The Mavericks face North Dakota with more at stake than it just being the last home game of the season

This last Maverick home game will have more factors than “I’m just a simple cave man. North Dakota on road – bad; Omaha at home – good.”

JT Gibson and KJ Robinson already played their Senior Day at Baxter Arena, but unless Omaha plays a CIT or CBI game at Baxter Arena* this will be their game in Omaha.

*Highly unlikely they accept a CIT or CBI invite, if offered.**

**Though, maybe they’d benefit from giving post season experience to the young core of Wanjang Tut, Zach Thornhill, Marlon Ruffin, and Darrius Hughes.  Actually, can we just schedule a late season exhibition game against the Huskers in Baxter Arena?  That should be their punishment for – a lot of stuff.

The Mavericks will be entering this game on a three game winning streak, aiming to build momentum for the Summit League Tournament.  The Fighting Hawks come to Omaha facing consistent inconsistency, winning then losing every other game for the last seven games in a pattern.  If they continue the pattern, North Dakota will lose this game.  It’s not about patterns, and according to Steve Smith’s commentary on NBA 2k20 – This is WHY we play the game!

With the exception of a few, most Summit League teams have been bad on the road this season, so it’s easy just to say Omaha has the dominant advantage against North Dakota.  The Fighting Hawks did win their last road game in Macomb, though.  A three point win, they also had a recent three point win against North Dakota State over the weekend.

Facing injuries and players adapting to a new system, North Dakota has had an inconsistent season.  However, with three seniors capable of hitting clutch shots and decent three point shooting, the Fighting Hawks keep themselves in games.

Last year in the Summit League Tournament, when Omaha and North Dakota faced in the first round, the Mavericks appeared to be the better team, but the Fighting Hawks just wouldn’t go away as they kept knocking down threes.  The same thing happened in Grand Forks in January.  Omaha was up 10 points with 13 minutes to go, but North Dakota went on a run to keep the game close.  They again just wouldn’t freaking go away.  Marlon Stewart is a player who won’t let his team just go away.  Which, is pretty respectable.

Matt Pile and Filip Rebraca battled in Grand Forks forcing both to bad offensive games, but both grabbed double digit rebounds.  Pile struggled on the road against Fort Wayne and Western Illinois, and the Mavericks won both games, but if Pile can make an impact on offense against North Dakota, he could be the difference between the game being close down the stretch, or the Fighting Hawks not going away.  Denver couldn’t stop Pile late in the Mavericks’ latest home game, and it helped put Denver away and keep the Mavericks going to a 23 point win.

Both teams can go on hot and cold streaks, and the Mavericks will want to play as well as they most recently did in Baxter Arena against Denver, if they want to keep North Dakota away from a lead late in the game.  The Mavericks let Kobe Webster keep it close on Saturday in Macomb.  That’s right, I said Kobe Webster, since he was the only Leatherneck who appeared to want to win that game.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Fighting Hawks are undefeated playing in the state of Nebraska this season.

The emotions may run higher for Gibson and Robinson in their last game at Baxter Arena.  There is a lot to play for in this game.  This is their last chance for a win in front of their home crowd  They also have a chance at securing a 3, 4, or 5 seeding in the Summit League Tournament.

That’s dumb, I hate that last sentence.  I don’t think college basketball teams really concern themselves with tournament seeding outside of winning the regular season, or securing a top 2 spot in the Summit League Tournament for a day off in the tournament.

But hear me out.

standings

South Dakota, Omaha, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota are all competing for the 3-6 seeds in the Summit League Tournament.  Maybe seeding matters to teams, maybe it doesn’t.  Omaha and North Dakota play each other tonight, and Oral Roberts will be a strong favorite to beat Western Illinois tomorrow night and Fort Wayne on Saturday night.

Here is where seeding does matter…

Neither of these teams want to finish in 3rd place and go up against South Dakota, as the potential 3 seed, in Sioux Falls.  Omaha’s best options are to finish as the 4 or 5 seed.  Aside from not playing South Dakota in the first round, if they play in the 4 versus 5 game, they get to play at 6pm on a Sunday night, instead of 8:30, so there will be more of a possibility of their fans making the drive to Sioux Falls.

