KJ Robinson has gone from being benched to The Guy for Omaha

Have you ever been to the Metro Summer League?  Out by 120th and Blondo. There is a mix of current and former metro basketball stars playing weekly basketball for…some prize… I have rarely attended in the past, as it’s never really worked out with my schedule, and if I’m being 100% honest, I forget it exists every Summer until after it’s over.

One year, I actually went to a few games. I went with one purpose, and one purpose only. To see some new 3 star recruit freshman UNO basketball player named KJ Robinson.

There wasn’t much to KJ at the time. The Summer League was dominated by the likes of Mitch Hahn, Justin Patton, Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Foster, Tre’Shawn Thurman, and Khyri Thomas.  I walked in and saw Hollins dominating some game against a hobbled Marcus Foster.  Hollins’ backup KJ Robinson sat on the bench with his arms crossed like he was some little brother invited to just hang out with his older brother and his friends, and they just played video games and wouldn’t give him the controller.

At that point, I had no idea what expectations to place on Robinson. He looked bored and frustrated, but mostly bored, and I didn’t know if he was going to stick it out with this Omaha team or if he would eventually transfer.

I’m not exactly sure who you think of when you picture an All Time Omaha Men’s Basketball team in your head, or if you even think about it it, but I’m willing to place a bet that you likely don’t have KJ Robinson too high on the depth chart on that team.

Actually, I put together some weird math formula to put together the depth chart of the All Time Omaha Division One team.  He’s on the team. Currently 10th on the depth chart, but he still has 9+ games to go, so he may climb.  What can I say, I’m single, ladies.

Currently this season, Robinson leads the Mavericks in scoring, three point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three point field goals made; and it feels like he’s the 3rd most discussed player on the team behind Matt Pile and JT Gibson.  Maybe even 4th now after Marlon Ruffin.

Last season, when the Mavericks found themselves in clutch situations the general feel from fans was: “it’s fine, we have Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.”  I’m not sure if this a collected thought, but now when the Mavericks find themselves in need of a bucket down the stretch this season, I find myself saying: “it’s fine, KJ will get one here.”

He just quietly does all of this.  It’s like that one episode of the ‘The Simpsons” when an Asian mafia fights Fat Tony’s gang in the family’s kitchen, and Marge instructs the family to leave the kitchen to escape the fight, but Homer wants to stay and watch because there is a little guy standing in the corner and he just knows he’s going to do something.

Playing against the Mastodons a couple weeks ago, KJ started the game off hot with three early 3’s, and then went quiet for almost another 30 minutes of the game.  After JT Gibson hit a big three to tie the game, I thought to myself: “you know KJ is going to do something here,” and sure enough he hit a big shot to seal the deal for the Mavericks.

Since the Mavericks have transitioned, there have essentially been 3 point guards:  Devin Patterson, Tra-Deon Hollins, and KJ Robinson.  And they’ve all been incredible, each had their niche.  Patterson was the fastest player Omaha has had, and could penetrate and get to the free throw line more than anyone.  Hollins was a defensive freak.  KJ has arguably had the highest basketball IQ out of all three of them and has done the best at keeping the team under control in high pressure situations, and hitting clutch shots and making big time plays.

As great as Patterson and Hollins were, they would occasionally make that frustrating play that made you want to rip up your program. Actually, why are you buying a program?  The internet has all the information you need.  KJ has never really had that one big time frustrating play.  Actually, one of the most frustrating Omaha plays I’ve ever watched was between Patterson and Hollins that cost them a game against the Mastodons.

We’ve slowly watched Robinson grow up the last 4 years.  His freshman season, Robinson was stuffed away in a talented back court consisting of Marcus Tyus, Tra-Deon Hollins, Daniel Norl, Kyler Erickson, and JT Gibson.  There were games Robinson was thrown into the game for a minute just to give Hollins a short rest, just because the coaching staff thought it might be a decent idea to take him out before a media timeout.

His sophomore season, the Mavericks faced injuries to almost every player on the roster. The team struggled, and I have almost completely put that season out of my mind.  Wait, what season are we talking about about?

In his junior season, Robinson led the Summit League in assist-to-turnover ratio in arguably the best season the Mavericks have ever had. What he brought to the team was completely overshadowed by Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.  Hahn and Jackson may have hit the last second shots, but Robinson consistently hit late shots to put the Mavericks in that situation for his seniors to have those opportunities.

His senior season started off with being disciplined for violating team rules, which I can only hope it’s something silly like stealing Derrin Hansen’s lunch out of the fridge.  He missed the first three games of the season, and Ayo Akinwole was inserted into the starting lineup, and became a star, himself.   He’s played his entire collegiate basketball career in the shadow of others.

