Are the Mavericks finally turning a page here?

Fact: The Mavericks are still writing their story for their most successful basketball season since transitioning to division 1.

Thought: Does this program have the momentum to keep this going to the future?

The 2017-2018 Omaha men’s basketball season was filled with several thoughts of wondering what could have been had things just gone better for them. Injuries plagued that team from top to bottom. There were only a couple games where the team had their entire roster healthy to play. Several games were lost of bad plays down the stretch, and the team saying: we’re one or two plays away from a winning record. The team was also trying to mesh together a hoard of new faces and get everyone on the same page.

The 2018-2019 season has been the complete opposite. The Mavericks are actually several Mitch Hahn baskets and double digit comebacks away from having a pretty average season.

After Hahn’s game winner against South Dakota State, I checked the Jackrabbits’ fan forum page to see their thoughts on the game.  As I’ve done this in the past after Mavericks-Jackrabbits games, it’s typically filled with just some fans whining about Gary Sharp’s sarcasm. Something else really caught my eye this time.

Someone begged the question: Have the Mavericks finally turned the page and are moving away from mediocrity?

The question being asked by a Jackrabbit fan sets it up for me to think that the South Dakota State fans think they’re the Texas of the Summit League, or the Gonzaga of low major basketball.  They’re not, though, South Dakota State is the South Dakota State of the Summit League.

Perhaps, we should rephrase this question into a tone that doesn’t offend me. Have the Mavericks moved into position to consistently be in contention for a Summit League regular season championship?

Regardless of how this season has gone down, 19 wins and a 2nd place seeding in the Summit League Tournament has proven to be the most successful season in the division one era for the Mavericks, but how is the future?

The Mavericks are only going to be graduating two players, but those players are Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson, two of the best players this program has ever had.

The Summit League will be graduating two of the best players the conference has ever had, so the field is already open in 2019-2020.  Actually, I think North Dakota State and South Dakota are going to be the toughest teams to beat next year, but this is for another day.

Omaha will presumably bring back a Big 3 of Matt Pile, JT Gibson, and KJ Robinson. None of them have shown that clutch killer instinct of the likes of Hahn or Jackson, but they certainly have that potential. This Big 3 is going be one of the most talented in the Summit League next season.

You never know, though. Pile could get a bizarre toe injury and his feet won’t be able to support his pro wrestler body, or Gibson or Robinson could transfer to Nevada just for kicks.

No one can ever replace Hahn or Jackson, but we’ll find out what Logan Strom can do. We’ve been teased with the potential of Zach Thornhill.  Ayo Akinwole has proven to be a weapon when given the opportunity. Wanjang Tut is a quality defensive post player, and there have been glimpses of offensive potential.  Incoming freshman Lamel Robinson’s game seems similar to Devin Patterson’s.

A successful season like this can lead to Omaha being an attractive transfer destination for former Nebraska kids to come back to. Let’s just say hypothetically that Tim Miles gets fired from Nebraska, Omaha could definitely be a possibility for someone like Brady Heiman. Omaha can absolutely be a place for any of the former Nebraska kids in the Mountain West looking for more playing time.

Perhaps, this is all a conversation for another day. The Mavericks have North Dakota to worry about to continue building on this season for a hopeful present and future.

 

 

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Hey, I’m going to talk about last night’s Jackrabbits-Mavericks game

I haven’t been able to get to many UNO games this season, and I didn’t even get to go last night but that was the best Omaha men’s basketball game I’ve ever watched.

In December, I had a detached retina that required surgery to fix that problem.  I’ve been messing with that, and haven’t gotten out much because of it.  I’m watching my parents’ house and their dogs as they are out of town, so I watched the game from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen as their dogs shuffled between begging for food and going outside and playing in the snow.

Baxter Arena hosted its largest crowd for a men’s basketball game with 4,228 in attendance.  It could have been 4,230 had I forced my parents’ dogs to fend for themselves for an evening and convinced a friend of mine to go.  My bad.

From home I could see the intensity in the arena, I mean, it was pretty intense from the kitchen I was watching from. It was almost like the game was played out from a screenplay.

After missing chip shots and officials appearing to protect and favor the famous Mike Daum, the Mavericks found themselves down 13 at halftime.

