Montana comes to Omaha for Ugly Christmas Sweater Day

The Summit League won the Summit League/WAC Challenge 5-3. I’d like to take some time to thank everyone involved.  Except for Kansas City beating Western Illinois, I thought you were leaving that conference UMKC?  Why give them any more joy than they deserve?

I can’t wait to see the Summit League/WAC Challenge Trophy when it makes it way to Baxter Arena.  Oh, there’s no trophy?  We all just got some help with filling our non-conference schedules?  Is there a trophy case in that new Summit League office in Sioux Falls?

Omaha now enters the Summit League/Big Sky Challenge, which has scheduling that makes little sense to me, as Omaha, South Dakota State, North Dakota, and North Dakota State are the only teams with Big Sky teams in their non-conference schedules this season.  Northern Arizona didn’t count as part of the challenge?  I seriously don’t understand.

Omaha already has one game in the challenge, where they lost 97-56 at Eastern Washington. If I discuss this game any further, I’m just going to list off excuses as to why they lost by 41 points, and we’re all going to get frustrated with me.

Next up in the Challenge, Montana comes to Baxter Arena on Ugly Christmas Sweater Day.

Seriously, you’re going to get to watch the coaching staff in ugly Christmas sweaters on the bench.  Derrin Hansen is going to be wearing an ugly Christmas sweater and have an argument with a NCAA official at some point.  How are you not into that?

Now about that Montana.  They’re coming to Baxter Arena as Omaha will attempt to get their record to one game under .500 before the beginning of conference play.

One of my best friends is from Montana.  He went to Montana and played football for the Montana Grizzlies.  I texted him a couple weeks ago, telling him how I was excited about this game.  His response…

“Congrats on your 20 point win. Montana lost to Montana Tech. We suck.”

The Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament last season, and they were picked to finish second in the Big Sky preseason poll, even received 3 first place votes.  Their team in the NCAA tournament last season was senior loaded and they lost a lot heading into this season.  I remember looking at their roster for this season, when it was first posted, and first thinking to myself it was just a funky looking roster.

There are 3 active seniors on the roster.  6’5″ Sayeed Pridgett, who earned 1st Team All Big Sky last season as a junior.  Jared Samuelson, a 6’7″ forward who played his freshman year at Montana, then transferred to a NAIA school for 2 years and then transferred back to Montana.  That alone rates pretty high on the funky scale. 6’4″ Kendal Manuel, who spent his first two seasons at Oregon State before transferring to Montana, was named the Big Sky Top Reserve (seriously, I think that’s the name of the award) and Big Sky Newcomer of the Year last season.

Pridgett and Manuel are the only two players for Montana averaging more than 10 points per game.

Montana and Omaha seem similar on paper.  Both teams only have eight man rotations, both teams are fairly young, and both have been good at home but bad on the road.  Yet, they don’t exactly match up well.

Pridgett and Manuel playing at the wings are likely to outmatch JT Gibson and Zach Thornhill.  On the other hand, Montana has genuinely no size to match up with Matt Pile, and as we’ve seen in the past when Matt Pile has no one to match up with him, he plays very well. He dominates the game.

Matt Pile should be able to take over the game on the offensive end in the post.  Omaha will also need big games out of KJ Robinson and Ayo Akinwole at the point to get penetrate and create shots for themselves and teammates.

Montana is 0-5 on the the road (Stanford, Arkansas, New Mexico, Washington, and Oregon so it’s fairly understandable for them to be 0-5).   Omaha is undefeated at home.  Montana lost to a NAIA team at home, so it might be easy to write them off, but the Grizzlies have beaten North Dakota, Texas Southern, and Coppin State who are all division one, last I checked.  Don’t write them off.

They’re still well coached, they create an awkward match up for Omaha, both teams need this win for momentum heading into their conference schedules.

 

 

 

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

The Omaha Mavericks will make the journey out to the Great State of Washington to take on some Cougars.

I have a lot of friends who follow the Pac-12, so I regularly follow the Pac-12 as well for conversation purposes.  A big time sports fantasy of mine is to go to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament.  It sounds like a real fun time.

Anyway, I can tell you with 100% certainty the Washington State Cougars are regularly the laughing stock of the conference. It wasn’t until the football program hired Mike Leach that Pac-12 fan bases actually respected them in something.  With that said, I have a lot of Washington State friends, and I’ve witnessed them sitting around screaming “WE’RE NOT THAT BAD, JUST GIVE US A YEAR OR TWO!”

As far as basketball fan hood goes, they are the Nebraska of the Pac-12.  Just to bring that home and find a relate able comparison for you.

