Yes, yes he is.
Welp, have a happy Thanksgiving.
Yes, yes he is.
Welp, have a happy Thanksgiving.
The Omaha Mavericks will make the journey out to the Great State of Washington to take on some Cougars.
I have a lot of friends who follow the Pac-12, so I regularly follow the Pac-12 as well for conversation purposes. A big time sports fantasy of mine is to go to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament. It sounds like a real fun time.
Anyway, I can tell you with 100% certainty the Washington State Cougars are regularly the laughing stock of the conference. It wasn’t until the football program hired Mike Leach that Pac-12 fan bases actually respected them in something. With that said, I have a lot of Washington State friends, and I’ve witnessed them sitting around screaming “WE’RE NOT THAT BAD, JUST GIVE US A YEAR OR TWO!”
As far as basketball fan hood goes, they are the Nebraska of the Pac-12. Just to bring that home and find a relate able comparison for you.
The Cougars finished last season at 11-21 and 4-14 against the Pac-12. In their non-conference schedule they suffered losses to Seattle, Montana State, New Mexico State (twice), San Diego, and Santa Clara.
They’ve already dropped a game to Santa Clara so far this season. Like Omaha, they lack depth, and have similar characteristics to any other inconsistent basketball team trying to find themselves.
As of this morning, the Cougars are favored by 7 points. I would take Omaha to beat the spread and beat the Cougars…if this game was played one day later.
The Cougars will have 2 extra days of rest over the Mavericks, and the Mavericks most recent game was in Dayton, Ohio. After losing to Colorado State, the biggest problem for the Mavericks seemed to be not having enough time to prep for the Rams after playing Bethune-Cookman two days before.
So what can the Mavericks do to win?
The Mavericks will have their hands full with 6’6″ sophomore forward CJ Elleby, who is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 54% from the field. Elleby did struggle in WSU’s road loss to Santa Clara, shooting 4-of-14 from the floor. It will be up to Zach Thornhill, Marlon Ruffin, and Wanjang Tut to spend their energy guarding and slowing down Elleby if the Mavericks want to win.
The Cougars really don’t have anyone to match up against Matt Pile. The Cougars’ main offensive post threat, Jeff Pollard, has been struggling shooting 41% from the field so far this season, so hopefully Pile can stay out of foul trouble and make a difference for the Mavericks down low. The Cougars are currently last in the Pac-12 in blocks per game, averaging just 2.3 per game. Please, just throw Matt Pile the ball!
The Mavericks could have a chance to win this game if Ayo Akinwole AND KJ Robinson are both on it this game. With JT Gibson likely to guard WSU’s second leading scorer Isaac Bonton, Akinwole and Robinson will be needed to step up on offense and hit big shots. The Mavericks can’t afford an off night from either of those two.
Washington State has been atrocious shooting threes so far this season. They’ve shot 25% from behind the three point line. They also have somehow attempted 25 threes per game, like it was a good idea or something. Hopefully, Omaha can force the Cougars to the outside.
Friday night, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits basketball team will come to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. At the start of Friday, the Cornhuskers are a 6.5 point favorite for the game. If the Jackrabbits were to pull off a win, would it be considered an upset?
Summit League schools going up against a power conference school always seems like this big event. The smaller schools get to come check out the big time facilities, play in front of larger crowds they’re not used to, and get the opportunity to possibly play on national television.
Nebraska is not an environment the Jackrabbits should walk in to scared like it’s some haunted house. If you’re a Nebraska fan, you may want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you.
Out of the games Nebraska has played so far, South Dakota State has the highest RPI they have seen, and Nebraska will have the lowest RPI of any team they have seen so far. Actually, I hope you weren’t sitting down for that, RPI is pretty worthless at this point in the season.
If you are a Nebraska fan, and you just want to think I’m some Anti-Nebrasketball fan, I would love to present you with this.
I am a Nebrasketball fan. I’ve enjoyed watching Nebrasketball since Tyronn Lue played for the Huskers. I can also tell you that I am a life long Boston Celtics fan, and Tyronn Lue on the Lakers team made me care about the Lakers for a few seasons. I was called a bandwagon fan those years, and it still hurts my feelings to this day. I’m pretty sure Nate Johnson played for the Lakers summer league team at some point and I paid attention to that as well. Terran Petteway played for the Celtics summer league team a couple seasons ago, and it was a big time for me. I also hate the Cleveland Cavaliers, so Lue coaching them was also rough for me.
