What a great freaking weekend for UNO Athletics for events. A top 15 match up in Hockey versus Denver on Friday and Saturday nights. UNO women basketball is at Denver on Thursday, and then they have a week to prepare for South Dakota State. The UNO men have their first two home conference games against North Dakota State on Thursday and South Dakota State on Saturday, each of these two home games are on ESPN3.
The Red Army says I need to hate Denver. I don’t know why, but if they need the support I am in on it. I would still love it if UNO, Denver, the Summit League, and the NCHC could find a way to coordinate a weekend of UNO-Denver basketball & hockey in Denver. It would be a lot of work, but I don’t know many Omahans that don’t like traveling to Denver. I highly doubt there are too many Denverans that just love getting out to Omaha though. So wait, yeah, screw Denver.
Okay, on to basketball. Last year, Derrin Hansen mentioned that a goal of the men’s basketball program was to get to the same level as North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Not a bad goal, they are consistently the two top teams in the league and we are all along I-29. They have each made a name for themselves around the country and both come from the same division two background as UNO.
Much of the weekend’s success depends on the health of juniors Jake White and Devin Patterson. White claimed to be feeling great before the Mavs took on Western Illinois but Patterson did not play. Last week, White averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds in his first two games back, so hopefully he’s still feeling great because the Mavericks need that, especially against SDSU’s Cody Larson. Patterson is especially needed for his perimeter defense, and the offense is completely different without him. The Mavs do not seem to get out to the same pace that they like to play without Patterson in the line up. It has been mentioned that Jake White will return to the starting line up at some point and I kind of expect him to be back in the starting five this weekend.
North Dakota State
I didn’t pick North Dakota State too high, but they have started conference play off at 2-0, so I feel and look like a stupid head. They picked up their wins against two of the better, on paper, teams in the Summit League, South Dakota State and Oral Roberts in Fargo. The Bison only won these two games by a combined total of 9 points, but a roll is a roll, a toll is a toll, and a win is a win. That’s a Robin Hood: Men in Tights Reference. If you do not enjoy that film, we would probably have communication issues.
Against Oral Roberts, senior guard Lawrence Alexander scored a career high 31 points, the team shot 11-22 on threes (to ORU’s 10-15), and as a team they turned over the ball only 6 times. They also shot 19-20 from the free throw line. Alexander didn’t get much help from anyone else in the win, no one really shot that particularly well except for sophomore forward Dexter Werner who went 5-9 from the floor for 13 points.
Against South Dakota State, Alexander got more help from his teammates, junior guard Kory Brown led the Bison with 17 points on 8-13 shooting. The Bison didn’t do as well from three on only 5-17, and they also only shot 17-27 from the free throw line. But again, the Bison only had 6 turnovers.
As stated before, the Bison are not that deep. They only play 7, maybe 8 players, when they have to. Of those 8 players, Alexander is the only senior, two are juniors, two are sophomores, and three are freshmen. They average the least amount of turnovers in the Summit League, they don’t even average 10, they average 9.2 turnovers a game. How does such an inexperienced team average so little turnovers? The Mavs do average nearly 9 steals a game, which is the highest in the Summit, so hopefully they can force the Bison to some turnovers and get them out of their usual rhythm.
I’ve had to listen to the last three UNO games on the radio. I realized each game I would find myself muttering – why does this (opposing) team make so many threes? And yes, there were some expletives mixed in. Chicago State shot 8-16 on threes against UNO, South Dakota was 10-24 from downtown, and Western Illinois went 10-25 from deep. Looking more into it, UNO has given up the most threes in the conference AND other than Western Illinois they have played the least amount of games at 14. The Bison are tied at second with South Dakota in the conference in three point field goal percentage. So this should be a point of worry I would think…
The Bison do not have much size down low, but they do have a lot of size on the wing. Their main rotation:
F Chris Kading 6-8
F AJ Jacobson 6-6
G Kory Brown 6-4
G Lawrence Alexander 6-3
G Carlin Dupree 6-3
G Paul Miller 6-4
F Dexter Werner 6-6
So Rostampour, White, Thurman, Murry, and Meyer hold a size advantage in the post. The Bison have had success with this not being much of a problem, but when the Mavericks get the ball in the paint, they need to capitalize. With the size of NDSU at the wing position, and lack of size in the post, maybe this means more playing time for Randy Reed this weekend.
