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.

 

 

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

Some things to think about with basketball teams around the Summit League

College basketball is back in two weeks, so I’ll be coming out with some of my own Summit League preaseason rankings and obviously biased team previews over the next couple weeks.

How about we start you off with a little something to think about around the Summit League.

DENVER

The Pioneers had a disaster of a season in 2018-2019. Rodney Billups’ staff  had picked up two graduate transfers, Ronnie Harrell from Creighton and Tory Stewart-Miller from Colorado, to go along with a veteran team, and the preseason expectations were high. Some even thought the Pioneers were going to be able to compete with Mike Daum and South Dakota State for a conference championship.

Unfortunately, the team had injuries up and down the roster, and Pioneers season seemed to get worse and worse as time went on. There were only 3 players on the roster who played in every game for the Pioneers last season.

The injuries allowed for more playing time and development for freshmen David Nzekwesi and Jace Townsend, who are expected to be young leaders in 2019-2020.

As the least experienced team in the Summit League, most are expecting the Pioneers to miss the conference tournament again this season. In combination with being the youngest team in the conference, the coaching staff will also have 3 assistant coaches in their first year in their roles.

One thing helping the Pioneers is that they are one of three teams in the conference to never have 3 consecutive conference road games this season. Also, with only 6 returning players, it could be difficult to scout Denver.

NORTH DAKOTA

Did you know the Fighting Hawks had the best defensive three point field goal percentage in the Summit League last season, but the worst overall defensive field goal percentage?

Another weird stat: they were 3-0 playing at home on Saturdays, and 0-4 playing on the road on Saturdays in the Summit League.

North Dakota will be returning 68% of their scoring, and that’s the 4th most in the conference. One of their best players last season, Marlon Stewart, was slowed down with injuries last season, but is apparently the healthiest he has been in a while.

It’s hard to get a feel for North Dakota with a brand new coaching staff.

Head Coach Paul Sather appears to be quite excited about redshirt freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens, and thinks he’s a future star in the league.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE

The Bison were picked as the preseason favorite in the Summit League, with good reason.

They won the conference tournament last season, and they only lost Deng Geu who transferred to North Texas, so they do lose some height and energy off the bench. Dave Richman has a steady track record of finding replacements, so it’s not really something to worry about.

It’s hard not to like the Bison. One thing to think about is that Cameron Hunter was playing with an injury last season. Hunter averaged 9 points a game as a freshman and saw a drop in production his sophomore year, and he’s just going to be another weapon for the Bison if he comes back at 100%.

OMAHA

Everyone in Omaha is talking about the losses of Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson, and yeah it’s a lot to lose.

Something no one in Omaha seems to be discussing is the losses of 6’9″ Brett Barney, 6’8″ Logan Strom, and 6’11” Evan Tricker. With just 4 upperclassmen on the roster, the Mavericks will be younger, but they’re also going to lack some serious size, even with Matt Pile on the roster.

We’re going to discuss Omaha more at a later time. I think that’s obvious.

One thing to consider…The Mavericks and the Creighton Bluejays never have a home game on the same day this season. With some energy and attention brought on with a successful 2018-2019 season, the Mavericks home games could start seeing some larger crowds.

Also, did you know that last season was the first season the Mavericks have had a winning road record since joining division one?

ORAL ROBERTS

The Golden Eagles started the conference season in 2019 with three straight wins, and they eventually faced injury situations with Emmanuel Nzekwesi and struggled with consistency.

Though, they are the biggest team in the conference, the Golden Eagles struggle with taking care of the basketball. They had the most turnovers in the Summit League last season, and teams were able to outrun them.

The Golden Eagles were picked 3rd in the preseason poll, but they are intimidating on paper.

In addition to returning 83% of their scoring from last season, the Golden Eagles are adding experience to their roster. Paul Mills’ staff added two graduate transfers and will also have point guard R.J. Fuqua coming back to the roster, who redshirted his sophomore season.

Paul Mills has also stated that Nzekwesi is 100% healthy, and had the best summer that he has ever seen in all of his years of coaching.

If Oral Roberts can cut down on the turnovers and Nzekwesi is healthy, the Golden Eagles can beat anyone in the league.  Maybe even any team in the state of Nebraska.

Purdue Fort Wayne

I initially wasn’t feeling impressed with the Mastodons. John Konchar was one of the best players ever to play in the Summit League, and I’d argue that he was a better overall player than Mike Daum. Making up that loss seems like it’s too much.