He hit a game winning shot at North Dakota, which was almost in the exact same spot Mitch Hahn hit a game winning shot against the Fighting Hawks, almost as a statement to say he’s got the keys to the team now.

We’ve watched KJ grow over his career, but even in his own senior season he has gone from the guy who broke the rules to the guy who saves the team down the stretch.

 

 

Some post game Western Illinois observations

  • The Mavericks best lineup is the 4 captains (Matt Pile, JT Gibson, KJ Robinson, and Ayo Akinwole) and Marlon Ruffin.
  • Matt Pile’s 37 blocks this season is the most by a Maverick in a season since Omaha transitioned to division one.  There are at least 10 games left this season.
  • CJ Duff of Western Illinois is a sneaky good on ball defender. He forced Gibson to tough shots all night and kept him in front of him the entire time.
  • Matt Pile was 8-of-11 from the free throw line?!  The team was 22-of-25 overall?  Can we get that all the time?
  • This was likely Billy Wright’s last game as a head coach in Omaha.
  • Prior to the start of the season, we wondered who the guy to take the big shots for the Mavericks would be.  That guy is KJ Robinson.
  • Is KJ one of the most underrated Mavericks ever?  If not the most?  The leadership KJ Robinson displays in the second half of game might be some of the best we’ve ever seen.  He may actually enjoy playing from behind, though.
  • The play in which Ben Pyle went up for a lay up, but was blocked by both Matt Pile and Zach Thornhill was one of the best defensive plays to watch in The Baxter Arena.
  • Billy Wright stood outside of the coach’s box for most of the game. He finally received a warning with 2 minutes to go in the game.  Derrin Hansen called him a cheater, and I legitimately could not tell if he was joking.  He was most likely joking, but I seriously couldn’t tell.

More on Billy Wright..

Billy Wright as a head coach in the Summit League might be one of the biggest crimes ever.  The main reason his team had a first half lead was because the Mavericks could not hit shots.  Their threes were uncontested and just didn’t fall.  The Mavericks’ defense adjusted to nick nack officiating and made everything difficult on the Leathernecks in the second half. He couldn’t draw up a single play in the second half to get his players any easy looks.

He actually has quality players on his roster, and any Summit League coach could coach the Leathernecks to a better record.  The lack of discipline and ball movement on the offensive end doesn’t allow for the team to ever get in a flow.  His players frequently looked confused at his play calling in Omaha.

His players are the exact same players from their freshman year to their senior year who no development. I once was told he doesn’t believe in weight lighting during the season.  Business professors should look into renaming The Peter Principle into The Billy Principle.

A super biased Summit League preseason ranking preview: 4th place

Omaha

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.

winston

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.


4th Omaha

5th North Dakota

6th Western Illinois

7th Fort Wayne

8th South Dakota State

9th Denver

The Mavericks are finally back to the Baxter, but what about Drake?

Nearly 3 weeks into the season, the Mavericks are finally getting their first game this year in Baxter Arena.

Tuesday, Derrin Hansen said that the Mavericks had to create their own energy on the road, so it should be beneficial to his basketball team to finally receive some energy from a home crowd.  Not sure how much energy the Mavericks are needing or expecting, but it may be difficult to come by on a Wednesday night.

The Mavericks are coming back to Baxter Arena after losing 7 straight games on the road.  A road trip that saw one of their best scorers, Mitch Hahn, go down with a shoulder injury.  The team was still able to make hustle plays and keep a few games close, and feel as if they could be 3-4 right now if just a few things had gone their way.

Still, things did not go their way on their road trip, so the Mavericks are 0-7.  Seriously, with Hahn out, the Mavericks were playing stretches of the game against Jackson State with Alex Allbery or JT Gibson at the 4.

Fans bringing energy on a Wednesday night may be difficult to harness.  That guy who sits about 8 rows behind the team bench and talks shit to the referees the whole game will bring it, but it wont be the home opener energy we experienced in 2015 when Baxter Arena opened.

Whenever the Drake Bulldogs visit Omaha in anything, Drake fans do show up.  They may be the quietest fan base ever and sport a median age of 70, but they’ll show up enough for the Drake players to see the blue shirts in attendance.

The Bulldogs have shown that they love playing small ball with a bulk of their minutes going to their guards, so maybe a few minutes of JT Gibson at the 4 won’t be that big of a problem.

One of the reasons the Mavericks are 0-7 and not 3-4 right now is because of the number of mistakes in clutch moments.  The Mavericks had several opportunities to beat Jackson State, but turned the ball over multiple times late in the game to give the Tigers more chances to eventually give themselves an opportunity for a last second shot.