An 8:30 start time on a Sunday and a three hour late drive home isn’t ideal for those of us who have to work early on a Monday morning.  Trying to justify a half day with your boss because you were up late on a Sunday driving back home for a 3 seed versus 6 seed Summit League Tournament game isn’t the dream conversation.  Thanks a lot Summit League.

bracket

From the 4/5 game, the winner would likely go up against South Dakota State.  It would essentially be a home team for a  young South Dakota State team, who hasn’t really been tested.  Still, while young, they are a team who only has one game in the last week of the regular season, and was one of three teams in the Summit League to never play more than 2 consecutive away games in the conference, and also had week long rests heading into some of their biggest games.  Again, no conspiracy that the conference favors anyone here or tries to help them out a little bit the year after they lose one of the conference’s best players ever and 85% of their scoring.***

***Some Maverick sports fans may note the Frozen Four as their moment they really felt like UNO really had a sports community and felt like they were part of something when so many fans made the trip to Boston.  For me, it was sitting in the hotel lobby next to the Denny Sanford Premier Center with Maverick fans watching South Dakota State lose a historic game to the 8 seed Western Illinois.  We drank and cheered the shit out of a Western Illinois’ win.  After the game, we all gleefully marched into the arena as the Jackrabbit fans walked out with their tails between their legs. We talked smack, they had nothing to say.  The arena emptied.  We took over the lower bowl because the arena and Summit League staff stopped giving a shit about the tournament, but we cared.  My most memorable moment as a Maverick fan, so far.  Probably pretty sad it wasn’t an actual Omaha game, just watching a rival go down together, and that march into the arena.

After that tangent…anything can happen.  Seeding may not or may not matter, but this is the point the intensity level goes up.  There is more at stake for the JT, KJ, and the Mavericks.  These games matter, the momentum matters, you never know what’s going to happen this game or the next game.


The laziest Summit League predictions.

February 26th

Denver @ Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne is better.  I do think Denver has a brighter future, but for today Fort Wayne is better.

North Dakota @ Omaha on ESPN+

I closed my eyes, I’m biased, and I like Omaha more.


February 27th

Western Illinois @ Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts is better.

South Dakota State @ North Dakota State on ESPN+

The Jackrabbits may have won in Brookings, but North Dakota State is better.


February 29th

It’s Leap Day, anything can happen.

Western Illinois @ Denver

This game is a toss up.  Denver is probably better, and they’re at home.  Denver as the 8 seed, baby!  Billy Wright gone!  One more year of Billups!

North Dakota @ South Dakota

South Dakota is better, but maybe they rest some dudes after locking up the 3 seed?  It’s their senior day, so that’s doubtful.

Omaha @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

North Dakota is better.  Sigh.

Fort Wayne @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

Oral Roberts is better, but come on Mastodons!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 19-22

February 19th

South Dakota State @ North Dakota on ESPN+

Look, I’m kind of rooting for the Fighting Hawks in this one, since I picked the Jackrabbits 5th in my preseason rankings and I don’t want to look so stupid; but I cannot find much of a reason for North Dakota to be a favorite in this game.

North Dakota State @ South Dakota on ESPN3

The Bison won their first match up with the Coyotes in Fargo by 2 points. It was a weird ending with a late offensive foul call on Cody Kelley. It was a foul that could have gone either way, and even the referee stood there for a few seconds trying to figure out what to call.  Expect the senior loaded Coyotes to come out focused against the Bison, as they’re also looking to secure a top 2 seed in the conference tournament.


February 20th

Omaha @ Fort Wayne

The Mastodons are not perfect at home. They’ve dropped home games to South Dakota State, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota State.  I’m hoping a dunk by Marlon Ruffin, which didn’t even count, will spark a fire in the Mavericks through the rest of the season.

The ‘Dons are also a young basketball team, and the younger teams tend to get worse as the season goes on. The big difference in their match up with the Mavericks earlier in the season was experience. Late in the game, the youth of the Mastodons’ point guards became an issue against the likes of JT Gibson, Ayo Akinwole, and KJ Robinson.  Jon Coffman said that, I did not say that.

Oral Roberts @ Denver

Matt Pile dominated the Pioneers down low, I can only imagine Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor will do much of the same.  Especially since they already did once this season.

Robert Jones is eventually going to be so good, though.  Hopefully he doesn’t transfer when Rodney Billups gets fired.


February 21st

Omaha @ Western Illinois on ESPN3

Man, I’m just being super biased this week.  The Leathernecks will have a week of rest coming into this game, but it just seems as if these players have given up on Billy Wright, and maybe a week of rest and getting out of any type of rhythm is a bad thing for a team so horrendous at offense.

How crazy would it be if Denver ended up going 2-1 in their last two games and ended up in the Summit League Tournament?  Maybe that saves Rodney Billups’ job…maybe a youthful Denver team sees a youthful South Dakota State team in the Summit League Tournament.  That would be madness.  Some might even call it madness in March.

North Dakota State @ North Dakota on ESPN3

Tough week for North Dakota. They play the two toughest teams in the Summit League at home.  Maybe they drop both games on purpose in hopes of falling to 7th in the conference so they potentially play on Saturday during the Summit League Tournament to get an extra day off in the event they win.  Maybe they don’t.