I’m not sure if this helps, but typically for someone to prove their fan hood, they have to answer a riddle as old as sports: “I bet you can’t name 5 players for (Sports Team).” I ran into this situation over this Summer when some Kansas City native (he was a Creighton student too) questioned my Royals fan hood and said he bet I couldn’t name 5 Royals other than Alex Gordon…actually, the Royals roster last season was a little rough to find player names in my mind, so instead I named off the 5 pitchers from the 2010 season. That my friends was Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, and Bruce Chen. I was trying to lose weight that season and watched every game on a treadmill. I yelled a lot.
I don’t think I can sit here and name off the current Nebrasketball roster without looking up their names, mostly because of the new faces. I could sit here and say there are two junior college transfer guards, a French freshman I prefer to call “YoGo,” a couple grad transfers, one from Seattle and one from Florida Gulf Coast. Essentially, this year’s roster to me is like from a NCAA video game and the game doesn’t give any names, everyone is just “#14” and whatever other number. It’s like when you walk into a party and you know everyone’s faces, but you can’t remember from where, because you likely met them while intoxicated.
I can name off a list of Husker players who had okay seasons in their first years of Nebrasketball and as Husker fans we would say “oh man, we’re going to be so good with (dude’s name) in a year or two” but then they just ended up disappointing us in one way or another…Joe McCray, Jamel White, Jim Ledsome, Jay-R Strowbridge, Cookie Miller, Eshaunte Jones, Christopher Neimann, Jorge Diaz, Christian Standhardinger (who I thought would be in the NBA), Deverell Biggs, Walter Pitchford, Nate Hawkins, Jake Hammond.
Cool, let’s all go cry now.
Nebrasketball and South Dakota State are two teams I do regularly follow. I haven’t had the opportunity to actually sit down and watch either of them this season, but I have paid attention to the rosters, box scores, and all that stuff that makes you feel like you know what you’re talking about in conversation.
Both teams have a lot of fresh faces on their rosters, including new coaches. South Dakota State returned 18% of their scoring from last season, which was last in the Summit League. I haven’t done the math to see the percentage of returning scoring for what the Huskers brought back, but I’m fairly sure Thorir Thorbjanarson is the only returning player from last year’s roster, and he averaged 2 points per game in 2018-2019. So unless Nebraska scored 10 points per game as a team last season, the Jackrabbits should have returned more scoring.
While trying to figure out their new team, the Huskers have gone 0-2. As the Big 10 team, you would think the Huskers would at least have enough talent to beat Big West and Big Sky teams. I had this conversation with my boss last night. We were both like, it’s understandable the Huskers are still in trying to figure it out mode, but they still lost to two teams they should have beat. During the conversation, I did also learn my boss thought South Dakota State was division 2 in everything except for basketball. So there was that.
You might think the Big 10 team has the more talented roster. I’m not entirely sure that’s accurate in this instance. I legitimately don’t know. I do think the Jackrabbits will have the best player on the floor in junior college transfer Douglas Wilson, and it appears the likes of two true freshman will be responsible for guarding the post player averaging 19.5 points per game and shooting 58% from the floor so far this season.
I do know intangibles matter in games like this. South Dakota State football played Minnesota football better than Nebraska football did, and much of the credit was given to so many Jackrabbit players knowing the Gopher program so well. A lot of people got down on the Gophers after that game, they’re 9-0 right now.
The Jackrabbits will have two Nebraska natives on the roster, ready for the chance to play in Pinnacle Bank Arena. There will also be plenty of Jackrabbit fans in the arena. It’s not a long drive from Brookings, and large number of South Dakota State alumni reside in the city of Omaha. There is a reason Baxter Arena’s largest attendance for basketball is South Dakota state versus Omaha every season.
I also found tickets to this game on Seat Geek for 1 dollar.
I’m not here to argue South Dakota State will definitely win this basketball game. I’m here to say that it is an actual toss up of a basketball game. If these two teams played each other 10 times, and they were all played in Pinnacle Bank Arena, Nebraska might win 7 of them.
The thing is, so early in the season with Nebraska trying to figure things out, this could be one of those three times.
I once watched this video of this on some recruiting website of this high school basketball player out of the state of Minnesota. I thought he had kind of a weird way of dribbling the ball, like it came up too high in between hitting the floor and coming back to his hand, I also thought he had a slow release on his shot.
The reason I watched the video of this kid was because he was given scholarship offers by South Dakota State, North Dakota State, North Dakota, and Omaha.
That kid became the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. He eventually became one of the best Mavericks to shoot a basketball.
It’s JT Gibson’s fifth year in Omaha, and just his first being the number one guy. Even if he is the number one guy, you as a Maverick fan, probably haven’t really considered him as the number one guy, yet.