There was so much on the line in this game. It’s the Summit League’s top two teams playing for the top spot, a guaranteed spot in the NIT, and both teams would appreciate a top 2 seed in the Summit League tournament so they can have that Sunday night off from basketball – assuming they take care of business against their first round opponents.

According to Mitch Hahn in his post game interview, the Mavericks met at half time and discussed what they needed to do better to win that game.  No one sat there thinking the Jackrabbits got them.

My friend and I have agreed that if the Mavericks lock up the 1 or the 2 seed in the conference tournament, we’re heading to Sioux Falls.  We’re sports lovers and we’d go Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday if the Mavericks were playing but we’re adults and have jobs*.  I admit, when David Jenkins hit a three to open up the second half and push the lead to 16, I seriously debated of texting my friend that we should just prepare to go to Bockfest at the German American Society on March 9th, instead.

Eventually, Mike Daum went to the bench and I thought to myself that this was the Mavericks’ chance to make a push to cut into the lead and make this a game.  If it wasn’t going to happen then, it probably wouldn’t happen at all.  With Daum on the bench, they cut into the lead. All of a sudden, I had faith.

Even with Daum back on the court, the team the Summit League sees as perfect started messing up.  Turnovers and missed shots over a 4 minute stretch allowed the Mavericks to spark the comeback.

That’s the great thing about this year’s team.  They take care of the ball and they have so many weapons on offense that if their opponents can’t take care of the ball, the Mavericks can take advantage.  It’s not like a few years ago when the Mavericks as a team would have 8 assists on 20 turnovers, it’s the opposite of that now.  They’re not spending a large portion of the game just shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and bad shot selection over 8 minute stretches.

Once the Mavericks evened things up, the teams traded blows.  Daum would hit a three, and then Hahn would answer. KJ Robinson would hit a big three, and David Jenkins was there to rip our throats out.

While Jenkins was lighting up the Mavericks, Omaha did the unthinkable and actually slowed down Daum.  Daum was still creating space for Jenkins just by his presence on the court, but Daum was actually struggling in the game for a stretch.

For literally the first time of me ever watching Mike Daum play basketball, I thought he was actually intimidated.  He appeared to be completely confused by Matt Pile.  Excuse me, I want to retype that.  Daum appeared to be completely confused by Matt ‘effin Pile.  Daum looked like he couldn’t believe the sophomore wasn’t backing down from him.

In four years of witnessing Mike Daum, I have never thought he took a bad shot.  In the second half, he was going right after Pile and for the first time I ever I actually said “what are you thinking, Daum?”

On the other end, I literally had a debate with myself asking if Mike Daum was bad at defense. Like, I really just couldn’t tell. Pile and Hahn weren’t afraid to get after him, and when guards penetrated Daum just kind of let them do their thing. It is worth considering, though, that the Jackrabbits really don’t have much of a bench so they seriously cannot afford Daum to get in foul trouble and go to the bench.  I mean, look what sparked when Daum spent less than two minutes on the bench.

Don’t worry about Daum, he went 9-23 from the field and was the 3rd best player in last night’s game, but he’s still going to be voted Player of the Week.

The ending to this classic was about as perfect as they come.  The Nebraska-native, who is probably the best player the Summit League has ever seen knocks down two free throws to force the Maverick fans to say to themselves “son of a…”

But 5.7 seconds is too much time for Mitch Hahn.  The fellow Nebraska-native takes the ball the length of the floor and drills the baseline jump shot to seal the deal, and to create an even more intense final two weeks of the regular season for the Mavericks and Jackrabbits.

Third place Fort Wayne, who has won 5 consecutive games, comes to Omaha on Saturday for what should be another intense game.  I’m not the smartest person alive, but I just kind of assume Fort Wayne wants a top 2 seed in the tournament.  South Dakota State is at North Dakota State, the fourth place team in the Summit.  The Jackrabbits are historically kind of bad in Fargo, but they won there last year.

Even with this being the best basketball game to be played at Baxter Arena to this point, the Mavericks can’t stop now. It appears Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson understand this, and as they say: there is still a lot of basketball to be played.

*When are we going to stage a protest to have the Summit League tournament moved from Sioux Falls? The conference might get a third South Dakota school, and the rest of us have to suffer for it. If it’s going to remain in Sioux Falls can we at least set it up to where the conference championship isn’t on a Tuesday night?  If Denver made the conference championship, they would have less than 50 fans at the game on a Tuesday night.