The Cougars finished last season at 11-21 and 4-14 against the Pac-12. In their non-conference schedule they suffered losses to Seattle, Montana State, New Mexico State (twice), San Diego, and Santa Clara.

They’ve already dropped a game to Santa Clara so far this season. Like Omaha, they lack depth, and have similar characteristics to any other inconsistent basketball team trying to find themselves.

As of this morning, the Cougars are favored by 7 points. I would take Omaha to beat the spread and beat the Cougars…if this game was played one day later.

The Cougars will have 2 extra days of rest over the Mavericks, and the Mavericks most recent game was in Dayton, Ohio. After losing to Colorado State, the biggest problem for the Mavericks seemed to be not having enough time to prep for the Rams after playing Bethune-Cookman two days before.

So what can the Mavericks do to win?

The Mavericks will have their hands full with 6’6″ sophomore forward CJ Elleby, who is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 54% from the field.  Elleby did struggle in WSU’s road loss to Santa Clara, shooting 4-of-14 from the floor. It will be up to Zach Thornhill, Marlon Ruffin, and Wanjang Tut to spend their energy guarding and slowing down Elleby if the Mavericks want to win.

The Cougars really don’t have anyone to match up against Matt Pile.  The Cougars’ main offensive post threat, Jeff Pollard, has been struggling shooting 41% from the field so far this season, so hopefully Pile can stay out of foul trouble and make a difference for the Mavericks down low. The Cougars are currently last in the Pac-12 in blocks per game, averaging just 2.3 per game.  Please, just throw Matt Pile the ball!

The Mavericks could have a chance to win this game if Ayo Akinwole AND KJ Robinson are both on it this game.  With JT Gibson likely to guard WSU’s second leading scorer Isaac Bonton, Akinwole and Robinson will be needed to step up on offense and hit big shots. The Mavericks can’t afford an off night from either of those two.

Washington State has been atrocious shooting threes so far this season. They’ve shot 25% from behind the three point line. They also have somehow attempted 25 threes per game, like it was a good idea or something. Hopefully, Omaha can force the Cougars to the outside.

 

Have we taken JT Gibson for granted?

I once watched this video of this on some recruiting website of this high school basketball player out of the state of Minnesota. I thought he had kind of a weird way of dribbling the ball, like it came up too high in between hitting the floor and coming back to his hand, I also thought he had a slow release on his shot.

The reason I watched the video of this kid was because he was given scholarship offers by South Dakota State, North Dakota State, North Dakota, and Omaha.

That kid became the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year. He eventually became one of the best Mavericks to shoot a basketball.

It’s JT Gibson’s fifth year in Omaha, and just his first being the number one guy. Even if he is the number one guy, you as a Maverick fan, probably haven’t really considered him as the number one guy, yet.

In November of 2015, Omaha opened up their season in the brand new Baxter Arena. It was Omaha’s first game in their new home, it was their first game being eligible for the Summit League tournament. Some Omaha people saw it as the first Maverick basketball game that actually mattered.

It was one of the weirdest nights, honestly.

I bought season tickets, I was 8 rows behind the team bench, it was the first time I bought season tickets to anything. I think it was the most excited I had ever been to attend a basketball game. There were over 3500 people to see the Mavericks in the new arena.

I showed up thinking Marcus Tyus would be in the starting lineup. Nope, they decided to scratch him from the game, and the season due to an injury. Some freshman named Zach Jackson, who didn’t seem as highly touted as that other freshman from Minnesota, was thrown into the starting lineup.

This all seemed off…

Neither UC Santa Barbara or Omaha could make a basket in the first half of that game. The Gauchos* shot 31% in the first half and the Mavericks shot 29% from the floor and were 0-of-9 on threes. Along with 3500 other people, I was wondering if Baxter Arena was broken. I think some of us spent that first half wondering if this division one experiment would fail.

*UC Santa Barbara is the Gauchos, right? I’m too lazy to go look that up.

In a game that was frustrating to watch with so many misses, you were thinking to yourself everyone needs to drive to the basket and just see a ball go in the basket. There wasn’t even great defense in that game, there were open shots all over the place and no one was even close.

Halfway through the second half, Omaha was down by 14, and it felt as if they were going to lose by 25 on opening night.

Then JT Gibson finds himself wide open at the top of the key and puts up this three and it rattled in, like it was kind of a mistake that it went in, but ball don’t lie. The Gauchos** missed their next shot and Tre’Shawn Thurman grabbed the board and threw it down the floor. Gibson found himself open again and drained his second three in less than 30 seconds.