In November of 2015, Omaha opened up their season in the brand new Baxter Arena. It was Omaha’s first game in their new home, it was their first game being eligible for the Summit League tournament. Some Omaha people saw it as the first Maverick basketball game that actually mattered.
It was one of the weirdest nights, honestly.
I bought season tickets, I was 8 rows behind the team bench, it was the first time I bought season tickets to anything. I think it was the most excited I had ever been to attend a basketball game. There were over 3500 people to see the Mavericks in the new arena.
I showed up thinking Marcus Tyus would be in the starting lineup. Nope, they decided to scratch him from the game, and the season due to an injury. Some freshman named Zach Jackson, who didn’t seem as highly touted as that other freshman from Minnesota, was thrown into the starting lineup.
This all seemed off…
Neither UC Santa Barbara or Omaha could make a basket in the first half of that game. The Gauchos* shot 31% in the first half and the Mavericks shot 29% from the floor and were 0-of-9 on threes. Along with 3500 other people, I was wondering if Baxter Arena was broken. I think some of us spent that first half wondering if this division one experiment would fail.
*UC Santa Barbara is the Gauchos, right? I’m too lazy to go look that up.
In a game that was frustrating to watch with so many misses, you were thinking to yourself everyone needs to drive to the basket and just see a ball go in the basket. There wasn’t even great defense in that game, there were open shots all over the place and no one was even close.
Halfway through the second half, Omaha was down by 14, and it felt as if they were going to lose by 25 on opening night.
Then JT Gibson finds himself wide open at the top of the key and puts up this three and it rattled in, like it was kind of a mistake that it went in, but ball don’t lie. The Gauchos** missed their next shot and Tre’Shawn Thurman grabbed the board and threw it down the floor. Gibson found himself open again and drained his second three in less than 30 seconds.
**Seriously, I’m not going to go look it up. I can remember that Mitch Kupchak’s son played for UC Santa Barbara, but I cannot remember if they are the Gauchos or what.
The crowd went crazy. We suddenly gave a shit, even if the Mavericks were down by 8. The Mavericks eventually came back in the game, and had a 3 point lead late in the game. They still ended up losing by 1, but I’ll forever give credit to JT Gibson for providing life to the Mavericks and Baxter Arena that night.
Gibson eventually got hurt that season and we only got 8 games out him that year, receiving a medical redshirt. If you think about it, the Mavericks shouldn’t even have Gibson on their roster this season. Actually, if he wouldn’t have committed to the Mavericks, he could have committed to South Dakota State and they would of had Mike Daum, David Jenkins, and JT Gibson on one basketball team. Yikes!
Gibson’s second chance at a freshman season was about as inconsistent as any other freshman at a mid-major level. On one of the the best Maverick teams ever, Gibson was lost in the rotation behind arguably the best back court Omaha has had with Marcus Tyus, Tra-Deon Hollins, and Daniel Norl.
His sophomore season, the Mavericks had a season to forget. I’m pretty sure we all forget this season. It’s okay to forget it. The summer was filled with players transferring, the regular season was filled with injuries, losses, and selfish play. Injuries allowed Gibson to find himself in the starting lineup and average 10.2 points per game.
With the Mavericks having such a bad 2017-2018 campaign, there wasn’t much optimism heading into the 2018-2019 season for the Mavericks outside of Omaha, or even from our own home base, I suppose. Even as the Mavericks exceeded expectations on the season, Gibson was just another “double digit scorer” to people. He was the third option on offense, and I’m willing to bet you can’t really remember a single JT Gibson moment from that season. You’re not some weirdo like me who vividly remembers a 30 second span from a basketball game 5 years ago.
His junior season, he was the third scorer for the Mavericks. So much attention was given to the seniors Zach Jackson and Mitch Hahn for their stellar play, big shots, and leadership. Matt Pile was given celebrity status due to his size and freakish strength. KJ Robinson was even known for leading the offense and keeping the team under control helping lead the team to the fewest turnovers in the Summit League.
In the Mavericks most successful reason, he was seen as just another scorer. With Pile, Hahn, and Jackson in the front court, Gibson really didn’t have many rebounding opportunities, but still managed to pull off grabbing nearly 3 rebounds per game. He was also second on the team in assists. Gibson also led this team in steals, which was third most by a junior since Omaha transitioned to division one. I doubt anyone cares about that stat, but the only two guys in front him in that stat are Tra-Deon Hollins and Devin Patterson, who were probably the two best perimeter defenders the Mavericks have ever had.