I don’t think they’ll be better than the likes of North Dakota State or South Dakota, but they’ll be competitive, and they will frustrate anyone in the league.

The ‘Dons will be adding Brian Patrick, a 6’5″ transfer from Kansas State, who didn’t see the floor much for the Wildcats, but he does have experience in 4 NCAA Tournament games. In addition to losing Konchar, the ‘Dons also lost guard Matt Weir to transfer, and I thought Fort Wayne would be light at the point guard sport. Jon Coffman landed junior college transfer point guard DeMieere Black, who was made the Honorable Mention List on JUCOrecruiting.com’s Top 100 recruits list. The website also listed him at 6’3″ and Fort Wayne’s website lists him at 6’0″, so maybe just no one knows what they’re talking about.  Fellow incoming junior college transfer Jalin Wimberly also made the list. Wimberly scored 15 points on 73% from the field as a freshman. Yikes!

Fort Wayne might be the most sneaky good team in the conference, but maybe the Summit League will sabotage the Mastodons’ last Summit League season?

The Mastodons have never been particularly deep, at least since I started paying attention to them after Omaha joined the Summit League, and last year the Mastodons had 9 players play in all 33 games on the season. Can they be that lucky with health again?

That may sound like a threat of some kind after mentioning the Summit League might be out to sabotage their season, but it’s not. Welp, this is awkward.

South Dakota

With 5 seniors and 2 juniors, the Coyotes will be the most experienced team in the Summit League.

The roster has 11,455 division one minutes played on the active roster. That’s over 1000 more minutes over the North Dakota State with the second most.

According to Jeff Goodman, Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver to be immediately eligible to play this season for South Dakota. It is unclear if Heiman will still use his redshirt, but the 11,455 minutes does not include Heiman.

The Coyotes are another team we’re going to discuss more later.

South Dakota State

Who gave the Jackrabbits first place votes in the preseason poll? Seriously, who? Two people apparently did this.

I’d love to meet the two maniacs who went camping on the hottest day of the year, saw who could chug a bottle of Fireball the fastest, then had a candy corn eating contest, bumped each other in the head, and then rolled down a hill into a bee’s nest…then apparently came to and said: “Yeah, South Dakota State is definitely better than North Dakota State, South Dakota, and Oral Roberts.”

The Preseason Summit League Notes in the press release for the preseason rankings said something nice about all the teams in the conference except the Jackrabbits. They couldn’t even think of a positive note about this team, but two people thought they’d be the best team in the conference.

The Jackrabbits lost the Dauminator, their top 4 scorers, and their head coach.

Western Illinois

Riding the confidence of upsetting South Dakota State, and almost beating North Dakota State in the Summit League Tournament, this Leatherneck team could be the most talented and well rounded team Billy Wright has had at Western Illinois. I understand that isn’t saying much, but it’s true.

 

 

 

 

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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Hey, I’m going to talk about last night’s Jackrabbits-Mavericks game

I haven’t been able to get to many UNO games this season, and I didn’t even get to go last night but that was the best Omaha men’s basketball game I’ve ever watched.

In December, I had a detached retina that required surgery to fix that problem.  I’ve been messing with that, and haven’t gotten out much because of it.  I’m watching my parents’ house and their dogs as they are out of town, so I watched the game from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen as their dogs shuffled between begging for food and going outside and playing in the snow.

Baxter Arena hosted its largest crowd for a men’s basketball game with 4,228 in attendance.  It could have been 4,230 had I forced my parents’ dogs to fend for themselves for an evening and convinced a friend of mine to go.  My bad.

From home I could see the intensity in the arena, I mean, it was pretty intense from the kitchen I was watching from. It was almost like the game was played out from a screenplay.

After missing chip shots and officials appearing to protect and favor the famous Mike Daum, the Mavericks found themselves down 13 at halftime.

There was so much on the line in this game. It’s the Summit League’s top two teams playing for the top spot, a guaranteed spot in the NIT, and both teams would appreciate a top 2 seed in the Summit League tournament so they can have that Sunday night off from basketball – assuming they take care of business against their first round opponents.

According to Mitch Hahn in his post game interview, the Mavericks met at half time and discussed what they needed to do better to win that game.  No one sat there thinking the Jackrabbits got them.

My friend and I have agreed that if the Mavericks lock up the 1 or the 2 seed in the conference tournament, we’re heading to Sioux Falls.  We’re sports lovers and we’d go Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday if the Mavericks were playing but we’re adults and have jobs*.  I admit, when David Jenkins hit a three to open up the second half and push the lead to 16, I seriously debated of texting my friend that we should just prepare to go to Bockfest at the German American Society on March 9th, instead.