 

 

Summit League predictions: Jan 24-27

I was 5-2 last week.  My best week.

Amazingly, Oral Roberts has no conference games this week.  They play two non-D1 opponents.  It’s like they’re an SEC football team that plays a FCS team in week 9.

January 24

South Dakota State @ South Dakota on ESPN3

How fun of a game is this going to be?  INCREDIBLY FUN.

Daum versus Hagedorn.  Jenkins versus Mooney.  Blue versus Red.  Okay, I ran out of things.

Is it wrong of me to think that the Coyotes are the best team overall in the conference, even though the Jackrabbits have the best overall player in the Summit League?  Probably not.

With their home court advantage, in what should be a sold out crowd, the Coyotes will be able to utilize more depth and a better defense.

The x-factors of this game could be Reed Tellinghuisen and Trey Burch-Manning.  They’ll be guarding each other, and have two totally different styles of play.  Whichever of them can make key plays in big moments and take control of the other may be the difference maker in this game.

January 25

Omaha @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

Each team is on a…I have no idea what to call this…a streak of conference games where you go W-L-W-L-W-L.  A Pattern Streak?  I don’t know.  I got nothing.  If the patterns hold true, both teams will win this game.  No, wait.  Crap.

The Bison have dropped 3 of their last 4 home games, which seems unheard of.  So really, what Bison team is going to show up?

I don’t think the Bison have an answer for Zach Jackson, and Mitch Hahn might be back.  So we will see what happens.  Hopefully, it’s good.

Western Illinois @ Denver

The Leathernecks have yet to win a game outside the state of Illinois this season.

Was it even noticed that the Leathernecks held Mike Daum to just 11 points last weekend?  Probably not since South Dakota State was still able to win by 28 points.  With Brandon Gilbeck being Daum’s primary defender, it plays into my theory that the one thing that bothers Daum is length.

January 27

Western Illinois @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

The Leathernecks have yet to win a game outside the state of Illinois this season.

Fort Wayne @ South Dakota State on ESPN3

The Mastodons have not won in Brookings since 2007, and Mike Daum scored 42 points the last time Fort Wayne came to town.  He also had 51 in Fort Wayne last season.

No one really has an answer for Mike Daum, but the ‘Dons don’t even have a clue.

Maybe with a full week off, the Mastodons can be well rested against the Jackrabbits who will be coming off an emotional game in Vermillion on Wednesday.

South Dakota @ Denver

The Coyotes are better at basketball on almost every level.  Home court advantage really shouldn’t matter that much.

My trivial Summit League rankings – Jan 16

This weather has me too mad for words.

1. South Dakota State, 4-0

The Jackrabbits have the best player in the Summit and they’re undefeated in the conference.

They did have 0 bench points against Oral Roberts last week. The lack of a bench hasn’t hurt them yet.

2. South Dakota, 3-1

Without a doubt, they miss Carlton Hurst’s defense, but they were able to hold Fort Wayne to shooting 3-of-20 in Fort Wayne last week.

3. North Dakota State, 2-2

An up and down start to the conference schedule for the Bison, and they have already lost 2 in Fargo, which seems unheard of.  They’re not the only Summit League team having an up and down season, but they’re probably the best of the teams having an up and down season.

Their home loss to Denver seemed like a fluke.  The Bison were finding open shots, but just couldn’t knock them down.  Denver wasn’t doing anything spectacular.

4. Fort Wayne, 2-2

They can beat anyone in the Summit League when they’re knocking down threes, but when they’re not knocking down threes, the Mastodons are kind of bad.

5. Oral Roberts, 3-2

As somewhat expected, the young Golden Eagles couldn’t stay undefeated going into a weekend on the road against South Dakota State and North Dakota State.

The team did get Austin Ruder back from injury, and the rust was really showing, but with Ruder back on the team, the Golden Eagles have more depth and three point shooting.  If Ruder can be healthy, he could make up that three point difference in to South Dakota State.

6. Denver, 1-3

I’m still lost as to how Denver was able to pick up a win in Fargo.  The Bison just couldn’t hit wide open shots.

7. Omaha, 1-3

The Mavericks were able to finally pick up a road win in Macomb and held on for a competitive game in Fort Wayne last week.  Hopefully, the team can take advantage of a week at home against a kind of bad Pioneer team and a South Dakota team playing without Carlton Hurst.