In the Mavericks’ defense, Daniel Meyer played with the type of energy against Jackson State that the Mavericks need from him every game.  Though, toward the end of the game, he had an offensive rebound and was fouled going back up to make the basket, but the referees called off the basket.  That bad call was a large difference maker, and ruined the Mavericks chances of winning in regulation.

This is also a depleted Mav team that has been playing without two players that were expected to be big time contributors in Mitch Hahn and Renard Suggs.  The Mavericks are still trying to figure out their rotations in competition, and not having those two in the lineup is making that even more difficult.  I’m sure the Mavericks will welcome them back when they’re healthy again, but they’ll have to hit the reset button on figuring all of that out.  The injuries to those two guys have given others the opportunities to step up.

KJ Robinson started the season off poorly, but has filled out his application to be the third member of the Big 3 for the Mavericks.  In the first three games, Robinson averaged 6 points, 2.3 assists, 5 turnovers, and shot 26% from the field.  In the last four games, he has averaged 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 turnovers, and shot 51% from the field.  Robinson even knocked down 7 three point field goals against Tennessee Tech.  He did a great job against Jackson State at finding the open man and had a nice pick-and-roll going with Daniel Meyer.

But what about Drake?

Niko Medved took over a Drake Bulldog team that is made up of mostly juniors and seniors.  They have a great deal of chemistry, which he makes a point of making stronger and stranger, and the Bulldogs average 11 turnovers a game as compared to the Mavericks who average 18 turnovers, so far.

Also, Medved was an assistant under Tim Miles at Colorado State.  He was previously head coach at Furman for 4 years where he coached the team to increase their win total each season he was there.  Hold on a second, I have to troll Nebrasketball fans for a moment.


MEDVED AND CRAIG SMITH WERE THE REAL BRAINS BEHIND THE OPERATION AT COLORADO STATE


Drake already beat Wake Forest, who had also lost to Georgia State and Liberty, but beating a big conference team can bring a large amount of confidence to a mid-major basketball team.

The Bulldogs average over 85 points a game, and are also 12th in the nation in three point field goal percentage.  The Mavericks will get to play the face paced offense they enjoy, but they’re going to have to cut down on the unguarded turnovers and defend the three.  Two things that the Mavericks have struggled with the last few years.

 

 

 

 

My trivial preseason Summit League rankings

I find preseason rankings pointless.  So here are some preseason rankings.  After the conference schedule has been released in the last two seasons, I have ran through each team’s schedules and done different predictions through different scenarios.

The first time I would go through and predict wins and losses based on different factors, such as: who is coming off a tougher game, who has a better bench, who is just a better overall team, who do I hate less, who is a better defensive team, and so on and so on.  I add up all the wins and losses and then that’s how I come to rankings.

Like last season, there doesn’t really seem to be much separation in the Summit League from 2 to 7.  There are not many automatic wins.  The 4 seed won in the conference championship last season, so anyone has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament this season.  Don’t come at me if you don’t like the rankings.

1) South Dakota State – projected conference wins: 9 to 12

As the 4 seed in the Summit League tournament in 2017, the Jackrabbits were able to ride Mike Daum all the way to the NCAA Tournament.  They have Mike Daum back, and they even return 75% of their scoring, so it’s pretty easy to envision them as the best team in the conference.

The Jackrabbits graduated their starting point guard Michael Orris, who was 4th in the Summit League in assists per game.  On paper, they have what it seems to make up for that production after signing junior college transfer Brandon Key, who averaged 7.2 assists per game as a sophomore and was 5th in NJCAA in assists.  They were also able to sign Dallas Polk-Hilliard from junior college, who averaged 19.3 points and 8.4 rebounds as a sophomore.  Polk-Hilliard once had an offer from the Mavericks.

The Jackrabbits are going to be able to play small, play big, shoot threes, defend, and they have a pretty deep bench to go along with a solid starting 5.  Summit League teams are going to have to rely on the Jackrabbits making mistakes and beating themselves in order to pick up a win against South Dakota State.

2) Denver – projected conference wins: 8 to 9

The Pioneers were supposed to have a difficult time transitioning to Rodney Billups’ offense, but they had no problem last season.  They only lost CJ Bobbitt from their rotation, who transferred to New Mexico State.  The team is also bound to not run out of steam as they are able to go 9 or 10 players deep.

If the Pioneers can get to a situation where they South Dakota State in the conference championship, can Daniel Amigo show up to play?  Amigo scored in double figures in all but three conference games last season, including the conference tournament.  All three of those games were against South Dakota State.