UNO has not had much luck against the Bison in recent. They are 0-5 against the Bison since transitioning and 0-4 in conference play. The Mavericks have lost 98-65, 95-51, 84-57, 91-69, and 75-59 so it has not exactly been close. There is no longer a guy named Taylor Braun who had 31 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists in the Bison’s last win against the Mavs. Nor is there 6’8″ Marshall Bjorklund or 6’7″ TrayVonn Wright, so the Bison’s size that always gave the Mavs big problems is no longer their advantage.
Last season Alexander shot 7-24 in his two games against the Mavericks, so maybe the Mavericks have him figured out. Alexander is also averaging 38+ minutes so far this season due to the lack of the depth for the Bison. Not sure if the time is now, but that will eventually catch up with anyone. Do you pay attention to Creighton? Remember when Greg McDermott played Antoine Young a ridiculous amount of minutes his senior season? It caught up to Young and it became difficult for him to close out games. 38+ minutes a game against the Mavs pace of play is not a good recipe for Lawrence Alexander.
CJ Carter averaged 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists and shot 8-18 in two games against the Bison last season. Rostampour fouled out each game, and neither Patterson or Tyus did all that well against the Bison. Patterson shot 4-19 from the field and 2-8 on threes in two games against the Bison, and Tyus shot 2 of 8 from the field in two games against the Bison last season. Tyus has become a stud recently and Patterson has been hurt, but a bad recipe for the Mavs against the Bison would be if 2 of your top players can not score the ball, and your top rebounder is on the bench with foul trouble.
South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits are always a league favorite, but they have started conference play off at 0-2, with a loss at Denver and before mentioned North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were on a seven game winning streak before dropping four in a row, and will play Western Illinois on Wednesday.
Wisconsin transfer George Marshall did not play well against North Dakota State. He shot 1 of 9 from the field, but he has hit a three in every single game he has played in so far. At 5’11” he’s not exactly a pure point guard, he’s more a shooting guard, but I would assume that either CJ Carter or Devin Patterson would be assigned to Marshall.
South Dakota State does not really have much height with Cody Larson being the only player that is taller than 6’6″ that gets significant minutes, but the Jackrabbits still lead the Summit with over 4 blocks a game as a team. They also have the best defensive field goal percentage in the Summit League with teams are only shooting 42% against SDSU. Actually they are are 42.1% and North Dakota State is at 42.2%, so UNO is playing two of the best defenses in the League in three days. So that’s fun. Teams are also only shooting 33% on threes against the Jackrabbits. In their current losing steak, the only team that has shot less than 33% on threes against them was North Dakota State, who again, doesn’t turn the ball over and defends well. SDSU was also down by as many as 20 at one point in the first half and ended up only losing by 3.
The health of Devin Patterson and Jake White is obviously a huge key. No team is going to do that great when you take two of their best players off the court. Maybe SDSU is not the same away from Brookings, just about every team is better at home. All seven of their losses have been away or at a neutral site. But I think UNO will split this weekend, it is tough to pick up back to back wins against NDSU and SDSU. I don’t believe any team did it last year when the two schools were travel partners.
Both NDSU and SDSU are larger at the wing positions, but both are smaller in the post, so UNO needs to out run and/or post and score in the paint. I was listening to Jacob Padilla talk on 1620 the Zone Tuesday night and he spoke of how size was an issue for Creighton. They are starting three guys at 6’2″ and under, and with teams having bigger wing players, opposing teams can shoot right over the top of Creighton’s wings. UNO definitely has the same issue with Marcus Tyus, CJ Carter, and Patterson all under 6’2″. When the NDSU and SDSU wings miss shots, UNO’s posts need to grab boards and get possessions.
Free throws have been an issue for the Mavericks recently:
20-38 vs. Chicago State – L
21-30 vs. South Dakota – W
25-39 vs. Western Illinois – L
There was a period of six minutes in the second half at Western Illinois where each team was fouling and it was a free throw contest for that span. The Leathernecks would continuously go 2 of 2 on each trip to the line, where the Mavericks would only hit 1 of 2. If both of the games against NDSU and SDSU remain close games in the second half, UNO can not continue with the same free throw issues. Hopefully the Mavs can overcome this with their best free throw shooter, Devin Patterson, back in the line up.
Mike Rostampour said on 1620 the Zone on Tuesday night that this Mav team can beat anyone and lose to anyone. That is entirely true. The Mavs can either win with smart play or shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers, bad defensive possessions, and poor free throw shooting. Hopefully with Devin Patterson and Jake White back in the line up, the Mavs can return to full strength and we can see just how good this 2014-2015 Maverick team is.