They were able to hold John Konchar to 6 points on Saturday night, which is actually one of their bigger accomplishments this season.

8. Western Illinois, 0-3

Everything make sense again.

Summit League predictions: Jan 11-13

I don’t want to be that guy that just picks all the home teams, but I just really like all the home teams in their match ups this week.

January 11

South Dakota @ Fort Wayne

A little surprised this game is not on ESPN3, but what are you gonna do?

Carlton Hurst is going to be out with a broken hand, so who can guard Bryson Scott is a very big question mark for the Coyotes.

Omaha @ Western Illinois

So there probably won’t be a ton of defense in this game, but the Mavericks are starting to get a few things to click, finally.  The Mavericks know this is a winnable game, and if they put in the effort and energy they can overcome the Leathernecks’ home court advantage.

Denver @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

Denver is currently struggling, and they have yet to get a win in Fargo since joining the Summit League.  The Bison might not have anyone to match up with Daniel Amigo, but they can defend Denver at every other position on the floor.

Oral Roberts @ South Dakota State on ESPN3

This is actually a tough pick, and it should be since these are the only two undefeated teams in the league.  The Golden Eagles have three different looks to throw at Mike Daum with Javan White, Emmanuel Nzekwesi, and Albert Owens…also, how hard is it going to be for Reed Tellinghuisen to guard any of those guys?

I don’t like how much I am talking myself into Oral Roberts right now, but I will take the Jackrabbits at home.  They are an 11 point favorite, and I feel like Oral Roberts will end it at a closer game than that.


January 13

Denver @ South Dakota State

Daniel Amigo averaged 7.3 points and shot 24% against the Jackrabbits last season in 3 games.  So that might be bad.

Oral Roberts @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

What a tough week for Oral Roberts.  This is a game that is another mismatch for them, and in their favor.  They’re not a bad defensive team, and they can really force it down low against a smaller Bison team.  If there is any game that I have the least amount of confidence in, it is this one.

Omaha @ Fort Wayne

The Mavericks really seemed to have a weight lifted off of their shoulders when they defeated Fort Wayne in the Summit League tournament last season, but they are an entirely new team now.

Fort Wayne has been quite inconsistent, but Omaha has been bad at guarding John Konchar.  Terrible, actually.  Zach Jackson will likely be the primary defender to Konchar, but Daniel Norl actually did a decent job in his minutes defending Konchar in Omaha last season.  Konchar went 13-of-15 in Omaha last season, and I’m pretty sure both shots were missed when Norl was guarding him.

The good thing about this game is that we can finally unravel the conspiracy that Xzavier Taylor and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey are two different people.

 

My trivial Summit League rankings – Jan 9

1. South Dakota State, 2-0

The Jackrabbits have the best player in the conference, and they’re 2-0 on the road.  Depth is a slight problem as they let Omaha put a small scare into them by reducing a 29 point lead to just 13.

I legit feel bad because I thought Brandon Key was going to be a floor general to the team, and he did have some moments in the non-conference season, but he came into the game at Omaha for a minute and the Mavericks hit a couple quick shots, and he was immediately sent to the bench and not heard from again.

2. South Dakota, 2-1

A home loss to North Dakota State is probably what is keeping them from the top rating.  The Coyotes did play that game without Carlton Hurst, and it clearly showed on defense with the Bison’s Cameron Hunter going off for 35 points in Vermillion.

3. North Dakota State, 1-1

Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t seem like it would make sense to rank them below a team they just beat, but the Bison almost gave that game away in the end and was letting Matt Mooney get open shots late in the game.  The Bison also committed 17 turnovers in that game.  And again, had Carlton Hurst played that game, the Bison would likely be 0-2 right now.

4. Oral Roberts, 3-0

It may seem unfair to have the 3-0 Golden Eagles in 4th, but is it really?  They’ve played all three games at home and faced a depleted Omaha, an unproven Western Illinois, and a mismatched Fort Wayne team.  Their next three games are on the road against South Dakota State, North Dakota State, and South Dakota, so we will find out what the Golden Eagles are actually about.

I believe last year, I did say Emmanuel Nzekwesi was the future of the league.  So, I guess I’ll just sit here and toot this horn.

5. Fort Wayne, 1-1

You want to talk about another team with limited depth…in Fort Wayne’s two non-conference games only 7 players have reached double digits in minutes in each game.