3) South Dakota – projected conference wins: 8 to 9

The Coyotes still have Matt Mooney, who is a top 5 player in the league.  They are still going to play great defense, and hustle, and do the things that they do to help themselves win basketball games.  They do have more question marks than you would think.

Their top post player graduated, and their starting point guard transferred to Georgetown, so there is a little ground to make up there.  Junior forwards Dan Jech and Tyler Hagedorn have yet to show consistency in their careers, and no one is even really sure what Nebraska transfer Nick Fuller can be.  Without a back up point guard, sophomore Triston Simpson is going to have to play some big minutes at the point.  Matt Mooney will likely have to play stretches at the point guard spot.

4) Fort Wayne – projected conference wins: 7 to 9

John Konchar could win 5 conference games completely on his own, so they really just need a few more guys to step up to be in the top half of the conference.  The ‘Dons are still going to come out and hit threes and play at a fast pace.

They will have a solid starting 5, but out of all the teams competing for the Summit League championship, Fort Wayne has the most questionable bench.  If they find themselves in foul trouble in big games, other teams should be able to outplay them.  Again, like in 2015-2016, the Mastodons don’t have a deep enough team to last three nights in a row in the Summit League tournament, so it’s going to be very important for them to land in the top 2 seeds.

5) North Dakota State Bison- projected conference wins: 7 to 9

The Bison are actually the youngest team in the Summit League this season.  You know what happened the last time they were the youngest team in the Summit League?  Lawrence Alexander led them to the conference championship, but the Summit League wasn’t as deep as it is now back then.  Paul Miller and AJ Jacobson are the only two seniors on the team, and Jacobson is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.

The Bison pride themselves on guys stepping up when someone goes down, and I’m sure a star will rise this season, but can Paul Miller carry the Bison like Lawrence Alexander once did?  Can this young team mentally get through the last 4 of 5 conference games on the road heading into the conference tournament?

6) Omaha – projected conference wins: 5 to 8

The Mavericks seem to have too much to make up after losing Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Tyus, and Tre’Shawn Thurman.  Omaha is actually the oldest team in the Summit League after adding transfers Renard Suggs and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey to the lineup, but there still appears to be a lot to figure out for the Mavericks.  They may even have a difficult time figuring out rotations against a non-conference schedule against Oklahoma, Washington, Louisville, TCU, and Kansas.

Losing 4 steals per game from Tra-Deon Hollins will be difficult in the sense that they may not be able to play as much transition offense as they did the last two seasons, which was Omaha’s comfort zone.  There will have be more half court sets and ball movement this season, which hasn’t been a huge strength of theirs in recent memory.  They do have the pieces around Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson to be competitive in the Summit League and play in half court sets, but there cannot be as many mistakes as there has been in the last season.

Figuring out how to divide up 40 minutes between Daniel Meyer, Lamar Wofford-Humphrey, and Matt Pile sounds like it could be a challenge for Derrin Hansen.  After seeing Matt Pile play against Creighton and show off his rebounding ability, and how good he is at setting screens, he may find himself beating out two seniors for minutes this season.

7) Oral Roberts – projected conference wins: 2 to 5

Paul Mills is known as being able to coach up an intense defense, and the Golden Eagles are going to need that in his first season.

Oral Roberts has the least amount of offense returning from last season, after graduating three starters and Kris Martin transferring to Colorado State.  The team has a serious three headed monster in the post with Albert Owens, Emmanuel Nzekwesi, and Javan White, but is that really a threat in a run-and-gun league?  They are capable of pulling off an upset against anyone, but consistency looks to be an issue for this team.

8) Western Illinois- projected wins: 1 to 4

I could not say with any confidence that any starter on their basketball team could start for any other Summit League team.  The Leathernecks could be classically bad.

Brandon Gilbeck averaged 3 blocks a game last season.  That’s cool, I guess.  Maybe he could have a break out season after the Leathernecks graduated their two leading scorers, and have few offensive weapons on the team.

 

8 things to know about the Omaha Mavericks

  1. The Mavericks are only returning 43% of their scoring from last season.  That is tied with Oral Roberts for the lowest in the Summit League.  They should have the most to replace after Tre’Shawn Thurman transferring to Nevada, Marcus Tyus playing professional basketball in Europe, and Tra-Deon Hollins playing in the NBA G League.
  2. The Mavericks are one of two teams in the Summit League to feature a game on ESPN2 this season.
  3. For three weeks in a row, they will play a conference game at home on a Saturday night at 7pm.  January 6th versus South Dakota State, January 13th versus Fort Wayne, and January 20th versus South Dakota.  Creighton men’s basketball is away on all of those dates.  Just so you know.
  4. Mitch Hahn, who will be a starter this season, led Summit League bench players in three point field goals made last season.
  5. Their student section is nicknamed “The Bullpen” which really makes no sense for sports other than baseball and softball.
  6. Derrin Hansen is the longest tenured coach in the Summit League.
  7. They are ranked 1st in the Summit League in Most Bitter About Not Playing In-State D-1 Teams.
  8. THEY GET TO WITNESS MORE CURLING THAN YOU THIS SEASON

Summit League Championship preview

We’re all so juiced right now, right?!