February 22nd

South Dakota @ South Dakota State on ESPN+

You’re not reading this anymore, are you?

I just think the Coyotes need and want this game more than the Jackrabbits.

 

Summit League predictions: Feb 12-16

February 12th

Western Illinois @ South Dakota on ESPN+

I’ve got this idea for a movie.  It’s like a comedy version of “The Expendables.”  We round up them comedy Hollywood folk like: Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Steve Carell, Dave Chappelle, Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld, and more and it’s just a movie about them playing themselves trying to come up with a parody to “The Expendables” but none of them can stay on track long enough to put together a movie, and they get in a bunch of craziness along the way.

Okay, was that a bigger waste of time to read about, or would it have been a bigger waste of time to hear about a basketball game we already know the outcome to?

Omaha @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

Think about how much the Mavericks had to overcome to defeat the Golden Eagles in Baxter Arena.  Now think of how bad JT Gibson has been struggling shooting the basketball, he’s shot 15% on threes over the last three games, and 23% overall from the field.  Also throw in the fact that Zach Thornhill stole the ball and sprinted down the court to throw down a monstrous dunk as time expired when the Mavericks were already up by 5, and how that must have upset the Golden Eagles.


February 14th

Denver @ South Dakota State

Fort Wayne @ North Dakota State on ESPN+

I’m going over these games together, as it’s fitting both of these match ups take place on Valentine’s Day.  South Dakota State and North Dakota State are the most beloved teams in the Summit League, so I find it ironic they both get home games on Valentine’s Day against the two teams with the least amount of love in the Summit.  Fort Wayne won’t even be in the conference next season, and Denver wishes they weren’t in the conference next season.

It’s so beautiful The Summit League honored Valentine’s Day with match ups that make you feel like you’re watching a bad relationship end, and another game that just plays out like an abusive relationship you want to see end, but the Pioneers think they cannot find anything better.


February 15th

North Dakota @ Western Illinois on ESPN3

The Summit League and ESPN3 invite you to take in a basketball production so low in quality you’ll question if the broadcasters are in an active pursuit to ruin your Saturday.  Yes, tune in to listen to two grown men get paid to mispronounce 19 year old kids’ last names, as they dribble the ball off their knees and miss contested driving floaters 18 feet away from the basket for some damn reason.  You’ll be so frustrated watching this game, you may even take up reading novels again.

Why take Western Illinois in this game, you ask? Just because they are the home team, and every team in this conference has been so bad on the road that it just seems like a safe bet? That, yeah sure, but also because these teams aren’t far enough away in talent, depth, or just about anything, but CJ Duff is a good enough defender to throw Marlon Stewart off on the road to give the Leathernecks an actual chance in a basketball game.  Also, Ben Pyle has a chance to outplay Kienan Walter on the perimeter and go off for a big day, and whenever Pyle plays big, the Leathernecks play big. I get that’s rare.

South Dakota @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

The Golden Eagles have already lost to one South Dakota team at home this season.  Emmanuel Nzekwesi and Kevin Obanor aren’t great at defending big guys on the perimeter like Tyler Hagedorn.


February 16

Fort Wayne @ South Dakota State on ESPN+

Things Fort Wayne would have to do to win this basketball game:

  • Be good at perimeter defense to slow down Douglas Wilson and Matt Dentlinger
  • Actually, be good at defense in general
  • Be good on the road
  • Not turn the ball over
  • Make free throws

Things South Dakota State has to do to win this game

  • Show up

Denver @ Omaha

Jace Townsend had to shoot 8-of-10 on threes to give the Pioneers a win in Denver, and that’s not likely to happen on the road at Omaha.  The Pioneers shot 55% overall from the field in that game, and they are capable of shooting well on the road, but the young Pioneers have a tough weekend on the road at South Dakota State and Omaha.

JT Gibson is going to have to get out of his current shooting slump for the Mavericks not to drop another game at home.  With the lack of depth of the Mavericks, they cannot afford one of their captains shooting 23% from the floor.  Not many teams could.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My trivial Summit League rankings: Jan 21 (also some interesting stats)

So I didn’t do this last week as I felt there really wasn’t much of a change in the rankings, but last week was a big week for the Summit League. I know you missed it last week.

1st – North Dakota State, 13-6 (4-1)

My last ranking: 2nd

Huge week for the Bison last week. They picked up 2 home wins, they beat South Dakota at home with a last second shot by Tyson Ward after drawing up an amazing play to get him a free lane to the basket for an easy layup.  Then they were able to bring back senior Jared Samuelson back into the lineup to help beat their in-state rival North Dakota.