Eventually, Mike Daum went to the bench and I thought to myself that this was the Mavericks’ chance to make a push to cut into the lead and make this a game.  If it wasn’t going to happen then, it probably wouldn’t happen at all.  With Daum on the bench, they cut into the lead. All of a sudden, I had faith.

Even with Daum back on the court, the team the Summit League sees as perfect started messing up.  Turnovers and missed shots over a 4 minute stretch allowed the Mavericks to spark the comeback.

That’s the great thing about this year’s team.  They take care of the ball and they have so many weapons on offense that if their opponents can’t take care of the ball, the Mavericks can take advantage.  It’s not like a few years ago when the Mavericks as a team would have 8 assists on 20 turnovers, it’s the opposite of that now.  They’re not spending a large portion of the game just shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and bad shot selection over 8 minute stretches.

Once the Mavericks evened things up, the teams traded blows.  Daum would hit a three, and then Hahn would answer. KJ Robinson would hit a big three, and David Jenkins was there to rip our throats out.

While Jenkins was lighting up the Mavericks, Omaha did the unthinkable and actually slowed down Daum.  Daum was still creating space for Jenkins just by his presence on the court, but Daum was actually struggling in the game for a stretch.

For literally the first time of me ever watching Mike Daum play basketball, I thought he was actually intimidated.  He appeared to be completely confused by Matt Pile.  Excuse me, I want to retype that.  Daum appeared to be completely confused by Matt ‘effin Pile.  Daum looked like he couldn’t believe the sophomore wasn’t backing down from him.

In four years of witnessing Mike Daum, I have never thought he took a bad shot.  In the second half, he was going right after Pile and for the first time I ever I actually said “what are you thinking, Daum?”

On the other end, I literally had a debate with myself asking if Mike Daum was bad at defense. Like, I really just couldn’t tell. Pile and Hahn weren’t afraid to get after him, and when guards penetrated Daum just kind of let them do their thing. It is worth considering, though, that the Jackrabbits really don’t have much of a bench so they seriously cannot afford Daum to get in foul trouble and go to the bench.  I mean, look what sparked when Daum spent less than two minutes on the bench.

Don’t worry about Daum, he went 9-23 from the field and was the 3rd best player in last night’s game, but he’s still going to be voted Player of the Week.

The ending to this classic was about as perfect as they come.  The Nebraska-native, who is probably the best player the Summit League has ever seen knocks down two free throws to force the Maverick fans to say to themselves “son of a…”

But 5.7 seconds is too much time for Mitch Hahn.  The fellow Nebraska-native takes the ball the length of the floor and drills the baseline jump shot to seal the deal, and to create an even more intense final two weeks of the regular season for the Mavericks and Jackrabbits.

Third place Fort Wayne, who has won 5 consecutive games, comes to Omaha on Saturday for what should be another intense game.  I’m not the smartest person alive, but I just kind of assume Fort Wayne wants a top 2 seed in the tournament.  South Dakota State is at North Dakota State, the fourth place team in the Summit.  The Jackrabbits are historically kind of bad in Fargo, but they won there last year.

Even with this being the best basketball game to be played at Baxter Arena to this point, the Mavericks can’t stop now. It appears Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson understand this, and as they say: there is still a lot of basketball to be played.

*When are we going to stage a protest to have the Summit League tournament moved from Sioux Falls? The conference might get a third South Dakota school, and the rest of us have to suffer for it. If it’s going to remain in Sioux Falls can we at least set it up to where the conference championship isn’t on a Tuesday night?  If Denver made the conference championship, they would have less than 50 fans at the game on a Tuesday night.

 

 

Summit League predictions: Jan 24-27

I was 5-2 last week.  My best week.

Amazingly, Oral Roberts has no conference games this week.  They play two non-D1 opponents.  It’s like they’re an SEC football team that plays a FCS team in week 9.

January 24

South Dakota State @ South Dakota on ESPN3

How fun of a game is this going to be?  INCREDIBLY FUN.

Daum versus Hagedorn.  Jenkins versus Mooney.  Blue versus Red.  Okay, I ran out of things.

Is it wrong of me to think that the Coyotes are the best team overall in the conference, even though the Jackrabbits have the best overall player in the Summit League?  Probably not.

With their home court advantage, in what should be a sold out crowd, the Coyotes will be able to utilize more depth and a better defense.