All season I have been hoping to see Omaha rise up to what they are capable of being and blow someone out.  It was part of my desire to not wanting to be stressed out for two hours of watching sports.

The best part about last night night is that the Mavericks were able to defend the passing lanes and create havoc just as they did last season.  The entire team was playing with a huge amount of energy, and there is really no reason why they wont bring the energy tonight.  Even with the team only shooting 24 percent on threes, the Mavericks were able to play their brand of basketball and showcase an incredible performance.

It’s unfortunate that the Mavericks have to play in the championship game which is pretty much on the road, but this is still one of the greatest opportunities Omaha has ever had.

Yes, most of the arena will be wearing blue, but there will be some black and crimson.  This is the Mavericks moment, though.  The players and coaches have said they love playing in the big away games, and taking the home crowd out of it with big plays.  Since the Mavericks beat the Jackrabbits in Brookings this season, the only game the Jackrabbits have lost to in the state of South Dakota was to South Dakota in Vermillion.

We’ve been talking about the mind game for the Mavericks, but tonight they’re going up against a team that also has something in their own heads.  The Jackrabbits have under performed this season, and even though they were able to pick up a win against the Mavericks in Omaha, they let Omaha shoot all over them in Brookings.  Both teams almost gave up big leads to escape with wins on the road in the regular season against each other.  Neither team is just going to lay down and let the other one take this win.

Mike Daum is clearly going to demand an incredible amount of attention from the Mavericks.  He is like their Super Shredder.  Watching him play basketball at times is like watching the opening scene in X Men 2 when Nightcrawler dominates the Secret Service into submission.  Hopefully, like that scene, the Mavericks can stop Daum before he does anything catastrophic.

A big factor in the game is if Tre’Shawn Thurman can stay out of foul trouble and challenge Daum enough to throw him off of his game.  If Thurman get into foul trouble, Zach Pirog, Daniel Meyer, and Mitch Hahn will need to be ready.  Meyer is not the type of player that can really defend Daum, but Pirog can.  In Omaha, Pirog’s length really bothered Daum on possessions; and the Mavericks were +11 with him on the court.  Derrin Hansen doesn’t give Pirog a lot of minutes, but if things with Daum get a little dicey he may want to take a chance on Pirog.

It’s easy to look at this as OH MY GOD, NOT MIKE DAUM, but there are other guys that Omaha needs to worry about.  With all the attention on Daum, backup center Ian Theisen is able to find wide open looks against the Mavericks and knock down big shots.  He had 15 points off the bench on 6-of-8 shooting in Brookings against the Mavs.  Theisen did suffer an injury after the Jackrabbits trip to Omaha and missed 6 games and has struggled to find a role in the last three games for the Jackrabbits.  Omaha is healthier and has some more depth than South Dakota State, but that doesn’t mean the guys who can step up wont step up.

Michael Orris is also a good point guard that can really control the offense for the Jackrabbits, so hopefully the Mavericks can continue this great team defense to disrupt what he can do.  Reed Tellinghuisen is another guy that the Mavericks cannot underestimate.  Tellinghuisen has struggled this season, and has even gone 1-of-10 on threes against the Mavericks this season.  He shot lights out against Omaha as a freshman and sophomore, and the Jackrabbits appear to be more successful when Tellinghuisen gets hot so forcing him to a struggle bus is key.

How about who the Jackrabbits need to go up against?

The Jackrabbits have struggled defensively for much of the season, just like the Mavericks, but they have shown signs that they are capable of being a quality defensive team. With Ian Theisen and other senior AJ Hess both slowed down with injuries, who is going to defend Mitch Hahn who is playing incredible basketball right now and seems more focused than any other play we have ever seen?  He could literally hit a shot from anywhere on the court.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit a trailer 3 from the half court line.  Hahn had a three in the first half where he was about 5 feet behind the three point line and he just looked at the IUPUI defender, who was giving him the space, like: Seriously, do you not know who I am?

The Mavericks got their huge emotional game out of the way on Sunday night when they topped the team that scared them the most, and the Jackrabbits got their huge emotional game out of the way last night against their in-state rival.  The Mavericks are playing with a high level of confidence, and they’re playing smart basketball right now.  They have to continue that if they want the biggest win in program history.

