about?

In his junior season, Robinson led the Summit League in assist-to-turnover ratio in arguably the best season the Mavericks have ever had. What he brought to the team was completely overshadowed by Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.  Hahn and Jackson may have hit the last second shots, but Robinson consistently hit late shots to put the Mavericks in that situation for his seniors to have those opportunities.

His senior season started off with being disciplined for violating team rules, which I can only hope it’s something silly like stealing Derrin Hansen’s lunch out of the fridge.  He missed the first three games of the season, and Ayo Akinwole was inserted into the starting lineup, and became a star, himself.   He’s played his entire collegiate basketball career in the shadow of others.

He hit a game winning shot at North Dakota, which was almost in the exact same spot Mitch Hahn hit a game winning shot against the Fighting Hawks, almost as a statement to say he’s got the keys to the team now.

We’ve watched KJ grow over his career, but even in his own senior season he has gone from the guy who broke the rules to the guy who saves the team down the stretch.

 

 

Summit League predictions: Jan 29-Feb 2

I actually got some games right last week.  Every home team won last week, but it likely won’t be the same thing this week.

January 29th

South Dakota State @ Oral Roberts

Both teams are undefeated at home this season. The size of Emmanuel Nzekwesi, Kevin Obanor, and Elijah Lufile should be able to contest South Dakota State’s Douglas Wilson and Matt Dentlinger, who both shoot 61% from the floor. If Oral Roberts can alter their shots, they should be able to pick up the win at home.


January 30th

North Dakota @ Fort Wayne

The Mastodons are one of the sloppiest teams I’ve seen in the Summit League in a while.  Though, I will maintain IUPUI had some pretty sloppy teams in their day.  Even with that, North Dakota turns the ball over too much and Fort Wayne is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the conference, so they’ll have plenty of opportunities at possessions.

North Dakota State @ Western Illinois

The Leathernecks have had success against the Bison in the past in Macomb, but it usually takes a lot of things to go Wright for the Leathernecks and a lot of things to go wrong for the Bison. Seems like a bit to much of something to ask for from a team who may have given up on their head coach.

Please, recognize that play on words with “Wright” for the Leathernecks.

South Dakota @ Denver

The Coyotes defeated the Pioneers by just 2 points in Vermillion, so maybe you think home court advantage will come through for the Pioneers.  Maybe, maybe not. That game was played three weeks ago, and South Dakota wasn’t a fully healthy basketball team.  That game started a streak of the Coyotes winning 5 of the last 6 games. The one loss was at North Dakota State, a game that ended with a few questionable play calls.


February 1st

North Dakota State @ Fort Wayne

The most disciplined team against the least disciplined team.

South Dakota State @ Western Illinois

Am I crazy? Was it crazy when Western Illinois beat the Jackrabbits in Sioux Falls last March?  Yes it was.

Denver @ Oral Roberts

Denver is 0-10 on the road this season, and there is no plausible argument for anyone to make that they pick up their first road at the larger and more experienced Oral Roberts.


February 2nd

South Dakota @ Omaha on ESPN3

South Dakota defeated Omaha in Vermillion by 10, and home court advantage usually isn’t worth 10 total points.  Omaha had opportunities to win that game, but came up short in the end.

Omaha may have a 16 game home winning streak, and I am going to pray they win this game, Omaha has experienced scoring droughts in 5 consecutive home games forcing them to fight their way back to hold on for wins.  South Dakota is too experienced of a team and one of the best shooting teams in the country for the Mavericks to fall behind to.  Omaha is going to have to start out hot and keep it rolling for 40 straight minutes to beat the Coyotes.

The Mavericks will be playing this game on more rest than their opponent, however, the last time Omaha had a week of rest, they ended up losing in Denver by 15 points.

My trivial Summit League rankings: Jan 28

1st – South Dakota, 14-8 (5-3)

Last week’s ranking: 3rd

The Coyotes have won 5 of their last 6 games and shot higher than 50% in the last 4 games. Their bench hasn’t been what we thought it would be this season, but Ty Chisom and Brandon Armstrong have been giving the Coyotes quality minutes off the bench.  They haven’t really needed much of their bench as their starters are so solid.  All of their starters average 30 or more minutes per game.

Interesting stat: South Dakota is 4th in division one in 3 point field goal percentage.  The Coyotes also have the 9th best overall field goal percentage.  They also rank 37th in free throw percentage, and that’s 4th in the conference.  Western Illinois, North Dakota, and North Dakota State are all in the top 10.

2nd – South Dakota State, 15-8 (6-2)

Last week’s ranking: 2nd

In the preseason, I pointed out that it seems every year there is always a team with bunch of injuries and it’s just a year from hell.  I thought that would be South Dakota State this year, and while they have faced a number of injuries to key personnel, they are 6-2 in the first half of conference season.  Their players really buy into the The Next Guy philosophy.  After injuries to senior Brandon Key and junior Tray Buchanan, the team turned to sparingly used freshman Matt Mims, who has averaged 9.7 points and shot 67% from the field in the last few games.

Interesting stat: While seeing South Dakota was 4th in division one in field goal percentage, I also noticed South Dakota State is 14th.  They’ve ranked 1st in field goal percentage conference games. It helps when their two main interior post players Douglas Wilson and Matt Dentlinger both shoot higher than 60% from the field.  Also, somewhat scary they can shoot that well as a team and still average more than 10 offensive rebounds per game.

