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 – December 11th

1. South Dakota State

The Jackrabbits had a lead with 7 minutes to go playing at # 6 Wichita State.  The key to shutting down the Jackrabbits might be slowing down Mike Daum, but no one in the Summit League has really proven that they can do that.

2. South Dakota

The Coyotes are currently leading the Summit League in fewest turnovers, and they also rank 3rd in defensive field goal percentage.  It’s tough to beat a team that can defend, as well as take care of the ball on offense.

3. Denver

The Pioneers are currently 3rd in the Summit League in field goal percentage, 2nd in three point field goal percentage, and they’re also leading the conference in rebounding – as one of the smallest teams in the league.

While South Dakota State has defeated two Power 5 teams, Denver’s win over Wyoming is probably the best non-conference win for any Summit League team so far.  The Jackrabbits did lose to Wyoming.

4. Western Illinois

I just threw up in my mouth.  Okay, I actually just threw up all over my hands.

They are leading the Summit League in defensive field goal percentage, but they have played the against the easiest schedule in the league.  It will be interesting to see what happens when they get to conference play, and see how they might play against teams who went the opposite direction as them in creating an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule.

Jeremiah Usiosefe did almost pick up a triple-double against Milwaukee on Saturday.  He finished with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists.

5. North Dakota State

I’m sure the Bison will be fine in March, but they’re actually not looking too impressive right now.  AJ Jacobson appears slowed down, after having foot issues over the summer, and the post players are all incredibly inconsistent.

6. Fort Wayne

The Mastodons are leading the conference in steals, and probably have the fastest pace of play in the Summit League right now, and they’re going to need that as they are currently one of the worst shooting teams in the conference.  John Konchar actually seems a little more human so far this season.

7. Oral Roberts

Over the last couple of weeks, Missouri State managed to make South Dakota State and North Dakota State look like the worst version of themselves.  Yesterday, the Golden Eagles were able to pick up their third win of the season over the Bears.

This team has been playing with injury issues, inconsistency with the newcomers on the team, and even a suspension to one of their best players.

8. Omaha

This is turning out to be a nightmare season.  The expectations weren’t incredibly high before the beginning of the year, but now with the loss of Mitch Hahn, the Mavericks will have to fight harder for wins.

The Mavericks only had one steal as a team against Drake on Saturday.  Has that ever happened?

Maybe things will start to improve when this team gets to add Renard Suggs to the roster, but right now the team needs depth at the forward position.  Can we bring back Rylan Murry?  Is he still in school?

This season might turn into mix tape for seeing what the future can be with Matt Pile and Ayo Akinwole.  They’re both incredibly smart players, and watching them develop and show what they can do has some excitement to it.

At least the Baxter Arena has caramel filled pretzels?

I don’t even know what to really say right now.  My brain is just in random places.

 

 

Mavericks versus Montana State preview

I keep forgetting the college basketball season starts this week, but it does.  In my mind, it starts when Omaha tips off in Great Falls against Montana State.  Since the Mavericks have their first 5 games on the road, it might actually be better if I didn’t let it start in my mind until late November.

This is the third year in a row that the Mavericks will meet the Bobcats, and the first of two meetings of this match up this season.  Omaha won each of the meetings between the two teams in the last two seasons.

The Bobcats return much of their roster from last season after tying for 5th in the final 2017 Big Sky standings, the fans have high expectations for this veteran basketball squad.  The team was ranked 4th in the preseason rankings for the Big Sky conference.

Wait…someone make a screeching halt noise.  Or the Wilhelm Scream.  The Wilhelm Scream works too.

The Bobcats narrowly defeated NAIA Montana State University-Northern by 5 points in an exhibition game on November 1st.  The Bobcats didn’t even gain a lead over MSU-Northern until 17 seconds left in the first half.  Maybe, as an out of state person, I shouldn’t read too much into this game.  If Nebraska-Kearney played Omaha, I’m sure Kearney would give the Mavericks everything they could and put a scare into the team.

However, there is this.

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I gotta say: that’s pretty harsh.

That is going to do one of two things.  That can really motivate the players to pull it all together by the time they start the regular season, or it can have the reverse and completely bring the confidence of the team even lower.

Maybe they can turn it around, but a team that doesn’t listen to the coach or buy into a system can have some nasty consequences in any sport.  With that said, the Mavericks have to really hope that the Bobcats don’t have it figured out to start the season, especially considering how much the Mavericks still need to figure out about themselves as a team.

I’m sure the Bobcats will figure a way to turn it around.  Even if it doesn’t look pretty, it was still an exhibition game.  Teams don’t normally return a bulk of their entire roster and just drop off the face of the earth with a load of chemistry issues.  Well, except for that year after Nebraska made the NCAA Tournament with Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway and turned out to have an incredibly follow up season.  As Maverick fans, we just hope the Bobcats don’t have it figured out by November 10th.

On paper, the Bobcats can be threatening.  They are led by Tyler Hall, a 6’4″ junior, who averaged 23 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3 assists as a sophomore.  Hall is on the Preseason Watch List for Lute Olson National Player of the Year Award.  The Mavericks were able to hold him to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting in Omaha last season.  Running the point for the Bobcats is Norwegian point guard Harald Frey, who averaged 12.7 points and 3.4 assists as a freshman last season.

