Maybe Arkansas State is just the right team to play right now

Sure, it might be a little difficult to get excited about a game between a 3-6 Arkansas State team coming to Baxter Arena to play a 1-10 Maverick team.  But hey, at least we get to see former Omaha Assistant Coach James Miller back in town.

Oh wait, no, James Miller left after last year’s Arkansas State team reached 20 wins and head coach Grant McCasland bolted for North Texas and took Miller with him.

Now, Arkansas State is coached by Mike Balado, who was last an assistant coach at Louisville from 2013 to 2017.  I don’t think anything bad went down there in that time frame.

Well, never mind.

There doesn’t seem to be any interesting Omaha to Arkansas State connections here.  Well, Arkansas State football almost beat Nebraska football in September, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with this.  Nothing at all, actually.

Either way, the Red Wolves are coming to Baxter Arena as a 3-6 team that still has yet to win a road game, and the Mavericks will be looking to defend home court as a team that has only played one home game, that they won.

After a grueling non-conference schedule, Omaha only has 5 non-conference games left.  In addition to tonight, they have two against non-division one opponents, another chance with Montana State, and a game we all assume they will lose at Kansas.  Though, maybe Nebraska can wear down Kansas this weekend.

Omaha will enter tonight’s game as a 3 point favorite against an Arkansas State team that just had a senior leave the roster.  The Mavericks might be able to finally play senior Renard Suggs tonight against Arkansas State.  Suggs could make an impact against a Red Wolves roster that has 8 upperclassmen.  Half of their upperclassmen are returners from last seasons’s 20-12 team.

The Red Wolves may have a better record than the Mavericks, but the Red Wolves currently rank 343rd in RPI, and their strength of schedule is ranked 333.  In addition to that, they are letting bad teams shoot nearly 50% against them.

Arkansas State’s leading scorer is 6’4″ senior Deven Simms, who is averaging 17 points a game and will likely be guarded by Zach Jackson.  The team’s second leading scorer is 5’11” junior Ty Cockfield averaging 14 points a game.

Even if Simms and Cockfield are working down a tiring Jackson and possibly David Norl or KJ Robinson, the Red Wolves lack a big man that could really defend Omaha big men Lamar Wofford-Humphrey or Matt Pile…and Wofford-Humphrey and Pile love to score down low and flex.  Daniel Meyer also had a pretty active game against a Jackson State team that was similar to Arkansas State in size.

The Red Wolves had held their opponents to shoot less than 30% from behind the arch, and Omaha has generally been a bad team at penetrating at getting to the basket and free throw line.

Not sure how much the Mavericks actually need a win over this Arkansas team, it’s not like they are trying to impress the NCAA Tournament committee with their resume at this point, but they will need a win for momentum heading into the Summit League schedule.  Also, they need to prove to their fans and themselves that because of their difficult schedule and injuries, that they are better than your typical 1-10 sports team.

 

 

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My trivial Summit League rankings – Dec 4

1. South Dakota State

The Jackrabbits have beaten two big conference teams, so it would be difficult to put them any lower than first right now.  They did play a horrendous game on Saturday against Missouri State.  Mike Daum was 3-of-14 from the floor, and it was one of the worst team performances I’ve ever seen out of the Jackrabbits.  At one point, I was wondering if the entire team was hungover.

2. South Dakota

The Coyotes really are a complete team.  They can play big, they can play small, they can defend, they can shoot.  Tyler Hagedorn has played extremely well to start the season averaging 13.5 points and 5 rebounds.  He’s outplayed Nebraska transfer Nick Fuller, which should show Nebraska fans how good they are at recruiting.  I’m being mean to Fuller, and I don’t like it.  I’ve always liked Fuller, he’s a smart player and does have some moves.  40 minutes of Hagedorn and Fuller won’t be fun for Summit League teams.  Hagedorn did have an embarrassing missed dunk against Duke, but oh well.

If I were a Coyote fan, I would just be worried how the team plays on offense when their point guard Triston Simpson goes to the bench.

3. North Dakota State

The Bison are 3-4, but their strength of schedule in RPI is ranked 42, at this point.  AJ Jacobson has been playing through injuries, but sophomore Tyson Ward and freshman Cameron Hunter have stepped up to make up the ground – which is just kind of North Dakota State’s thing.

The Bison really don’t have a point guard on the team, so they have been playing with Paul Miller at the point guard spot.  This could turn out really swell, or it could be a bad thing.  Miller may not be as comfortable in that spot as the Bison need him to be.  He is shooting 37% from the field, which is down from last season when he shot 45% from the floor.

4. Fort Wayne

The ‘Dons are beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, and keeping close against teams that are considered toss up games.  They arguably have the best back court in the league as Bryson Scott is efficiently scoring 23 points per game and John Konchar is still proving that he’s the best all around player in the Summit League.

Their front court, though.  I mean, they’re their.  Actually, maybe that’s why John Konchar averages 10 rebounds per game.

5. Denver

The Pioneers schedule hasn’t been overly difficult in comparison to other Summit League teams, but they did earn an impressive win over Wyoming.

Not much has changed in the Pioneers from last season.  They’ll play just a little bit smaller than last year, but not by much.  Their non-conference season has mostly been a Look At What Daniel Amigo Can Do theme.  Daniel Amigo has had 4 double-doubles in 8 games so far.

6. Western Illinois

Sure, the Leathernecks are 5-2, but they’ve played two non-D1 opponents, and they’ve only left the state of Illinois once so far.  They did shoot 60% against former Summit League team IUPUI, so that’s kind of cool.

While this team has had a few players really step up their games, it is hard to really gauge how good (or bad) this team is at this point.  The Leathernecks have a serious lack of depth with 5 players averaging more than 28 minutes per game.  Billy Wright played senior Dalan Ancrum every single minute of their double overtime loss to Miami (Oh), and he even played Ancrum in every single minute of a 70-45 loss to Iowa State.

Freshman Kobe Webster is fun to watch and can handle the basketball tremendously.

There, I said something nice about the Leathernecks.  I think this is the first time in 3 years.

7. Omaha

The non-conference season for the Mavericks could be summed up with one of these: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Mavericks have played in incredibly difficult schedule mostly on the road while trying to mold together so many new faces, as well as deal with injuries to Mitch Hahn and Renard Suggs, who has yet to play a game this season.

With no players receiving any preseason awards, Zach Jackson is putting together a case to make an All Conference team in the post season, and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey could be a candidate for Newcomer of the Year.  Is there a Most Improved Player Award?  I’m not sure and I’m not ambitious enough to look it up, but if there is one, KJ Robinson could be handed that award.

8. Oral Roberts

The Golden Eagles earned their first win of the season over a division one opponent on Saturday when they defeated 2-6 Arkansas-Little Rock on the road in double overtime.  The Golden Eagles have faced injuries and inconsistent play from newcomers while trying to figure out their newly assembled roster.

They have started playing with a bigger lineup with a starting front line of 6’9″ Albert Owens, 6’10” Javan White, and 6’8″ Emmanuel Nzekwesi.  In the win over Arkansas-Little Rock, White had 18 points and 20 rebounds.

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.