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