**Seriously, I’m not going to go look it up. I can remember that Mitch Kupchak’s son played for UC Santa Barbara, but I cannot remember if they are the Gauchos or what.

The crowd went crazy. We suddenly gave a shit, even if the Mavericks were down by 8. The Mavericks eventually came back in the game, and had a 3 point lead late in the game. They still ended up losing by 1, but I’ll forever give credit to JT Gibson for providing life to the Mavericks and Baxter Arena that night.

Gibson eventually got hurt that season and we only got 8 games out him that year, receiving a medical redshirt. If you think about it, the Mavericks shouldn’t even have Gibson on their roster this season. Actually, if he wouldn’t have committed to the Mavericks, he could have committed to South Dakota State and they would of had Mike Daum, David Jenkins, and JT Gibson on one basketball team. Yikes!

Gibson’s second chance at a freshman season was about as inconsistent as any other freshman at a mid-major level. On one of the the best Maverick teams ever, Gibson was lost in the rotation behind arguably the best back court Omaha has had with Marcus Tyus, Tra-Deon Hollins, and Daniel Norl.

His sophomore season, the Mavericks had a season to forget. I’m pretty sure we all forget this season. It’s okay to forget it. The summer was filled with players transferring, the regular season was filled with injuries, losses, and selfish play.  Injuries allowed Gibson to find himself in the starting lineup and average 10.2 points per game.

With the Mavericks having such a bad 2017-2018 campaign, there wasn’t much optimism heading into the 2018-2019 season for the Mavericks outside of Omaha, or even from our own home base, I suppose. Even as the Mavericks exceeded expectations on the season, Gibson was just another “double digit scorer” to people. He was the third option on offense, and I’m willing to bet you can’t really remember a single JT Gibson moment from that season. You’re not some weirdo like me who vividly remembers a 30 second span from a basketball game 5 years ago.

His junior season, he was the third scorer for the Mavericks. So much attention was given to the seniors Zach Jackson and Mitch Hahn for their stellar play, big shots, and leadership. Matt Pile was given celebrity status due to his size and freakish strength. KJ Robinson was even known for leading the offense and keeping the team under control helping lead the team to the fewest turnovers in the Summit League.

In the Mavericks most successful reason, he was seen as just another scorer. With Pile, Hahn, and Jackson in the front court, Gibson really didn’t have many rebounding opportunities, but still managed to pull off grabbing nearly 3 rebounds per game. He was also second on the team in assists.  Gibson also led this team in steals, which was third most by a junior since Omaha transitioned to division one. I doubt anyone cares about that stat, but the only two guys in front him in that stat are Tra-Deon Hollins and Devin Patterson, who were probably the two best perimeter defenders the Mavericks have ever had.

At a certain point in time, Gibson may of had the reputation as “The Next Marcus Tyus.” It’s easy to compare the two, as they’re both from Minnesota, and both primarily play basketball from the perimeter. Gibson made 76 three point field goals his junior season, which is the most by any Mavericks since transitioning to division one. The second most was by Tyus, who made 72 threes in the 2016-2017 season.

Tyus saw success as being more than 3 point shooter. He had a nice pump fake and speed to get by his defenders to get to the basket, something we haven’t seen Gibson do much. Gibson’s speed is underrated, he does have a second gear. I cannot give you a specific example from an exact point, but there was a game last season I was streaming and he stole the ball near around the three point line and took off to the other basket for the score, and literally no one could catch him.

He has that capability just as Tyus did, and he has shown it off a bit already this season.

A wrist injury may have slowed down Gibson before the start of the 2019-2020 season, and it seems most attention for the Mavericks has gone toward Matt Pile, the emergence of Ayo Akinwole, and people being sad about the graduation of Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson.

The 2018-2019 Omaha Mavericks had a reputation of being “all business” and Gibson fits that mold. Before squaring off against Bethune-Cookman, I saw Gibson during the women’s game, and he was already completely dialed in. He was 100% business and ready to go.

In warm ups, in the past, Gibson had a lot of smiles and joked around with teammates. Before playing Bethune-Cookman, Gibson was focused on the upcoming game. He’s taken on the role seriously, just as last year’s seniors Hahn and Jackson did.

Bethune-Cookman was the first game of the season for the Mavericks seen as a toss up. The expectations for Wichita State were just hoping the Mavericks kept it close, and yay they beat the spread. Then Midland was well, it was a game against Midland.

This was the first must win game of the season to prove yourselves as a team. Gibson came out aggressive against a tired Bethune-Cookman team, came off ball screens and read the defense maybe better than he ever has.  At one point I looked up and said “oh wow, he’s on pace to score 40 tonight.”