You can expect a shootout between Omaha and Montana State as both teams like to get up and score the ball.  The Bobcats, however, are not a very big team with the biggest player in their rotation at 6’7″.  Maybe Omaha will look to take the ball inside with native Montanan Daniel Meyer on the team.  They could also have freshman Matt Pile come in off the bench and set screens for Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson to find space for open shots.

Trying to come up with things that look better than Mitch Hahn’s shot going up against smaller competition, and I cannot thing of many things.

Montana State has won their last 3 home openers.

According to ESPN, Montana State is a 9 point favorite, and has a 71% chance of winning.

 

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.

 

Surprise! The Mavericks and Jays are playing!

It’s here.  It’s finally happening.  The Jays and the Mavericks will play basketball on the same court, at the same time, and in a bizarre twist they’ll even be playing against each other.

In a charity game for Hurricane Relief, and a little bit for the Mavericks’ ego, the Jays will finally face off against the Mavericks in an exhibition game.  This is actually the Mavericks’ first exhibition game since transitioning to division one.  Unless you count all of 2011-2012 season an exhibition season.

100% of the net profits are going to hurricane relief across the country.  Is the beer stand with $9 cans of PBR going to be open?  There is a lot of profit in a $9 can of PBR.  That’s a lot of money going to hurricane relief.  Ugh, I can’t wait to get a $9 Schlitz on my lips.

I’m not going to get into the Jays too much because I don’t need a gang of Creighton fans tweeting at me about how I’m a garbage of a human being for not thinking the Jays are not going to be that great of a basketball team this season.

HOT TAKE: I don’t think Creighton will be that great this season.

They’ll still be better than Nebraska and UNO.  So good for them, I guess.  Actually, Nebraska’s roster looks pretty underrated…I think I say that every year so who cares.

Like, the Bluejays will be okay.  They received a preseason ranking of 4th in the Big East, which is more impressive than receiving a preseason ranking of 6th in the Summit League, but this Creighton team feels more like a 5th or a 6th place finish in the Big East.  Without a big time run in the Big East Tournament, the Bluejays are a NIT team.

Sure, Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas are great.  Toby Hegner and Ronnie Harrell Jr have their moments.  Martin Krampelj has some potential.

I also think Martin Krampelj should have a nickname of “Crampy Jay” but that’s just my opinion.

Still, doesn’t seem like the Bluejays have enough weapons to not be an inconsistent team this year.  It’s easy to look at a team with two stars like Thomas and Foster and say “hey, those are two good basketball players and they belong on a NCAA Tournament team.”  Two guys don’t always get you to the NCAA tournament.

This is all from a UNO fan who recognizes that the Mavericks are filled with new and even newer guys trying to fill the voids left from guys with big time roles.

The Mavericks lost their Big 3 in Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Tyus, and Tre’Shawn Thurman and will be counting on a committee to fill their most consistent scorer, best defender, and best rebounder.  Now their Big 3 is Mitch Hahn, Zach Jackson, and there is an application open for the third member.

As Mav fans, we’ve never really gotten that game that didn’t officially matter to see what the new guys on the team have to offer.  What a perfect opportunity to see what they can do against the team we’ve always wanted to play, and in our hometown.  It will be great to start the careers of freshmen Zach Thornhill and Matt Pile in a confusing setting wondering why two Division 1 teams in the same city don’t ever play each other in a regular season game.

Thornhill and Pile both come from Kansas, and there has been some chatter of both players being future All Conference players.  We’ll have to wait and see.  Pile shot 71 percent from the floor as a junior, and Thornhill has some abilities that make him sound like he could be the next John Konchar.

We’ll also be introduced to senior guard Renard Suggs. He sat out last season after transferring from Washington State, so it’s possible you forgot about him.  It’s possible with his three point shooting ability, that Suggs will be replacing some of the production lost by Tyus.  He’ll be competing for minutes with Daniel Norl, who I think is one of the most underrated guards in the Summit League.  I say that with a high level of bias.

And of course, the Mavericks are returning Zach Jackson as a starter, and might as well have been a starter Mitch Hahn.  I’ll throw out a guess that Creighton will base their defense on slowing down Hahn or forcing him into dumb shots.  Luckily for the Mavericks, no shot of Hahn’s is a dumb shot.

This is an exhibition game, and I’m sure the UNO players will take it far more seriously of a game than the Creighton players will.  That doesn’t mean Creighton won’t protect home court, as they definitely don’t want to lose to a Summit League team in the CenturyLink Center.  There still won’t be a huge amount of defense played, which is kind of a dream scenario for each team.

So here is a prediction:

The game will start out pretty close with Thomas and Foster getting to the rim whenever they want on offense, and Hahn and a mystery man on UNO getting off shots as they please.

Creighton will get a 10 point cushion in the first half, and UNO will stage a comeback and take a brief lead as the Bluejays go to their bench.

The game will be kind of close for a bit, but the Creighton players will take it pretty seriously in the last 5 minutes as Thomas and Foster run away with the game.

Also, at some point, Hahn will shoot a 3 from the First National Bank logo.

It should be fun though.  And we can take comfort in knowing that every Omaha World Herald story on the Mavericks for the rest of the season will come packaged with a stock photo from this game.