At a certain point in time, Gibson may of had the reputation as “The Next Marcus Tyus.” It’s easy to compare the two, as they’re both from Minnesota, and both primarily play basketball from the perimeter. Gibson made 76 three point field goals his junior season, which is the most by any Mavericks since transitioning to division one. The second most was by Tyus, who made 72 threes in the 2016-2017 season.
Tyus saw success as being more than 3 point shooter. He had a nice pump fake and speed to get by his defenders to get to the basket, something we haven’t seen Gibson do much. Gibson’s speed is underrated, he does have a second gear. I cannot give you a specific example from an exact point, but there was a game last season I was streaming and he stole the ball near around the three point line and took off to the other basket for the score, and literally no one could catch him.
He has that capability just as Tyus did, and he has shown it off a bit already this season.
A wrist injury may have slowed down Gibson before the start of the 2019-2020 season, and it seems most attention for the Mavericks has gone toward Matt Pile, the emergence of Ayo Akinwole, and people being sad about the graduation of Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.
The 2018-2019 Omaha Mavericks had a reputation of being “all business” and Gibson fits that mold. Before squaring off against Bethune-Cookman, I saw Gibson during the women’s game, and he was already completely dialed in. He was 100% business and ready to go.
In warm ups, in the past, Gibson had a lot of smiles and joked around with teammates. Before playing Bethune-Cookman, Gibson was focused on the upcoming game. He’s taken on the role seriously, just as last year’s seniors Hahn and Jackson did.
Bethune-Cookman was the first game of the season for the Mavericks seen as a toss up. The expectations for Wichita State were just hoping the Mavericks kept it close, and yay they beat the spread. Then Midland was well, it was a game against Midland.
This was the first must win game of the season to prove yourselves as a team. Gibson came out aggressive against a tired Bethune-Cookman team, came off ball screens and read the defense maybe better than he ever has. At one point I looked up and said “oh wow, he’s on pace to score 40 tonight.”
With Zach Thornhill, Matt Pile, and Ayo Akinwole, this may not be a year that the Mavericks need Gibson to have a good game in order to win, but there is no doubt that this is Gibson’s basketball team.
The first week of college basketball passed on by, and now we no longer have to discuss basketball teams in terms of what they have coming back from last season. We can gauge them on how they beat up on division three opponents and how they kind of came close against teams from better conferences.
1. South Dakota, 3-0
My preseason ranking: 1st
The Coyotes started their season undefeated in Hawaii as part of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic with 2 neutral games against Pacific and Florida A&M, as well as a game at Hawaii.
Even though Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver, it appears he’ll still be sitting out this season. The Coyotes were still able to prove they had plenty of depth with 5 players scoring in double figures over the weekend.
The Coyotes shot over 50% from the field and 50% from behind the three point line over the weekend. Three players averaged 17 points or more in Hawaii.
6’7″ true freshman Hunter Goodrick out of Australia showed off as a nice surprise averaging 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds through the first three games.
2. Oral Roberts, 1-1
My preseason ranking: 2nd
Down by as many as 14 in the second half, Oral Roberts was able to come back and almost beat Oklahoma State. The Golden Eagles are now 2-0 against the spread this season.
With three seniors off the bench, the Golden Eagles will be a mature team and that teams will have to play a complete 40 minutes against.
Sophomore RJ Fuqua came back to the lineup after sitting out 2018-2019. Maybe it was rust, but Fuqua had 10 turnovers and shot 25% from the field through the first two games and may not be the appropriate point guard to lead this team who had the most turnovers in the Summit League this season. He almost seems to be too fast, if that’s possible.
Kevin Obanor hasn’t had a great start to the season. Coaches say the biggest jump for players can be from their freshman to their sophomore season, but sometimes a sophomore slump can occur. Obanor got in foul trouble in his first two games this season and has shot 2-of-12 on the year. He really didn’t use his large frame to get inside baskets and relied on the three just a bit much.
Still with Obanor and Fuqua struggling, the Golden Eagles took Oklahoma State to the wire and beat Houston Baptist by 14.
3. North Dakota State, 2-1
My preseason ranking: 3rd
The Bison haven’t started as hot as they would have hoped to, shooting 29% on threes, but it’s the North Dakota State Bison and they will come around.
4. Omaha, 2-1
My preseason ranking: 4th
The suspension of KJ Robinson has allowed for Ayo Akinwole to step up into a starring role, and allow Zach Thornhill and Wanjang Tut to showcase their talents as they’re being integrated into the starting lineup.
Without Robinson, the Mavericks are averaging nearly 15 turnovers a game.