When the Mavericks entered the Summit League, South Dakota State was the program they were striving to be, and now they have the chance to show that they have come a long way to be where they want to be.

Summit League Tournament 2nd round preview

We should have expected some intense match ups in the 2nd round of the conference tournament, but there is an in-state battle, and both match ups had teams split their season series.

Neither of these games are easily predictable.

For me, it’s also difficult because I did not get to really watch the Saturday night games.  I was babysitting my 5 year old niece and she was more interested in watching the Secret Life of Pets and not what I wanted to watch.  How rude?

I did watch some of the South Dakota versus Western Illinois game on my tablet, but couldn’t give it my undivided attention.  Was trying to not be a terrible uncle.

South Dakota versus South Dakota State

Monday night tournament game with a trip to the conference championship on the line between the two teams in the conference from the state of South Dakota.  So you guys think the arena will sold out?

The two regular season games between these two teams showed that these teams do match up well together.  Their best players match up at the same positions, and their benches are relatively the same as well.

The first game was won on a last second shot by the all powerful Mike Daum.  The second game saw South Dakota win after almost giving up a big lead, but the Coyotes battled through it to hold on for a 2 point win.

The difference in this game could come down to two key match ups between Mike Daum and Tyler Flack, and also Reed Tellinghuisen and Matt Mooney.

Mike Daum is going to score the ball no matter what teams do.  It’s like watching Robocop take down a biker gang at a gas station.  There are times where he almost does not seem guard-able.  He can score from anywhere on the court, and at 6’9″ he can get his fade away jump shot over anyone.  Tyler Flack is one of the few that can actually guard him.  In Vermillion, Flack got his chest right into Daum and made him struggle to get into the paint.  If Flack gets caught in foul trouble, the two back up centers for the Coyotes, Tyler Hagedorn and Dan Jech, cannot guard Daum in big minutes.

Mooney has proven he is one of the toughest players on the court in the Summit League.  He hits key shots, makes smart plays, and bothers opposing guards on defense.  Tellinghuisen has struggled at times of the season and been an inconsistent player all year.  He was on fire for most of the game between these two in Vermillion, but struggled to hit key shots down the stretch.  Tellinghuisen is also not the greatest defender in the league, so he will have to come up big against Mooney.  I say this, not knowing what defensive plan TJ Otzelberger will go with this game as he has been up and down with this all year.


Omaha versus IUPUI

I don’t even want to talk about IUPUI.  I’m so done with IUPUI.  They are like the more inconsistent version of the inconsistent Mavericks.

The Mavericks had one of their signature dry spells late in the first half going into the part of the second half and ended up finding themselves down 11.

Tre’Shawn Thurman and Tra-Deon Hollins were incredible in that second half.  Both of them were making huge plays for the Mavericks and were hustling their asses off.  When the Mavericks needed energy, they brought the Kyler Erickson energy to will the Mavericks to the win.  That three that rattled in late at the end of the game by Daniel Norl was seriously one of the biggest shots in the history of the Mavericks.

Still, there are things that need fixed.  The Mastodons missed three wide open threes in the last minute of that game, and the ‘Dons made the right plays to get those open shots.  When Hollins slipped on the floor giving John Konchar the wide open look, the only thing I could think was that this was my hell.

The biggest fear I would have for the Mavericks is their emotional level and mindset now.  Getting past the first round was a huge goal of theirs, and you could see the emotion in the players and Derrin Hansen’s eyes after finally earning the win.  The ‘Dons had been in their heads, and to get a win against them in that situation was a highly emotional moment for all of the Mavericks.

Now, let’s see if they can continue with the momentum and pick up another win.

Luckily, the Mavericks may find more inspiration than just getting past a team.  Their loss to IUPUI in Baxter Arena was an embarrassing loss.  The Mavericks could never quite get into the game after starting the game down 11, and it was all on them.  Omaha made bad plays, turned the ball over with IUPUI not even really playing defense, and were just outplayed in energy.

The Mavericks know how important a big start is against the Jaguars this time around, hopefully the moment can energize them to give them the edge they never found when they lost at home to IUPUI.

 

Omaha versus Fort Wayne preview

There is not a ton of separation between Omaha and Fort Wayne, just four straight wins for the Mastodons over the Mavericks.

It is difficult to beat a team that you are evenly matched with three times in one season.  Omaha is confident right now, and they are riding a three game winning steak, but who knows what their confidence level is when matched up against the only team that they couldn’t pick up a win against this season.

