I almost forgot this game was happening. It’s not that I am not used to the Mavericks playing in March, or that I am weirded out at a 8:30 pm college basketball game in the state of South Dakota on a Sunday night. I just almost forgot the Omaha Mavericks, or the Summit League, was a thing because I made the mistake of listening to John Bishop and Josh Peterson on Unsportsmanlike Conduct all week try the 215th way to rephrase the questions: Is Mike Riley a good football coach; and is Tommy Armstrong Jr a good quarterback?
Oh, but it’s happening…it’s finally here, the Mavericks are playing in the Summit League tournament as a 3 seed. I don’t really know where to start with this as I am too excited. So um, okay, how about this…
I like the idea of Omaha fans traveling to Denver this weekend for hockey, all while other Omaha fans are traveling to Sioux Falls to see Omaha and Denver play in men’s basketball. The fans going to Denver get to start little trivial arguments of who is better, drink some beer, go to a hockey game, bond over why they both hate North Dakota, and grow a rivalry. Oh, and not to mention, UNO softball is in Colorado this weekend to play Colorado State and Idaho State. I know it doesn’t have much to do with the Pioneers, but hey, hopefully some Mav fans can get to Fort Collins for some Mav softball.
Omaha and Denver basketball have two contrasting styles. Omaha loves to get out and run and find quick baskets, and Denver likes slug up the court and pass the ball 5 times before even thinking about shooting, and then pass 3 more times, and then get a backdoor cut for a player to get a wide open shot. These two contrasting styles makes this game the hardest to guess on to win and get out of the first round of the tournament.
Denver, though, while last in the Summit League in scoring, can actually really play at a fast pace and keep up with higher scoring teams. Playing in Omaha, the Pioneers were able to get 5 guys in double figures and were able to outscore the Mavs with 75 points. Weeks later, playing at IPFW, Denver scored 84 points before losing by 4 to the Mastodons. Denver had three different guys score more than 20 points in that game, and they were able to hit 20 three point field goals as a team. 20! Amazingly, Denver shot absolutely no free throws in that game. IPFW had to shoot 62% from the field in that game and shoot 12-of-18 on threes to outscore Denver in that game.
Statistically, it’s not easy to talk about Denver because of their Princeton offense. They are last in scoring in the Summit League, last in rebounding, last in blocks; but they are first in field goal percentage and free throw percentage…the things Denver cares about. Interestingly, Denver finished 4th in the conference in steals, which is good for them because they love playing possession to possession. So maybe, we should look more at some intangibles in this game.
I’m just going to assume that Denver is going to be the least represented fan base in Sioux Falls, based on what LetsGoDU whined about last month, well they may have more fans than Western Illinois there. Zing. Omaha has a bus of students heading to Sioux Falls, and people that have the ability to not work on Monday morning could be headed up…and people that do not care about sleep. Seriously, 8:30 pm on a Sunday, and maybe an even later start time if the earlier games don’t go according to plan.
The Mavericks may have some Oh Shit, We’re Actually Here jitters, but Derrin Hansen made a point that the quickest way to get over that is to get out play fast and make it a basketball game. Denver’s staff has been here before, but Denver’s players may actually have those jitters as well since the team is mostly newcomers. Denver does have some seniors that have been here before that can help ease the nerves of the Pioneers. Oh here is a stats thing: Denver’s senior forward, Marcus Byrd averaged 17.8 points per game over the last 6 games of the season, he also shot 59% from the field, and 60% on threes. That is pretty scary.
It’s good for the Pioneers that the Mavericks don’t have anyone that has been in a conference tournament before. Oh wait, there is Jake White! In 2013, White played in each of Wichita’s State’s games in the Missouri Valley tournament. He had a 9 point, 8 rebound, and 3 assist performance in the first round against Missouri State. That team also went to the Final 4 that year.
I’m sure Jake White is happy being named to the All Summit League 2nd Team, but maybe he feels a little disrespected and is incredibly hungry to win and keep playing. Not that the guys on the 1st Team weren’t great, and I am sure it was incredibly hard to decide between John Konchar, Mike Daum, and Jake White to get onto the 1st Team…but 2 freshmen beating out a senior has to piss someone off. The same goes for Devin Patterson. How about the snub to Tre’Shawn Thurman? Garret Covington was selected to the 2nd Team, for scoring a lot of points on a team that was limited on scoring options that finished last? Thurman averaged more points, more rebounds, more blocks, and shot a higher field goal percentage than AJ Jacobson who was named Honorable Mention…and Thurman averaged less minutes. I know the stats may not be a big part of it because guys are going to get stats for Omaha at their pace, but still…Thurman has to be happy for his teammates, but not happy about the snub.
Tra-Deon Hollins was the first Mav men’s basketball player to be named to the 1st Team for the Summit League, by the way.
I don’t think there is just one guy that is most important for the Mavericks to get a win in the first round. All of the Mavs needs to play efficiently, and make few mistakes…especially after the load of mistakes the Mavericks made against the Pioneers in Omaha with the missed layups, missed dunks, and terribly timed turnovers. That’s the other thing, is there a game that Omaha would like to have back more than any other as that Denver at Omaha game? Actually, maybe that whole week. Omaha seems to have more of a revenge factor, and be playing for more recognition in this first round than Denver. That was also a game that Omaha played without Randy Reed, who just had two of the best basketball performances of his life in the last two games.
Derrin Hansen also said it pretty well on the radio this morning when he said his team appears to play better when going into their tougher games. I didn’t get all of it, because I had that moment at work where the guy that takes 15 minutes to ask me a question that a normal person only takes 1 minute to ask had to come up and ask me a question…and give me the whole story has to why he has come to ask me the question…you know, so I could understand the point of view of all the characters involved.
By the way, could Hansen feel slightly snubbed for not being named Coach of the Year? Hansen actually probably doesn’t care all that much, but his players might be a little angry about it and that may add to their hunger for some conference wins. Not to take anything away from Jon Coffman. He did a great job, even after losing a player due to academics. Hansen lost his returning leading scorer, lost a freshman who was expected to help replace the shooting lost in Marcus Tyus, and finished 3rd in the conference after being expected to finish 7th in the Summit League.
For all 7 of the people that have paid attention, I basically selected no upsets in the first round of the Summit League tournament…which is kind of lame. If someone had a gun to my head and said I had to pick who was the most likely to get upset in the first round of the conference tournament, I would have to answer because I really question the mind of the person who would hold a gun to my head for something that like, but I would shockingly pick South Dakota State… I like South Dakota State, but their game with Oral Roberts just looks like a trap. The Jackrabbits swept Oral Roberts, but just played them last week, and Oral Roberts has a great coach and the leading scorer in the conference, and a load of dudes that can just randomly turn it on in a game.