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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!