The Mavericks face North Dakota with more at stake than it just being the last home game of the season

This last Maverick home game will have more factors than “I’m just a simple cave man. North Dakota on road – bad; Omaha at home – good.”

JT Gibson and KJ Robinson already played their Senior Day at Baxter Arena, but unless Omaha plays a CIT or CBI game at Baxter Arena* this will be their game in Omaha.

*Highly unlikely they accept a CIT or CBI invite, if offered.**

**Though, maybe they’d benefit from giving post season experience to the young core of Wanjang Tut, Zach Thornhill, Marlon Ruffin, and Darrius Hughes.  Actually, can we just schedule a late season exhibition game against the Huskers in Baxter Arena?  That should be their punishment for – a lot of stuff.

The Mavericks will be entering this game on a three game winning streak, aiming to build momentum for the Summit League Tournament.  The Fighting Hawks come to Omaha facing consistent inconsistency, winning then losing every other game for the last seven games in a pattern.  If they continue the pattern, North Dakota will lose this game.  It’s not about patterns, and according to Steve Smith’s commentary on NBA 2k20 – This is WHY we play the game!

With the exception of a few, most Summit League teams have been bad on the road this season, so it’s easy just to say Omaha has the dominant advantage against North Dakota.  The Fighting Hawks did win their last road game in Macomb, though.  A three point win, they also had a recent three point win against North Dakota State over the weekend.

Facing injuries and players adapting to a new system, North Dakota has had an inconsistent season.  However, with three seniors capable of hitting clutch shots and decent three point shooting, the Fighting Hawks keep themselves in games.

Last year in the Summit League Tournament, when Omaha and North Dakota faced in the first round, the Mavericks appeared to be the better team, but the Fighting Hawks just wouldn’t go away as they kept knocking down threes.  The same thing happened in Grand Forks in January.  Omaha was up 10 points with 13 minutes to go, but North Dakota went on a run to keep the game close.  They again just wouldn’t freaking go away.  Marlon Stewart is a player who won’t let his team just go away.  Which, is pretty respectable.

Matt Pile and Filip Rebraca battled in Grand Forks forcing both to bad offensive games, but both grabbed double digit rebounds.  Pile struggled on the road against Fort Wayne and Western Illinois, and the Mavericks won both games, but if Pile can make an impact on offense against North Dakota, he could be the difference between the game being close down the stretch, or the Fighting Hawks not going away.  Denver couldn’t stop Pile late in the Mavericks’ latest home game, and it helped put Denver away and keep the Mavericks going to a 23 point win.

Both teams can go on hot and cold streaks, and the Mavericks will want to play as well as they most recently did in Baxter Arena against Denver, if they want to keep North Dakota away from a lead late in the game.  The Mavericks let Kobe Webster keep it close on Saturday in Macomb.  That’s right, I said Kobe Webster, since he was the only Leatherneck who appeared to want to win that game.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Fighting Hawks are undefeated playing in the state of Nebraska this season.

The emotions may run higher for Gibson and Robinson in their last game at Baxter Arena.  There is a lot to play for in this game.  This is their last chance for a win in front of their home crowd  They also have a chance at securing a 3, 4, or 5 seeding in the Summit League Tournament.

That’s dumb, I hate that last sentence.  I don’t think college basketball teams really concern themselves with tournament seeding outside of winning the regular season, or securing a top 2 spot in the Summit League Tournament for a day off in the tournament.

But hear me out.

standings

South Dakota, Omaha, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota are all competing for the 3-6 seeds in the Summit League Tournament.  Maybe seeding matters to teams, maybe it doesn’t.  Omaha and North Dakota play each other tonight, and Oral Roberts will be a strong favorite to beat Western Illinois tomorrow night and Fort Wayne on Saturday night.

Here is where seeding does matter…

Neither of these teams want to finish in 3rd place and go up against South Dakota, as the potential 3 seed, in Sioux Falls.  Omaha’s best options are to finish as the 4 or 5 seed.  Aside from not playing South Dakota in the first round, if they play in the 4 versus 5 game, they get to play at 6pm on a Sunday night, instead of 8:30, so there will be more of a possibility of their fans making the drive to Sioux Falls.