Not having Robinson and UMKC transfer Marco Smith, the Mavericks are only playing with 7 players, which is depth that won’t get you too far in conference season.
5. South Dakota State, 3-0
My preseason ranking: 8th
The Jackrabbits are 3-0 with a team entirely made up of newcomers. We’ll have a little to compare them to as their first opponent, UT Rio Grande Valley will square off against North Dakota State this Friday.
Sophomore Matt Dentlinger was a huge surprise notching a double-double in their home opener.
Junior college transfer Douglas Wilson is on his way to being candidate for Newcomer of the Year, averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds through three games.
6. North Dakota, 1-0
My preseason ranking: 5th
The Fighting Hawks haven’t fought too hard, only playing one game so far against division three Crown College.
Paul Sather’s team will play the opposite of opponents tonight when they faces off against Gonzaga.
7. Fort Wayne, 1-2
My preseason ranking: 7th
The Mastodons only beat Division 3 Manchester by 11 points?
With not much of a point guard presence, the Mastodons look lost on offense and everything appears to be played in random.
8. Denver, 1-1
My preseason ranking: 9th
The team everyone thought would get beat up by everyone this season actually has not looked bad to start the season.
With an 11 point loss to Colorado State and an 12 point win over Utah Valley, the young team can look to build on some confidence. They were able to beat Utah Valley with Ade Murkey scoring just 9 points, and people said the Pioneers would live and die with Murkey.
9. Western Illinois, 0-2
My preseason ranking: 6th
I don’t even want to talk about Western Illinois right now. They’re 0-2 with an understandable loss to Indiana and a 2 point loss at home to Stetson. They lost at home against Stetson only committing 5 turnovers in the game.
For some reason, the Mavericks will be playing Midland University at noon on a Thursday.
There will be 5 Summit League games played this Thursday, and all 5 Summit League teams will be playing against non-division one opponents. Four of the five games will be played at normal times like 6 or 7 pm. It’s a real good stats day for the conference.
North Dakota will be opening their season against Crown College, and every time I see “Crown College” I think it’s “Clown College” and I imagine a very entertaining basketball team coached by Krusty the Clown with Homer Simpson in a pivotal role as the team’s main post player.
If you’re a Simpsons buff, this is a reference to the episode Krusty the Clown bets his money AGAINST the Harlem Globetrotters because he thought the Washington Generals “were due.”
It’s understandable some of the most die hard Omaha and Midland fans will not be attending this game, so here are some interesting bullet points you might like to know about Thursday’s opponent. Actually, they’re not that interesting.
Here it is. The top 3 teams in this exercise.
I mentioned there are 3 tiers to the Summit League. The bottom tier, which is just Denver. The middle tier which was 5 teams who’s seasons will depend on health and rest against each other, as they have some talent, but may not be that deep.
Then we have the top tier here. These three teams are stacked with talent, and will be able to survive health issues, should they arise. The top tier are the locks to finish in the top three. They’ll all be competing for a top 2 spot in the Summit League tournament for that extra day of rest.
All three teams should end up receiving Mid Major Top 25 votes at some point in the season.
Projected Conference Wins: 11 to 13
Projected Regular Season finish: 1st to 3rd
Key returning players: Brandon Armstrong (Sr), Tyler Hagedorn (Sr), Cody Kelley (Sr), Tyler Peterson (Sr), Triston Simpson (Sr), Stanley Umude (Jr),
The Coyotes have one of the best teams the Summit League has seen on paper in a while. They’ve really got it all: size, depth, experience, athleticism, shooting, speed, defense.
In Todd Lee’s first year, South Dakota faced injuries up and down the roster, sometimes only playing 7 players on a given night. 6’10” Tyler Hagedorn faced an injury in the beginning of the year elected to use his redshirt for the 2018-2019 season.
Hagedorn was selected as a 2nd Team All Conference player in the preseason. He was actually healthy and practicing with the team half way though the season, but he didn’t want to play just half a season. Without Hagedorn in the lineup, South Dakota didn’t have a go to player in the post, and it obviously impacted the Coyotes’ season as they lost 11 games by 7 points or less, 6 games in the Summit League. With Hagedorn back in the lineup, the Coyotes can close those gaps and turn this season around.
According to Jeff Goodman, Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver and will be eligible to play this season. Heiman did not play in South Dakota’s exhibition game against Concordia St. Paul, so it’s still unclear if the 6’10” sophomore will play or still use a redshirt this season.
Lee claimed in order to be good at this level in college basketball, you have to be experienced, and the Coyotes certainly have experience.