Also, in those 2 games, the Mastodons only shot 22% on threes.

6. Western Illinois, 0-2

I got to admit, they have a pretty interesting Big 3 with Brandon Gilbeck, Dalan Ancrum, and Kobe Webster.  The Leathernecks also have some interesting role players around those guys.

7. Denver, 0-2

Fort Wayne is just inconsistent, Western Illinois is young, Oral Roberts has a bunch of a new faces, Omaha has injuries.  What’s Denver’s thing?

8. Omaha, 0-2

The Mavericks don’t really have a thing that they are great at right now.  They were pretty bad at getting to the foul line in the non-conference season, but they did a good job of it against South Dakota State and it helped them make the final score look more respectable.

Perhaps, they can get better at getting to the line and forcing some of the other conference teams with limited depth to foul trouble.  Maybe, Renard Suggs can get back into basketball shape and the Mavericks can have a threatening bench with Suggs, Matt Pile, and KJ Robinson/Ayo Akinwole.  Hopefully, Mitch Hahn’s shoulder can be better by March and he can actually play.

 

 

 

My trivial Summit League rankings – December 18th

1. South Dakota

After winning 4 in a row, the Coyotes are the first Summit League team to reach 10 wins.  The Coyotes had to rally back from a 12 point deficit on the road at San Jose State.  Tyler Hagedorn scored 27 points on 6-of-8 on threes on Sunday to help out the rally.  One of the fears of South Dakota heading into this season was that their interior game may be a little thin, but with Hagedorn playing like Mike Daum, the Coyotes really have a chance to show that they are the better team.

2. South Dakota State

Kind of nice that they were able to defeat future Summit League opponent North Dakota by 36, and then they were able to take Colorado to overtime over the weekend.

In their 36 point win over North Dakota, the Jackrabbits still had starter Reed Tellinghuisen out on the floor to end the game, as well as key bench players.  They actually have such a lack of depth they had to play a starter in garbage time.  Having Mike Daum is obviously great,  but can the Jackrabbits keep moving at such a high pace all season without a complete lineup?

3. Western Illinois

They didn’t play any games last week.  Welp, see ya later.

4. North Dakota State

The Bison played Valley City State last week.  That, could be a college?  They shot 70% against the…Valley Cityers?

Even though they had a game that was basically just an open practice, they were still able to play competition and only play AJ Jacobson 15 minutes, as well as provide some experience for their youthful bench.

5. Fort Wayne

The Mastodons were able to pick up a win over the weekend against Stetson, and a win is a win, but the Bison were able to beat Stetson by 36 earlier in the year.

Bryson Scott is leading the League in scoring so far, so good for him.  John Konchar leads the conference in rebounds, and that’s nice.

The ‘Dons are currently 7th in the Summit League in three point field goal percentage, shooting 35% on threes.  Isn’t shooting threes their thing?  Sort of, since they lead the conference in three point field goals attempted per game with 28 per game.

Along with Omaha and Denver, Fort Wayne is one of three teams in the conference that average more turnovers than assists.  The ‘Dons have talent on their basketball team, but they probably shouldn’t expect to get past day one of the Summit League tournament in March if they cannot play efficiently with that talent.

6. Oral Roberts

Players transferring, suspensions, and injuries are just a few of the problems for the Golden Eagles but they were able to pick up two wins in a row, including a 19 point win over Florida Gulf Coast.

The Golden Eagles are going to be the interior team this year in the Summit league.  Javan White had 25 points and 11 rebounds against FGSU and Emmanuel Nzekwesi posted 24 points and 11 rebounds in the same game.  Granted, the Golden Eagles are also experiencing such a lack of depth because of their issues that they have to play White and Nzekwesi for almost every meaningful second of every game, but the Golden Eagles may be able to pick up some unexpected conference wins this season if they can rebound, defend, and take care of the basketball against some of their high paced competition in the Summit League.

7. Omaha

I have a mini panic attack whenever a Maverick player falls down.

8. Denver

The Pioneers have the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference.  They also force the least amount of turnovers, as well as have the fewest blocks in the Summit League so far.  They’re also 7th in the conference in scoring.  Denver has had the weakest strength of schedule in the Summit League.

Aren’t the Pioneers supposed to be playing at a high pace and scoring a bunch of points?  They also returned almost their entire roster, which won’t matter if they cannot play defense.