An 8:30 start time on a Sunday and a three hour late drive home isn’t ideal for those of us who have to work early on a Monday morning.  Trying to justify a half day with your boss because you were up late on a Sunday driving back home for a 3 seed versus 6 seed Summit League Tournament game isn’t the dream conversation.  Thanks a lot Summit League.

bracket

From the 4/5 game, the winner would likely go up against South Dakota State.  It would essentially be a home team for a  young South Dakota State team, who hasn’t really been tested.  Still, while young, they are a team who only has one game in the last week of the regular season, and was one of three teams in the Summit League to never play more than 2 consecutive away games in the conference, and also had week long rests heading into some of their biggest games.  Again, no conspiracy that the conference favors anyone here or tries to help them out a little bit the year after they lose one of the conference’s best players ever and 85% of their scoring.***

***Some Maverick sports fans may note the Frozen Four as their moment they really felt like UNO really had a sports community and felt like they were part of something when so many fans made the trip to Boston.  For me, it was sitting in the hotel lobby next to the Denny Sanford Premier Center with Maverick fans watching South Dakota State lose a historic game to the 8 seed Western Illinois.  We drank and cheered the shit out of a Western Illinois’ win.  After the game, we all gleefully marched into the arena as the Jackrabbit fans walked out with their tails between their legs. We talked smack, they had nothing to say.  The arena emptied.  We took over the lower bowl because the arena and Summit League staff stopped giving a shit about the tournament, but we cared.  My most memorable moment as a Maverick fan, so far.  Probably pretty sad it wasn’t an actual Omaha game, just watching a rival go down together, and that march into the arena.

After that tangent…anything can happen.  Seeding may not or may not matter, but this is the point the intensity level goes up.  There is more at stake for the JT, KJ, and the Mavericks.  These games matter, the momentum matters, you never know what’s going to happen this game or the next game.


The laziest Summit League predictions.

February 26th

Denver @ Fort Wayne

Fort Wayne is better.  I do think Denver has a brighter future, but for today Fort Wayne is better.

North Dakota @ Omaha on ESPN+

I closed my eyes, I’m biased, and I like Omaha more.


February 27th

Western Illinois @ Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts is better.

South Dakota State @ North Dakota State on ESPN+

The Jackrabbits may have won in Brookings, but North Dakota State is better.


February 29th

It’s Leap Day, anything can happen.

Western Illinois @ Denver

This game is a toss up.  Denver is probably better, and they’re at home.  Denver as the 8 seed, baby!  Billy Wright gone!  One more year of Billups!

North Dakota @ South Dakota

South Dakota is better, but maybe they rest some dudes after locking up the 3 seed?  It’s their senior day, so that’s doubtful.

Omaha @ North Dakota State on ESPN3

North Dakota is better.  Sigh.

Fort Wayne @ Oral Roberts on ESPN3

Oral Roberts is better, but come on Mastodons!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This game against the Leathernecks is an important one

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s Western Illinois, and the Mavericks have won 14 straight home games, so you’re expecting an Omaha win, but don’t underestimate how important this game is for the Mavericks.

In a preseason post, I pointed out how the Mavericks’ last 5 of 7 games are on the road, so being in 1st place in the conference at the end of this 4 game home stand is the most important thing to the Mavericks. Their lack of depth and loss at Denver, makes protecting home court even more important.

Every conference game is important, but given the Mavericks only regularly playing 8 players, a day off in the Summit League tournament is what they need*. After a loss at Denver, the Mavericks are going to need to play their best basketball against the Leathernecks to gain that confidence and momentum with these 4 home games to head into the end of the regular season.

*Most of the Summit League teams aren’t really deep, so the first 2 seeds are important to everyone. Teams in the 5th and 6th spots with 2 weeks to go in the regular season might want to consider intentionally losing games to drop to the 7 seed to get a day off.

Ayo Akinwole started off the season hot, but has cooled off and gone missing as KJ Robinson has been playing strong for the Mavericks.  In the last 4 games, Akinwole has averaged 2.3 points and shot 29% from the field.  Don’t blame Robinson on this. I don’t know why you would, unless you’re a psycho, but Akinwole isn’t getting by dudes like he was at the beginning of the season.

Zach Thornhill also went missing against the Pioneers not scoring at all.

Marlon Ruffin has turned into the perfect energy guy off the bench to lift the Mavericks when the team runs into a drought.  When the Mavericks hit a lull in the game, he’s capable of starting the run.  KJ Robinson has also been that guy, but you expected that since the start of the season when you didn’t see him in the starting lineup.

The Leathernecks give up the most points per game in the Summit League at 84 points per game, and have the worst defensive field goal percentage at 50%.  So this is the game for the Mavericks to regain composure and confidence after a 2 game losing streak.

However, Western Illinois does have experienced players on their roster. Coming into the season, they had the 4th most division one minutes returning to their team in the Summit League.  They currently have 4 guys averaging double figure scoring numbers, and all 4 are capable of knocking down big threes.  I mention this, because at most Mavericks games I find myself some kid from the opposing team shooting lights out on a career day and screaming: “WHY CAN’T HE MISS!”

If the Mavericks have one of their typical lulls in the game, and they allow the Leathernecks to get hot, things could get dicey for the Mavericks.  I’m imagining a world where Omaha drops consecutive games to Denver and Western Illinois, it’s bad. It’s as bad as the time Netflix recommended I watch “Ghost Rider” as a 97% match.

 

 

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