Interesting stat: Vinnie Shahid has not missed a free throw in over a month.

2nd – Oral Roberts, 11-8 (4-2)

My last ranking: 6th

After dropping their two first conference games on the road, the Golden Eagles have won 4 in a row.  Including two beat downs on the road over Western Illinois and Fort Wayne.

Interesting stat: In non-conference games, Oral Roberts had the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the Summit League. In conference games, Oral Roberts has the best assist-to-turnover ratio.

3rd – South Dakota, 12-8 (3-3)

My last ranking: 5th

The Coyotes came close to picking up a win in Fargo. With the game tied, Cody Kelley drove into the lane late in the game, but was called for a charge in just an awkward call. The play was awkward, he ran into a Bison player and fell to the ground while trying to make a pass to an open teammate.  The official seemed to even take a second to process what happened before making the call.

The Coyotes picked up a win against their in-state rival on Sunday, and shot 64% from the field. Holy schnitzels.

South Dakota has been struggling lately as they’ve been waiting for Triston Simpson to get back to playing at full strength.  Simpson was 8-of-9 from the floor against South Dakota State, so yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.

Interesting stat: Tyler Hagedorn is currently 3rd in division one in three point field goal percentage, shooting 55% on threes.

4th – South Dakota State, 14-8 (5-2)

My last ranking: 3rd

Their star player Douglas Wilson did not play against South Dakota. That won’t turn out well if he is out for an extended period of time. Senior point guard Brandon Key did come back in limited minutes against the Coyotes.

Interesting stat: The Jackrabbits have the most players averaging at least 10 points per game in Summit League play with 5 players at with least 11 points per game.

5th – Omaha, 10-10 (3-2)

My last ranking: 1st

Oh boy. A 3-of-17 performance from JT Gibson in a 15 point loss to Denver. The Mavericks are a young team, and typically young teams don’t do well on the road, so it’s a good thing the Mavericks will have 4 games in a row at home.  Unfortunately, 5 of their last 7 games will be on the road, and I’ve said it before, it is extremely important for the Mavericks to be in first place in the conference when they head to South Dakota State on February 8th.

Interesting stat: With 3 blocks at Denver, Matt Pile passed Tre’Shawn Thurman with the most career blocks since the Mavericks transitioned to Division 1.  Matt Pile, as of Tuesday, is currently tied for 20th in Division 1 in rebounds averaging 10.3 per game.

6th – North Dakota, 8-12 (2-4)

My last ranking: 4th

The Fighting Hawks have dropped 4 in a row, three of those games were on the road at Oral Roberts, Denver, and Western Illinois.  Now, they’ll have a chance to get back on the right track with home games against Western Illinois and Denver this week.

Interesting stat: North Dakota averages the most turnovers in the conference.  They are also ranked behind North Dakota State in every single statistical category except for rebounds…but the Bison do average a better rebounding margin.

7th – Fort Wayne, 9-11 (2-3)

My last ranking: 7th

The Mastodons’ two conference wins are against Western Illinois and South Dakota, who was inserting Triston Simpson back into the lineup after an injury.  The Dons are also the only team in the conference who haven’t really faced an injury issue this season.

Interesting stat: Usually one of the highest scoring offenses in the Summit League, the Mastodons are currently 9th in points per game, nearly 4 points less per game than Western Illinois.  The Mastodons are also last in field goal percentage, three point field goal percentage, and free throw percentage.  So it actually should not shock you that they average the most offensive rebounds in the conference play.

8th – Western Illinois, 5-11 (2-4)

My last ranking: 8th

I guess the Leathernecks have also yet to face a real injury to any of their players.

Interesting stat: Someone recently was telling me Brandon Gilbeck got so many blocks last season because he had so many opportunities as the Leathernecks were so bad at defense he had to erase all of their mistakes.  Currently in conference play, the Leathernecks give up the most points per game, have the worst defensive field goal percentage, and the worst rebounding margin.  It’s probably not good they also shoot the 8th worst field goal percentage on the offensive end.

9th – Denver, 5-15 (1-5)

My last ranking: 9th

Denver beat Omaha and I’m so furious I’m going to throw my laptop at someone!

There is chatter among Pioneer fans debating if Denver should let Rodney Billups ride out his contract through next season, or fire him at the end of this season.  I don’t think beating Omaha should help the argument for him not being fired, but it certainly doesn’t hurt it.

Interesting stat: Denver actually averages the 2nd least amount of turnovers in the Summit League, which is pretty remarkable for such a young team.  They do average the most fouls and send their opposition to the line more than anyone, though.

 

From time zone to time zone, the Mavericks take on the Cougars tonight

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.

 

Have we taken JT Gibson for granted?

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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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