Even as Derrin Hansen was expecting any possible outcome, on the post game interview after the win against North Dakota State, it sounded as if he was playing off the anger in his attitude.  It could be that every game between the Omaha and Fort Wayne in the last two seasons has been close, but the Mavericks haven’t gotten the cigar.  Cigars are bad for you, so it’ s not like that part of it is a big deal.  The Mastodons could be in the heads of the Mavericks players and coaches.

One thing that would instantly jump out to the Mavericks is John Konchar.  Konchar is obviously a great player.  Yesterday he was named First Team All Summit League after averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists a game; and on top of that he shot 64 percent from the field and 54 percent on threes.

I’m sure you would expect those averages to go up against the Mavericks because of the pace both of teams want to play at, but Konchar’s stats against the Mavericks would have you think he is playing against a division 2 opponent.  In 2 seasons, Konchar has averaged 24 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and shot 78 percent from the field and 85 percent on threes.  He has not missed a 3 point shot against the Mavericks this season.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Derrin Hansen and the Mavericks are probably not extremely thrilled that Konchar’s mix tape for professional basketball teams to see will be largely in thanks to the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Another face that will stick out to the Mavericks is Brent Calhoun.  The center that used to be heavier than my car, but has turned himself into a well conditioned basketball player that can run the floor and might even be the best Summit League player that purely stays in the post.

Calhoun was in foul trouble in one game last season and really didn’t have the opportunity to accumulate any stats, so not counting that game, but in the last two seasons Calhoun has averaged 13 points and shot 75 percent from the field against Omaha.  He dominates the low block against the Mavericks on offense and defense.

He also averaged 3.7 blocks in those three meetings.

Neither of these teams love the defensive end, but the Mavericks need to slow down and contain Calhoun and Konchar.  Players like Zach Jackson and Daniel Norl might not even want to take a shot in this game, and just focus all their time and energy on just bothering John Konchar.  That’s nearly impossible, they won’t not take shots in this system but it’s a theory.

The hope is that this is like some super hero movie.  The villain wins the early battles, the hero fails early on and learns more about the villain and even more about their own life, and then they go out there for one final jousting for a winner take all battle and the hero saves the freaking day.

Omaha coaches and players have stated throughout the entire season that they were upset with themselves with the early exit in the Summit League in 2016.  They said they wanted to be playing their best basketball of the season heading into the tournament, and they are, but we have seen them go on hot and cold streaks this season.  A win in this game relies on their mental focus and toughness in dealing with Fort Wayne.

In a game where the teams are so close to each other, but also so far away, every little thing matters.  Mavericks have to stay focused in on the big things, and the little things.

 

Summit League predictions: Jan 11-14

I was 6-2 last week, and 5-3 the week before.  That’s 11-5.  I’m good enough for a 3 seed in the conference tournament.

January 11th

Omaha (1-3) @ IUPUI (1-3) on ESPN3

The Jaguars are 5-0 at home so far this season, and last time at home they defeated Western Illinois by 18.  Last year in Indianapolis, the Mavericks couldn’t do anything to stop the Jaguars offense, and let them shoot 56 percent in that loss.  Expect the same this time, as the Mavericks have been bad on defense lately and IUPUI has shot at least in the high 40s in every home game.

Derrin Hansen made a point that a key to the game is that the Mavericks can rebound and not give IUPUI second chance opportunities.  In the last 3 games, the Jaguars averaged a +6.7 rebound margin.  The Mavericks in the last 4 games, averaged a -4 rebound margin.

North Dakota State (3-0) @ South Dakota (3-1) on ESPN3

This game is going to be all defense.  While it is early in the conference season, these two teams have the best defensive field goal percentage in conference games.  They also average the least amount of turnovers overall on the year among Summit League teams.

The Coyotes will be without one of their best post players, Tyler Flack, until February, but Norfolk native Tyler Hagedorn helped fill the void on Saturday with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a win over IUPUI.

The Coyotes will be able to defend the Bison guards and cause frustrations in the Bison offense enough to guide South Dakota to another home win.  The Coyotes are 8-0 at home this season.

The Bison lost by 14 in Vermillion last season, and that wasn’t your older cousin’s South Dakota team.  The Bison were also playing without their leading scorer at the time, Paul Miller.

Western Illinois (3-1) @ Denver (1-2)

Western Illinois was able to win in Denver last season, who was playing without Joe Rosga at the time and CJ Bobbitt was limited to just 8 minutes in that game.  Expect Denver to be out for some revenge, and not to take Western Illinois lightly.

January 12th 

South Dakota State (1-3) @ Oral Roberts (0-3) on ESPN3

Oral Roberts just almost prevented the Jackrabbits from making the NCAA Tournament last season, just almost.  South Dakota State was able to escape the upset with every Jackrabbit playing poorly, except for Mike Daum.  Daum averaged 20.3 points and 7 rebounds against the Golden Eagles and can still have a huge game in Tulsa again this season.

