A little recap of the bumps and bruises along the way in the last year of transition

So the season is over for the UNO men’s basketball team, as well as this long transition period, so how would you rate the transition and the 2014-2015 season?

As for the entire transition, it was obviously a learning process.  Not just for the players, but for the coaching staff as well.  In the first year of transition, yes they won 11 games, but only one game against a division one opponent (Northern Illinois).  In the second season, the team still won 11 games, but even after a few players transferred out, and the team graduated their stop scorer, Mitch Albers, they were able to win 9 games against division one opponents.  In year 3, the Mavs were able to win 15 games against division one opponents.  That team had a solid core of talent, and everyone knew each other.  Karhoff, Hagerbaumer, Simmons, Carter, Steffensmeier, and Phillips had established what they could do, then you got to add incredibly tough and competitive Rostampour and Patterson to that team.  You have to figure 15 wins over division one teams and a post season win in the CIT was a tremendous success, considering the transition and that most of the roster was not recruited for the division one level.

From a wins perspective and conference standings point of view, you would probably want to give this season a D-, but was it really that bad?  Okay, I will admit that I am a homer, but consider a few things.  The Mavericks lost 5 conference games by one possession.  The Mavericks were able to beat Marquette in Milwaukee without Jake White (who before the start of the season was thought to be the best player on the team).  The Mavericks were affected by significant injuries to key players Devin Patterson, Marcus Tyus, and Jake White (who I already mentioned), not only to mention that a few other players got sidelined by a sickness or two throughout the season.  I am still a firm believer that if the Mavs had White and Patterson against Chicago State that they would have won that game.  The Mavericks were also playing with 8 guys that had never played a game as a Maverick.  So with these factors thrown at you, do you upgrade that D- to a C maybe?

We knew that Jake White suffered an injury last season while he was sitting out due to transfer rules, so you had to wonder about how much he got to actually practice and get ready for his first season as a Mav.  It seemed like he was a little out of funk for much of the season, partially because of injuries to his foot, and I assume just about every body part you can name in 30 seconds.  Can that be a game at the new arena next year?  Name more muscles than Jake White in 30 seconds, and go… We were a little teased with White at first.  Not including Koang Dulouny, who only played 7 games at UNO, he was the first transfer that the Mavericks were able to pick up that came from a bigger program.  So there was some excitement to see how much he could help.  His first game he nearly had a double-double until he had to leave the game with a foot injury.  The newspaper said it should not affect him for too long, but he missed the first road game at Seattle, then at Marquette, then at Nebraska, and so on.  We were teased with this Well He Is Pretty Likely Next Game thing for a string of games.  The Mavericks even had him suiting up, like the Boston Celtics did in 2008-2009 in the playoffs with Kevin Garnett who was suffering an abdomen injury, which just had you wondering as a fan WHY ARE YOU NOT PUTTING HIM IN THE DAMN GAME, DO YOU NOT RESPECT THE OTHER TEAM?!?!?!?!?!?!

Then White came back, then sat down for a few more games, and we found ourselves wondering if this was a bust.  A bust in the terms of, did not live up to the hype because of injuries, not because of lack of talent.  It turns out, it was NOT a bust!  Admit it, a healthy Jake White versus Mike Rostampour, you have a hard time figuring out which one is the better rebounder.  There was not a ton of consistency to Jake White this season, but how could anyone be with that many injuries?  There were many missed “bunnies” by White, but with a constant string of injuries are you going to get mad at him for that?  Did you see how extremely pissed off he was after each of those misses?  He knows that is not a normal thing and that those easy shots will drop next season after he has had more time to work on things with the Mavs.  There were a few plays throughout the year, where he would get bumped the wrong way, and he could not get down the court and back on defense, which was unfortunate, but that is not something that will last.  Not the guy we saw grab 10 rebounds in a half, nope, that healthy guy, will be up and down the court.  The (barely) less than 40% shooting for a post player, that will not be forever.  If White can stay healthy, bring that shooting percentage up to the high 40s/lower 50s, and run the floor better next season, the Mavs will win more games with that.