The x-factors of this game could be Reed Tellinghuisen and Trey Burch-Manning.  They’ll be guarding each other, and have two totally different styles of play.  Whichever of them can make key plays in big moments and take control of the other may be the difference maker in this game.

January 25

Omaha @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

Each team is on a…I have no idea what to call this…a streak of conference games where you go W-L-W-L-W-L.  A Pattern Streak?  I don’t know.  I got nothing.  If the patterns hold true, both teams will win this game.  No, wait.  Crap.

The Bison have dropped 3 of their last 4 home games, which seems unheard of.  So really, what Bison team is going to show up?

I don’t think the Bison have an answer for Zach Jackson, and Mitch Hahn might be back.  So we will see what happens.  Hopefully, it’s good.

Western Illinois @ Denver

The Leathernecks have yet to win a game outside the state of Illinois this season.

Was it even noticed that the Leathernecks held Mike Daum to just 11 points last weekend?  Probably not since South Dakota State was still able to win by 28 points.  With Brandon Gilbeck being Daum’s primary defender, it plays into my theory that the one thing that bothers Daum is length.

January 27

Western Illinois @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

The Leathernecks have yet to win a game outside the state of Illinois this season.

Fort Wayne @ South Dakota State on ESPN3

The Mastodons have not won in Brookings since 2007, and Mike Daum scored 42 points the last time Fort Wayne came to town.  He also had 51 in Fort Wayne last season.

No one really has an answer for Mike Daum, but the ‘Dons don’t even have a clue.

Maybe with a full week off, the Mastodons can be well rested against the Jackrabbits who will be coming off an emotional game in Vermillion on Wednesday.

South Dakota @ Denver

The Coyotes are better at basketball on almost every level.  Home court advantage really shouldn’t matter that much.

My trivial Summit League rankings – Jan 9

1. South Dakota State, 2-0

The Jackrabbits have the best player in the conference, and they’re 2-0 on the road.  Depth is a slight problem as they let Omaha put a small scare into them by reducing a 29 point lead to just 13.

I legit feel bad because I thought Brandon Key was going to be a floor general to the team, and he did have some moments in the non-conference season, but he came into the game at Omaha for a minute and the Mavericks hit a couple quick shots, and he was immediately sent to the bench and not heard from again.

2. South Dakota, 2-1

A home loss to North Dakota State is probably what is keeping them from the top rating.  The Coyotes did play that game without Carlton Hurst, and it clearly showed on defense with the Bison’s Cameron Hunter going off for 35 points in Vermillion.

3. North Dakota State, 1-1

Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t seem like it would make sense to rank them below a team they just beat, but the Bison almost gave that game away in the end and was letting Matt Mooney get open shots late in the game.  The Bison also committed 17 turnovers in that game.  And again, had Carlton Hurst played that game, the Bison would likely be 0-2 right now.

4. Oral Roberts, 3-0

It may seem unfair to have the 3-0 Golden Eagles in 4th, but is it really?  They’ve played all three games at home and faced a depleted Omaha, an unproven Western Illinois, and a mismatched Fort Wayne team.  Their next three games are on the road against South Dakota State, North Dakota State, and South Dakota, so we will find out what the Golden Eagles are actually about.

I believe last year, I did say Emmanuel Nzekwesi was the future of the league.  So, I guess I’ll just sit here and toot this horn.

5. Fort Wayne, 1-1

You want to talk about another team with limited depth…in Fort Wayne’s two non-conference games only 7 players have reached double digits in minutes in each game.

Also, in those 2 games, the Mastodons only shot 22% on threes.

6. Western Illinois, 0-2

I got to admit, they have a pretty interesting Big 3 with Brandon Gilbeck, Dalan Ancrum, and Kobe Webster.  The Leathernecks also have some interesting role players around those guys.

7. Denver, 0-2

Fort Wayne is just inconsistent, Western Illinois is young, Oral Roberts has a bunch of a new faces, Omaha has injuries.  What’s Denver’s thing?

8. Omaha, 0-2

The Mavericks don’t really have a thing that they are great at right now.  They were pretty bad at getting to the foul line in the non-conference season, but they did a good job of it against South Dakota State and it helped them make the final score look more respectable.

Perhaps, they can get better at getting to the line and forcing some of the other conference teams with limited depth to foul trouble.  Maybe, Renard Suggs can get back into basketball shape and the Mavericks can have a threatening bench with Suggs, Matt Pile, and KJ Robinson/Ayo Akinwole.  Hopefully, Mitch Hahn’s shoulder can be better by March and he can actually play.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about Drake?

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

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


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


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

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