The combined total of division one minutes on the Coyotes’ active roster is 11455 career minutes. That’s more than 1000 minutes over the next closest in the Summit League, North Dakota State. The 11455 minutes, does not include Heiman’s minutes at Nebraska.
If Heiman doesn’t play, he’ll be on the practice squad and scout team with Nebraska-Kearney transfer Kanon Koster and Augustana transfer A.J. Plitzuweit. They could have some competitive practices.
The Coyotes are returning 85% (2nd most) of their conference scoring from last season, 75% (2nd most) of their conference rebounding, and 82% (5th most) of their 3 point field goals made in conference play. None of that is including Tyler Hagedorn.
If you recall, I said there might not be anyone in the league with 40 better minutes at point guard than Omaha with KJ Robinson and Ayo Akinwole, well, South Dakota will have 40 great minutes at point guard with seniors Triston Simpson and Cody Kelley. Simpson also did not play in the Coyotes’s exhibition game, so maybe the injuries are already starting to mount up. They will also have freshman Kruz Perrot-Hunt at point guard, who played for the same New Zealand basketball organization as Nebraska’s Tai Webster.
I don’t know how to pronounce Perrot-Hunt, but I hope it sounds Parrot Hunt.
Lee said with such an experienced roster, it takes a load off the shoulders of the coaches, and if his staff can’t see success, then that means he’s not that good of a coach. If he can’t finish in the top 3 with this team, it probably will be all of his fault and someone will point and laugh. Except for a Coyote fan, they’ll probably throw fruit at him.
Projected Conference Wins: 11 to 14
Projected Regular Season Finish: 1st to 3rd
Key returning players: RJ Fuqua (So), Sam Kearns (Sr), Emmanuel Nzekwesi (Sr), Kevin Obanor (So), DeShang Weaver (So),
The Golden Eagles were another team to face injury problems last year. One of the best players in the league, Emmanuel Nzekwesi missed 6 conference games last year, but thankfully he was healthy enough to play against Omaha both times… Head Coach Paul Mills stated that Nzekwesi is as healthy as he has ever been, and had one of the best summers he’s ever seen anyone have in all of years of coaching, so Nzekwesi has the potential to be the best player in the league.
You’ll hear the likes of Omaha, South Dakota State, and Fort Wayne talk about trying to replace what they lost from last season, but Oral Roberts doesn’t need to bring it up. The Golden Eagles are bringing back their top 4 scorers from last season to go along with Nzekwesi.
In addition to bringing back their main core, the Golden Eagles are adding experience for immediate impacts to the roster. They are adding two graduate transfers, Deondre Burns from Arkansas-Little Rock and Ty Lazenby from Oklahoma (don’t get super duper excited, he hardly played at Oklahoma, but still).
The team is also bringing back point guard R.J. Fuqua who redshirted his sophomore season, after averaging 8 points and 3 assists as a freshman. Fuqua once had 17 points and 8 assists in a 19 point win over Omaha, so that’s cool. The Golden Eagles committed the most turnovers in the Summit League last season, which led to them committing the most fouls in the conference. If Fuqua’s return can help with the turnovers, that could help Oral Roberts win more games this season. That sounds like that’s how basketball statistics work.
Mills has said that taking care of the basketball has been a major emphasis for the team. His staff has also required the team to carry basketballs with them everywhere on campus. You know, like in the middle school when you had to dress up 2-liter bottle and pretend you had a baby. He compared it to “Remember the Titans” when they made the players carry footballs around school, but I like my comparison better.
Oral Roberts has the biggest roster in the Summit League, which creates mismatches all over the place, but those mismatches aren’t incredibly beneficial if they’re turning over the ball and giving up so many fast break opportunities to the quicker teams in the conference.
Unlike other top teams like South Dakota and North Dakota State, Oral Roberts doesn’t have an instate conference rival to fluster them in some game. It doesn’t really seem like Oral Roberts really has a rivalry with anyone in the Summit League, being so far away from everyone.
North Dakota State
Projected Conference Wins: 9 to 13
Projected Regular Season Finish: 1st to 4th
Key returning players: Sam Griesel (So), Cameron Hunter (Jr), Rocky Krueser (Jr), Jared Samuelson (Sr), Vinnie Shahid (Sr), Tyson Ward (Sr),
It makes perfect sense for everyone to pick the Bison as the preseason favorite. They won the conference tournament last season, and they return everything to their roster except for Deng Geu.
Please remember this is all based on the regular season might shake out, and the Bison are going to be a threat to anyone on any given day. Their style of play, however, can lead to games being played close, and they can still sometimes do things like lose to Denver like they did last season.