Then the injuries to Devin Patterson and Marcus Tyus.  The team runs on Patterson, he is the floor general, he gets shit done.  Without him, the team’s flow is completely off.  You could tell that there were a few games that he was affected by his feet and ankles, he just did not run the same.  This is no diss to Kyler Erickson or Devin Newsome, but the team is just entirely different with either of them playing the point, the team does not get out and run as much, the team do noes not do all of the things that the Mavs like to do.  The team does need those stretches though where they are not running nearly as much, this is not Oregon football, where the offense can score in a minute and then go sit down for 10-15 minutes of actual time, nope, this is constant back and forth stuff here.  The team needs Erickson or Newsome to come in and slow it down for a stretch of time, the players do not play like a video game where it has a mathematical formula to determine how tired they are, although that would be pretty awesome.  Patterson is right up there to be the best point guard in the Summit League, the best point guard is too big of a piece to have go down in order for your team to keep their rhythm and success.  But this is athletics, players have to play through injuries, and teams have to figure out how to play around those injuries.  I think Chip Kelly said that.  Two Oregon football mentions in one paragraph?  Oh man, I really have married into Oregon fanhood.  I really need to check myself in somewhere, like a bar.

Then a loss of Marcus Tyus, so you end the season without your best shooter for 6 games.  An awful person may say that the Mavericks were a better team without Tyus since they went 4-2 without him, but screw that person.  You are never a better team when you take away your most consistent player and best three point shooter.  The team’s three point shooting fell without Tyus at first.  5-18 versus South Dakota (loss), 4-19 versus Western Illinois (win), 4-19 versus Oral Roberts (loss), 3-14 versus IPFW (win), then they needed Tim Smallwood to basically do a Marcus Tyus impersonation and hit a season high 5 threes against IUPUI.  If Smallwood did not have that type of game, the Mavericks more than likely do not win that game.  I sometimes think that when a key scorer gets injured mid or late season, it can turn out better for a team’s win percentage.

Why?  When a key scorer on the team have to think about things more and process out game as a team, and be more creative to find baskets, not just throw the ball to one player for a certain percentage of the time.  Not that I think Tyus was a ball hog, not at all, not saying that.  The Mavs were just forced to figure it out, after already once trying to figure it out without Jake White and/or Devin Patterson.  When the Mavs lost White, the entire team was pretty new as it was, so they had to figure out playing together already, when they lost Patterson, they lost their flow.  Tyus going out created a different situation, but this time it was after the mix of returners and newer players got a chance to ball and gel together already for most of the season.  As a point guard, Patterson only really plays one position, so his injury basically only created more minutes for Kyler Erickson and Devin Newsome.  As a post player, Jake White’s injury basically created more minutes and opportunities for Tre’Shawn Thurman and Rylan Murry.  By the way, I am still going with Thurman and Murry sounds like the worst cop buddy show on USA or TNT.  Tyus’ injury creates a little more opportunity, playing two positions, it created more minutes for Randy Reed, Tim Smallwood, and Kyler Erickson, as well as creating more situations for Derrin Hansen to try a bunch of different lineups.  The Reed, Smallwood, Erickson combo also knew they had to bring some more energy with Tyus out, they hopefully knew and understood this was a big chance for them.  With Tyus out, they all played key moments and came up huge to help the success of the Mavericks.  It created a learning situation late in the year, and the players had to develop and work it out.  PLEASE DO NOT TAKE ANY OF THIS AS ME BEING HAPPY AS MARCUS TYUS BEING INJURED, INJURIES ARE NEVER GOOD, ESPECIALLY FOR ANYTHING IN THE KNEES.

Playing with 8 new faces is kind of fun, but also pretty frustrating.  The first job I ever had was in a restaurant.  There was this kid that worked with me, and we were both new at about the same time, the restaurant closed at 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and the two of us pretty much closed every single Friday.  At first, it would take us 45 minutes to get all of the closing duties done, but after a while we both figured out what the other was better at, we both knew what the other was going to do before even doing it.  After a while, we could get out of that shit hole in about 15 minutes after closing.  The same thing kind of works in sports.  Yes, by this time Patterson, Carter, Tyus, and Rostampour should of had that same functioning relationship on the court, but it is not like they all play every single minute of every single game.  White, Reed, Smallwood, Murry, Meyer, Erickson, Newsome, and Thurman do not all have that same relationship with each other or the returning 4, and hopefully they can all return for next season to develop those on the court relationships.  They will know what everyone else is doing before they even start doing it.  Once the Mavs get on this trip to Europe and play together more, have a summer of working out together, all get together and practice, they are going to get better at that closing shift. So you have to be feeling good about the start of full fledged D-1 life, right?  You also have to think, there is not (as of right now at least) no division one team in Nebraska with a winning record.  Tim Miles has stated that his team has not improved as the season as gone on, it does not look like Creighton has improved toward the end of the year, but the Mavs did get better toward the end of rht year.

