I know what you’re thinking. It’s Western Illinois, and the Mavericks have won 14 straight home games, so you’re expecting an Omaha win, but don’t underestimate how important this game is for the Mavericks.
In a preseason post, I pointed out how the Mavericks’ last 5 of 7 games are on the road, so being in 1st place in the conference at the end of this 4 game home stand is the most important thing to the Mavericks. Their lack of depth and loss at Denver, makes protecting home court even more important.
Every conference game is important, but given the Mavericks only regularly playing 8 players, a day off in the Summit League tournament is what they need*. After a loss at Denver, the Mavericks are going to need to play their best basketball against the Leathernecks to gain that confidence and momentum with these 4 home games to head into the end of the regular season.
*Most of the Summit League teams aren’t really deep, so the first 2 seeds are important to everyone. Teams in the 5th and 6th spots with 2 weeks to go in the regular season might want to consider intentionally losing games to drop to the 7 seed to get a day off.
Ayo Akinwole started off the season hot, but has cooled off and gone missing as KJ Robinson has been playing strong for the Mavericks. In the last 4 games, Akinwole has averaged 2.3 points and shot 29% from the field. Don’t blame Robinson on this. I don’t know why you would, unless you’re a psycho, but Akinwole isn’t getting by dudes like he was at the beginning of the season.
Zach Thornhill also went missing against the Pioneers not scoring at all.
Marlon Ruffin has turned into the perfect energy guy off the bench to lift the Mavericks when the team runs into a drought. When the Mavericks hit a lull in the game, he’s capable of starting the run. KJ Robinson has also been that guy, but you expected that since the start of the season when you didn’t see him in the starting lineup.
The Leathernecks give up the most points per game in the Summit League at 84 points per game, and have the worst defensive field goal percentage at 50%. So this is the game for the Mavericks to regain composure and confidence after a 2 game losing streak.
However, Western Illinois does have experienced players on their roster. Coming into the season, they had the 4th most division one minutes returning to their team in the Summit League. They currently have 4 guys averaging double figure scoring numbers, and all 4 are capable of knocking down big threes. I mention this, because at most Mavericks games I find myself some kid from the opposing team shooting lights out on a career day and screaming: “WHY CAN’T HE MISS!”
If the Mavericks have one of their typical lulls in the game, and they allow the Leathernecks to get hot, things could get dicey for the Mavericks. I’m imagining a world where Omaha drops consecutive games to Denver and Western Illinois, it’s bad. It’s as bad as the time Netflix recommended I watch “Ghost Rider” as a 97% match.