They won the conference tournament, but the Bison are a still a team that finished tied for 3rd last season. They’re returning 85% of their scoring from last season, but they don’t have anything to impact or change that 3rd place finish, like South Dakota has Hagedorn coming back, and Oral Roberts had 3 guys with experience coming in. The Bison are simply just still good.
Cameron Hunter did see a dip in production his sophomore season as compared to his freshman season, mostly due to a wrist injury, so if he can be healthy that can be a jump for the team.
Offensively, statistically the Bison weren’t anything spectacular last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in most categories, yet defensively they were in the top half. This isn’t a knock at them being bad, it’s just more of a testament that they play games close and it sometimes can keep a team in the game and they can lose a head scratcher from time to time. The biggest thing on the side of the Bison is their team chemistry and experience, and that will go a long way, which is why they should finish in the top 3 in the conference.
A big obstacle of the Bison will be their schedule. Yes, everyone plays each other twice, but the Bison have a hard time with travel.
The Bison are playing at Oral Roberts, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Omaha, and South Dakota all on weeknights; and each time they play their in-state rival North Dakota will be after tough contests with South Dakota. Last season, the Bison were 1-4 on conference road games played on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and they were 3-0 on conference Saturday away games.
A big key to winning those weeknight away games will be more consistent play from senior point guard Vinnie Shahid. Shahid struggled to adapt to the Summit League as a junior college transfer, but eventually found his stride. In a 5 game winning streak from January 26th to Valentine’s Day, Shahid scored 21.6 points per game, shot 50% on threes, and dished out 4.2 assists per game. After the streak, the Bison lost 3 of their last 4 with Shahid scoring 12.5 points per game, which includes a 19 point performance in a 1 point loss against South Dakota State.
I looked that up, because once I felt like most teams were bad on the road during weeknight games, and it wasn’t really everyone. The Bison have historically been bad playing on the road on weeknights. Other teams, not as bad.
Regardless of what happens, the Bison will be ready come March. Their style of play wears teams down, and the Bison will be able to play 12 men deep with their roster. They essentially have the best scenario for playing 3 games in 3 or 4 days.
My trivial Preseason Summit League rankings
1st South Dakota
2nd Oral Roberts
3rd North Dakota State
5th North Dakota
6th Western Illinois
7th Fort Wayne
Projected Conference Wins: 7 to 12
Projected Regular Season Finish: 2nd to 5th
Derrin Hansen made a point that college coaches don’t get the pleasure of coaching Tim Duncan for 16 straight years, and they have to replace guys every single season, so it’s something they’re used to. It’s really good to hear Hansen being optimistic, because losing Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson is a lot of ground to make up.
In a Summit League season featuring two of the best players the conference has ever seen, Mike Daum and John Konchar, the Mavericks were able to put two players on the All Conference 1st Team. Hahn and Jackson were probably two of the best players the school has ever had. If you put together a team of Omaha’s all time best players, Hahn and Jackson would definitely be on the roster and possibly both be starters.
As good as Hahn and Jackson were, the Mavericks won 7 games by 7 points or less (I’m using the number 7 because that’s what Todd Lee used). They also lost twice to Oral Roberts by 3 and 4 points, and Mitch Hahn put on one of the best shooting performances ever by a Maverick in Tulsa. They won those close games because of clutch performances from their two leaders. Having two go to guys in those moments was the biggest thing for the Mavericks last season.
The Mavericks can attempt to make up that production from those two guys, but I don’t know how you make up their leadership and clutch shooting. Hopefully seniors, JT Gibson and KJ Robinson can make up for that loss, but those are the biggest shoes Hansen has had to fill. I can’t sit here and list off big time clutch performances by Gibson and Robinson, like I could with Hahn or Jackson, but they will have to step up in big moments this season.
After the Mavericks came back in Baxter Arena and beat South Dakota State, Hahn said the in the locker room at half time, no one was down on the team, even if they were down by 13. He made a note that Robinson, along with Hahn and Jackson, stayed positive and asked the other players what they had to do to come back and win. This is just an example of how I think Robinson is a leader for this team, even if he doesn’t get the mentions like his teammates often have.
I can vaguely remember Robinson having a steady history of hitting corner threes with the Mavericks trying to make come backs in the game, and driving to the lane for the baskets in the final minutes of games, but never a big time shot to seal up a win. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m talking smack about Robinson, because I really do think he’s a leader that can be ready for those moments.