So is this similar to when the Mavs had the returning core from 2012-2013 and got to add Rostampour and Patterson to the mix?   Several Summit League teams have a good deal of players returning players, as there are not many graduating seniors in men’s basketball, so we will have to wait and see if the growing chemistry is a factor for the team’s success.  That is kind of obvious, right?  That we would have to wait…I mean the schedule has not even come out yet.  How dumb was it of me to say that?

Aside from the record that did not live up to expectations, we did see some great things this year.  Okay, we won a game yesterday.  If we win today it’s called “two in a row”.  And if we win again tomorrow that’s called “a winning streak.”  It has happened before.  That is a Major League reference.  If you have not seen Major League, you probably need to reevaluate your entire life.  The Mavs were able to finish on a 3 game winning streak on the road.  You have to be optimistic with that if the Mavs were able to make the Summit League tournament this year, that they would at least be hot going into the tournament, even as an 8 seed.  A team on a 3 game road winning streak, and 4 of their last 6 overall. with the 2 losses by a total of 4 points in the final possessions, is not your typical 8 seed.  But an 8 seed still has to play the 1 seed, and the Mavs did not have a good time this season against South Dakota State.  Okay, I went back and looked, that is actually a Major League 2 reference.  It is okay if you have not seen Major League 2, that is cool.

We also saw the ending of two fine careers, and the beginning of a few more.  CJ Carter finished his career with just a couple more than 1500 points, the 5th most in school history, Mike Rostampour finished his two year career teaching the Mavericks about rebounding and toughness.  The Mavs got to show off the beginning of freshman Tre’Shawn Thurman who showed a tremendous freaking upside, and Murry, Meyer, and Newsome showed glimpses of what they will be capable of.  Murry a three point specialist and good ball handler for his size, Meyer a good rebounder and defender, even showed some post moves when given the chance, and Newsome showed his ability to be a floor general.

Mav fans who paid attention this year, they know that this season was more than just the season that the Mavs beat a Big East team.  The Creighton Bluejays had a similar season a little while back, yes I know they were not in transition, but the last few years of Dana Altman the Jays would get ahead and build decent leads.  They would lose those leads on getting tired, missing shots, and not playing quality defensive possessions down the stretch.  Those teams (with Kenny Lawson, P’Allen Stinnett, Kaleb Korver, Booker Woodfox, Cavel Witter, and others) were supposed to be “the most athletic teams Creighton had in a while and supposed to run and shoot teams out of the gym, even with a bunch of new faces on the roster.  Sound a little familiar?  Creighton moved on from that, got better, made the NIT (almost beat Kentucky), eventually climbed the conference standings, found a stroke of accidental luck with Doug McDermott, had famous battles with Wichita State and Northern Iowa.  UNO will continue to grow just like Creighton did.

Another great success was how supportive the student section became this season.  This is partly because of the Pike fraternity growing a collective man crush on Derrin Hansen, and trust me, I get it.  The first three years of transition, you wondered where the students were and you really just hoped that they were not at a Nebraska or Creighton game.  Now they are taking notice, they knew how important it was to show guys like Carter and Rostampour their support.  The energy of the crowd in college basketball is an extremely valued variable.  Think of those moments the players are just exhausted and they need that reminder of who they are playing for (other than themselves, their teammates, coaches, and families).  They get that extra needed jolt and ride it.  The crowds at UNO hockey are extremely important, and not it is time that the other sports are getting the support.  I know during division 2, UNO would invite potential new hires to UNO athletics and the candidates would ask Where are the Students?  You have no idea how much of a ripple effect the student can create.  It is also extremely satisfying to go to a UNO game and see that the students are into the game the entire time, it is not like when they go to that other Omaha school and the students are sitting down, drinking a beer, checking their phones constantly, and not caring about their team.  They are just there for the hopes of a free t-shirt.

This reminds me.  Next post on how we schedule those Creighton guys?



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