3rd – North Dakota State, 14-7 (5-2)

Last week’s ranking: 1st

Ranked 1st last week, and they dropped a game at South Dakota State and beat Denver, so not the biggest week to brag about.  It’s not like any of this matters.  It’s just winter and you came here because you’re bored.

Interesting stat: College Basketball Power Index predicts the Bison to have the best winning record at the end of the season, in the Summit League.  They have also had the weakest overall RPI Strength of Schedule if that makes you feel any better.

4th – Oral Roberts, 11-9 (4-3)

Last week’s ranking: 2nd 

The Golden Eagles only lost one game last week, at South Dakota, but one has to ask…if this team is known for their size and having such a strong interior presence, how did they let Tyler Hagedorn score 31 points and grab 9 rebounds against them?

Interesting stat: None, they’re boring.

5th – Omaha, 12-10 (5-2)

Last week’s ranking: 5th

Even if the Mavericks did win 2 games last week, they found themselves down after big scoring droughts in each game.  With moving Ayo Akinwole to the bench, the Mavericks will have 2 high energy guys off the bench with he and Marlon Ruffin hopefully providing sparks when the team finds themselves in those droughts.  Ruffin has scored in double figures in six consecutive games.

Interesting stat: Omaha has the highest RPI in the conference.

6th – North Dakota, 10-12 (4-4)

Last week’s ranking: 6th

After 4 straight losses, the Fighting Hawks were able to get a bit back on track with home wins over Denver and Western Illinois.  They really don’t have much of a bench, they may have a few more wins if they had one or two more quality guys.  Aanen Moody not playing since December 1st hasn’t helped.

Interesting stat: Marlon Stewart has won more Player of the Week awards than anyone in the conference this season.

7th – Purdue Fort Wayne, 9-13 (2-5)

Last week’s ranking: 7th

The Mastodons held a 5 point lead on the road against Omaha, but did not score for the last 4 1/2 minutes to let Omaha take back the lead for the win.  Jon Coffman stated that neither of his point guards have really been in that situation and the team really couldn’t hold their composure.  This has been consistent with their team play, as it frequently looks like no one really knows what’s going on and they are definitely the sloppiest team in the conference.

Interesting stat: They are leading the conference in Summit League games in rebounds and steals, but are still dead last in field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, points, turnovers, and defensive three point field goal percentage.  Two conference wins is actually fairly impressive when you take that into consideration.

8th – Western Illinois, 5-13 (2-6)

Last week’s ranking: 8th

The Leathernecks have lost three consecutive games and will now have North Dakota State and South Dakota State at home before two straight road games against Fort Wayne and South Dakota.  A wise bald man once said “d’oh!”

Interesting stat:  They’re pretty good at free throws.

9th – Denver, 5-17 (1-7)

Last week’s ranking: 9th

I’m not for or against Rodney Billups being fired, but I saw a supporter of his say his team is young so you have to give him a chance.  Well, his team was experienced last season and they still finished dead last.  South Dakota State is also just as young, and they’re currently first in the conference standings.  I realize this sounds like I’m pro Billups getting fired, but as an Omaha fan, he can coach Denver as long as he likes.

Interesting stat: Heading into last week, Denver had the 2nd fewest turnovers in the conference.  Last week against the North Dakota schools, the Pioneers had a total of 31 turnovers and now rank 7th in turnovers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some post game Western Illinois observations

  • The Mavericks best lineup is the 4 captains (Matt Pile, JT Gibson, KJ Robinson, and Ayo Akinwole) and Marlon Ruffin.
  • Matt Pile’s 37 blocks this season is the most by a Maverick in a season since Omaha transitioned to division one.  There are at least 10 games left this season.
  • CJ Duff of Western Illinois is a sneaky good on ball defender. He forced Gibson to tough shots all night and kept him in front of him the entire time.
  • Matt Pile was 8-of-11 from the free throw line?!  The team was 22-of-25 overall?  Can we get that all the time?
  • This was likely Billy Wright’s last game as a head coach in Omaha.
  • Prior to the start of the season, we wondered who the guy to take the big shots for the Mavericks would be.  That guy is KJ Robinson.
  • Is KJ one of the most underrated Mavericks ever?  If not the most?  The leadership KJ Robinson displays in the second half of game might be some of the best we’ve ever seen.  He may actually enjoy playing from behind, though.
  • The play in which Ben Pyle went up for a lay up, but was blocked by both Matt Pile and Zach Thornhill was one of the best defensive plays to watch in The Baxter Arena.
  • Billy Wright stood outside of the coach’s box for most of the game. He finally received a warning with 2 minutes to go in the game.  Derrin Hansen called him a cheater, and I legitimately could not tell if he was joking.  He was most likely joking, but I seriously couldn’t tell.

More on Billy Wright..

Billy Wright as a head coach in the Summit League might be one of the biggest crimes ever.  The main reason his team had a first half lead was because the Mavericks could not hit shots.  Their threes were uncontested and just didn’t fall.  The Mavericks’ defense adjusted to nick nack officiating and made everything difficult on the Leathernecks in the second half. He couldn’t draw up a single play in the second half to get his players any easy looks.

He actually has quality players on his roster, and any Summit League coach could coach the Leathernecks to a better record.  The lack of discipline and ball movement on the offensive end doesn’t allow for the team to ever get in a flow.  His players frequently looked confused at his play calling in Omaha.

His players are the exact same players from their freshman year to their senior year who no development. I once was told he doesn’t believe in weight lighting during the season.  Business professors should look into renaming The Peter Principle into The Billy Principle.