The Jackrabbits mixed things up with their lineups and were able to get things going toward the end of the game against Omaha.  Oral Roberts has actually not been that bad for a 4-13 team.  They won each of their last two non-conference games, only lost to Creighton by 1, and had a rough start to conference play with three straight road games.  That home court is going to feel nice to Oral Roberts.

I went back and forth on who should win this game.  This game should be close throughout the entire duration of the game, with the winner escaping by winning on free throws toward the end of the game.  Both teams shoot above 70 percent at the free throw line.

January 14

Fort Wayne (3-1) @ South Dakota (3-1)

It’s almost a crime that this game wont have an ESPN3 broadcast.

Fort Wayne, one of the better three point shooting teams in the nation is going to go up against a team that allows teams to shoot more than 20 threes per game.  South Dakota is good at actually getting a hand in the face of shooters, but Fort Wayne can really move the ball around for the open shot.

Coming off of a defensive battle against North Dakota State, and having one of the best players out, South Dakota may not be able to last against Fort Wayne who will have an entire week of rest.  Fort Wayne leads the nation in three point field goal percentage, but South Dakota has the third best defensive three point field goal percentage in the conference.  The Coyotes have had the best defensive three point field goal percentage over the last 4 games.

With Tyler Flack out, the Mastodons should have a decent enough advantage in the post with Brent Calhoun, Xzavier Taylor, and John Konchar to take control of the game.  As good of a three point shooting team as the ‘Dons are, they aren’t too shabby at getting the ball down low.  The ‘Dons are also 16th in D1 in 2 point field goal percentage.

IUPUI (1-3) @ Oral Roberts (0-2) on ESPN3

IUPUI has a good enough defense to keep the inconsistent players of Oral Roberts off their game.

Alberts Owens is not quick enough to defend Matt O’Leary who is capable of scoring anywhere on the court, and none of the guards for Oral Roberts are great enough defensive players to slow down Darell Combs who is averaging 22.7 points per game so far in conference play so far.

As good as playing at home again might be for Oral Roberts, they don’t have the depth to win 2 games in three days.

North Dakota State (3-0) @ Denver (1-2)

Denver on the road is a bad match up for the Bison, but this is not the same type of game that it was a year ago when both team’s offenses worked down the shot clock on every possession to get the best shot.

Western Illinois (3-1) @ Omaha (1-3)

It’s a good thing the Leathernecks are one of the worst teams in the conference at taking the ball away and creating possessions for themselves, since the Mavericks have averaged 15 turnovers (ouch) to 11 assists (ouch) a game since entering Summit League play.

Still, the Leathernecks have started out conference play hot, and the Mavericks have not.  Derrin Hansen did mention that the Mavericks have been practicing better lately, and offensively they did look pretty good in the last two games.  The hope is that the Mavericks are still bitter about their loss to the Leathernecks last season, which helped prevent them from getting a top two spot in the conference tournament, so hopefully they can come out playing at a high level and build up a lead.

Travel this week could be an issue for the Leathernecks who will be coming to Omaha after a road game at Denver.

It’s always the random guys that show up for Western Illinois to beat the Mavericks.

Last year, Mike Miklusak was averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds a game, but beat up the Mavericks 14 points and 11 rebounds in the Mavericks’ loss in Macomb.

Tate Stensgaard was basically playing with no one defending him when he scored 26 on 13-of-15 shooting and had 7 rebounds in Baxter Arena.  He ended up averaging 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.  Stensgaard The Mavericks had to come back from a 16 point lead to win that game.

In a loss to the Leathernecks 2 years ago, Jabari Sanidfer averaged 7.4 points on the season, but had 20 against the Mavericks.  Jamie Batish had 15 off the bench for the Leathernecks and averaged 6.4 points that year.

  • Also, a random note about Western Illinois.  Since losing Jabari Sandifer to a season ending injury, who is one of the most inconsistent players the Summit League has ever seen (or at least since Mav fans have paid attention), the Leathernecks have gone 3-1 and are 4-1 overall without him this season.

What I’m saying here is while the Mavericks are planning for Garret Covington, who is averaging 21.3 points, and Mike Miklusak, who is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds a game this season, they should really be worried most about this De’Angelo Bruster kid who averages 6 points a game.  He might have 30 points in Baxter Arena.

Thanks for reading.  I know low major weekly basketball predictions might not be super entertaining, but this time of year after college football has ended, it’s this or you have the Mel Kiper Season of just analyzing the 2025 NFL Draft.