Aside from Hahn and Jackson, the Mavericks took some other losses no one has really brought up. Logan Strom left the school in August, apparently to pursue football, and at 6’8″ and 240 pounds, Strom was expected to at least be a big man in the rotation for the Mavericks, if not be a starter. 6’9″ senior Brett Barney also left the program, who also had potential to be in the starting lineup, or at least add experience and shooting off the bench. 6’11” sophomore Evan Tricker also left the team, he didn’t play much for the Mavericks in his freshman season, but that is 3 post players gone from the roster, and now the Mavericks are left with a lack of size in the post.
You might be asking yourself: Why does this homer have the Mavericks ranked so high if all he is doing is talking about their roster issues?
For one, I did do a lot of my projections thinking Barney and Strom would be on the roster, so there is that.
Aside from that…
While all of these teams are looking to replace their players, and establish their cultures with so many fresh faces, the Mavericks actually have the most veteran coaching staff in the league. Hansen has been the head coach of Omaha for 15 years now, and Tyler Erwin has been with the Mavericks for 11 years, Pat Eberhart for 9 years, and Tyler Bullock is entering his 4th season as an assistant coach. The next closest in tenure as head coaches in the Summit League are Dave Richman, Jon Coffman, and Billy Wright with 6 years each with their programs.
Other than the top three schools in the conference, the Mavericks arguably have the best Big 3 in the conference with Matt Pile, JT Gibson, and KJ Robinson. In my opinion, Robinson is probably the most underrated point guard in the league.
In the past, the Mavericks biggest problems were always turnovers and defense. Robinson helped lead the Mavericks offense to the fewest turnovers in the Summit League last season, and he’s great at finding guys in their spots in clutch moments. He led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and Ayo Akinwole was 4th in the conference. The Mavericks have two of the top three guys in assist-to-turnover ratio returning from last season, North Dakota State’s Jared Samuelson is the other guy. The Mavericks will have 40 minutes of Robinson and Akinwole at point guard, that might be the best 40 minutes of point guard play in the league.
Although, the Mavericks will lack depth in the post, to go with one of the best back courts in the league, Omaha will have Matt Pile down in the paint. I could go on all day how special I think Pile is, there is not enough to be said about him. He is a hand full for Summit League teams. Mike Daum was one of the best offensive big men the Summit League has ever had, and Daum was intimidated by Pile in Omaha last season. He couldn’t go down low in Baxter Arena, you could see it boggle his mind.
With the lack of depth in the post, Pile will be the biggest key for the Mavericks to have a successful season. Pile will take up a lot of attention from other teams this season, and will often get double teamed, and maybe even triple teamed this season. He said he’s been working on passing out of double teams and moving without the ball. Shooters like Gibson, Robinson, and Zach Thornhill are going to find themselves some wide open looks this season.
Pile will have to stay out of foul trouble, which is something he has been good in his first two seasons. If there is a game, where he does find himself in foul trouble, the Mavericks could find themselves struggling to rebound and to get easy baskets inside.
As far as everything they return, the Mavericks are right in the middle of the conference. They’re returning 56% (6th) of their conference scoring, 52% (5th) of their rebounding, and have 7325 (5th) division one minutes, 366* (6th) division one games played, and 148 (6th) division one starts.
*Random stat: JT Gibson has played 100 career games, and that is the most in the Summit League
Hansen did make a point that the Mavericks are slightly older than they appear as Wanjang Tut and Zach Thornhill are listed as sophomores, but they are actually junior academically.
That is straight up optimism on Hansen’s part. However, we slaw glimpses of what Tut and Thornhill can be last season. Tut was playing behind Mitch Hahn, Matt Pile, and Brett Barney and he was able to pull of 4 double digit scoring performances, including 18 points and 6 rebounds in the Summit League tournament against North Dakota when Pile was forced to the bench with foul trouble. Tut was really the hero and stepped up for the Mavericks when they needed him most.
Thornhill was sidelined by injuries, but you could see his athleticism and potential when he was on the court last season. He played with a lot of confidence and maturity and appeared to have a high basketball IQ. If you would’ve told me he was a senior, I would have believed you. Thornhill is a potential starter, and could make up some of Zach Jackson’s production, and Mav fans should feel comfortable with him as a 4th or 5th option.
I like this Maverick team. They do have a talented Big 3, and a lot of potential in their role players, but they may lack some depth in comparison to other teams around the league. Health will be extremely important to this team, they may not be able to survive injuries and foul trouble as well as other teams in the conference.
If the Mavericks are to break away and finish better than 4th in the conference, they’re going to have to be in the top 2 in the league through the beginning of February. The Mavericks will play their last 5 of 7 games on the road, leading into the Summit League tournament.
5th North Dakota
6th Western Illinois
7th Fort Wayne