With Zach Thornhill, Matt Pile, and Ayo Akinwole, this may not be a year that the Mavericks need Gibson to have a good game in order to win, but there is no doubt that this is Gibson’s basketball team.

 

 

 

 

My trivial Summit League rankings: Nov 12

The first week of college basketball passed on by, and now we no longer have to discuss basketball teams in terms of what they have coming back from last season.  We can gauge them on how they beat up on division three opponents and how they kind of came close against teams from better conferences.

1. South Dakota, 3-0

My preseason ranking: 1st

The Coyotes started their season undefeated in Hawaii as part of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic with 2 neutral games against Pacific and Florida A&M, as well as a game at Hawaii.

Even though Nebraska transfer Brady Heiman was granted a waiver, it appears he’ll still be sitting out this season. The Coyotes were still able to prove they had plenty of depth with 5 players scoring in double figures over the weekend.

The Coyotes shot over 50% from the field and 50% from behind the three point line over the weekend. Three players averaged 17 points or more in Hawaii.

6’7″ true freshman Hunter Goodrick out of Australia showed off as a nice surprise averaging 7.3 points and 5.7 rebounds through the first three games.

2. Oral Roberts, 1-1

My preseason ranking: 2nd

Down by as many as 14 in the second half, Oral Roberts was able to come back and almost beat Oklahoma State. The Golden Eagles are now 2-0 against the spread this season.

With three seniors off the bench, the Golden Eagles will be a mature team and that teams will have to play a complete 40 minutes against.

Sophomore RJ Fuqua came back to the lineup after sitting out 2018-2019. Maybe it was rust, but Fuqua had 10 turnovers and shot 25% from the field through the first two games and may not be the appropriate point guard to lead this team who had the most turnovers in the Summit League this season. He almost seems to be too fast, if that’s possible.

Kevin Obanor hasn’t had a great start to the season. Coaches say the biggest jump for players can be from their freshman to their sophomore season, but sometimes a sophomore slump can occur. Obanor got in foul trouble in his first two games this season and has shot 2-of-12 on the year. He really didn’t use his large frame to get inside baskets and relied on the three just a bit much.

Still with Obanor and Fuqua struggling, the Golden Eagles took Oklahoma State to the wire and beat Houston Baptist by 14.

3. North Dakota State, 2-1

My preseason ranking: 3rd

The Bison haven’t started as hot as they would have hoped to, shooting 29% on threes, but it’s the North Dakota State Bison and they will come around.

4. Omaha, 2-1

My preseason ranking: 4th

The suspension of KJ Robinson has allowed for Ayo Akinwole to step up into a starring role, and allow Zach Thornhill and Wanjang Tut to showcase their talents as they’re being integrated into the starting lineup.

Without Robinson, the Mavericks are averaging nearly 15 turnovers a game.

Not having Robinson and UMKC transfer Marco Smith, the Mavericks are only playing with 7 players, which is depth that won’t get you too far in conference season.

5. South Dakota State, 3-0

My preseason ranking: 8th

The Jackrabbits are 3-0 with a team entirely made up of newcomers. We’ll have a little to compare them to as their first opponent, UT Rio Grande Valley will square off against North Dakota State this Friday.

Sophomore Matt Dentlinger was a huge surprise notching a double-double in their home opener.

Junior college transfer Douglas Wilson is on his way to being candidate for Newcomer of the Year, averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds through three games.

6. North Dakota, 1-0

My preseason ranking: 5th

The Fighting Hawks haven’t fought too hard, only playing one game so far against division three Crown College.

Paul Sather’s team will play the opposite of opponents tonight when they faces off against Gonzaga.

7. Fort Wayne, 1-2

My preseason ranking: 7th

The Mastodons only beat Division 3 Manchester by 11 points?

With not much of a point guard presence, the Mastodons look lost on offense and everything appears to be played in random.

8. Denver, 1-1

My preseason ranking: 9th 

The team everyone thought would get beat up by everyone this season actually has not looked bad to start the season.

With an 11 point loss to Colorado State and an 12 point win over Utah Valley, the young team can look to build on some confidence. They were able to beat Utah Valley with Ade Murkey scoring just 9 points, and people said the Pioneers would live and die with Murkey.

9. Western Illinois, 0-2

My preseason ranking: 6th

I don’t even want to talk about Western Illinois right now. They’re 0-2 with an understandable loss to Indiana and a 2 point loss at home to Stetson. They lost at home against Stetson only committing 5 turnovers in the game.

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.

 

 

.