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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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.

 

 

 

 

Mavericks versus Montana State preview

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

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

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

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

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

However, there is this.

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I gotta say: that’s pretty harsh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montana State has won their last 3 home openers.

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

 

8 things to know about the Omaha Mavericks

  1. The Mavericks are only returning 43% of their scoring from last season.  That is tied with Oral Roberts for the lowest in the Summit League.  They should have the most to replace after Tre’Shawn Thurman transferring to Nevada, Marcus Tyus playing professional basketball in Europe, and Tra-Deon Hollins playing in the NBA G League.
  2. The Mavericks are one of two teams in the Summit League to feature a game on ESPN2 this season.
  3. For three weeks in a row, they will play a conference game at home on a Saturday night at 7pm.  January 6th versus South Dakota State, January 13th versus Fort Wayne, and January 20th versus South Dakota.  Creighton men’s basketball is away on all of those dates.  Just so you know.
  4. Mitch Hahn, who will be a starter this season, led Summit League bench players in three point field goals made last season.
  5. Their student section is nicknamed “The Bullpen” which really makes no sense for sports other than baseball and softball.
  6. Derrin Hansen is the longest tenured coach in the Summit League.
  7. They are ranked 1st in the Summit League in Most Bitter About Not Playing In-State D-1 Teams.
  8. THEY GET TO WITNESS MORE CURLING THAN YOU THIS SEASON

Meet future Mav Evan Tricker

I’m not one to get excited over highlight reels of athletes, but I love it whenever I see a highlight reel of a tall high school basketball player and it’s not just him dunking on kids at the YMCA a foot shorter than him.

Meet Evan Tricker, one of Omaha’s incoming freshman for the 2017-2018 season.  Tricker comes from the state of Florida, stands at 6’11” and will wear the number 33 to trick your mind into thinking the Mavericks just used the Create a Player option to replace Zach Pirog.

Tricker graduated high school in 2016 and played a season at a prep school.  He averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds a game in his post-graduate season.

He may be 6’11” but the kid weighs 185 lbs, so hopefully he can add some weight for the college level. Surprisingly, he has been listed as a power/small forward.  He has the height of a center, but has the ball handling skills of a wing player.  Watching the video, he can really run the floor and knock down jump shots with ease.  Looking at Tricker, he appears to have Pirog’s size with the skills of a John Karhoff.

With a relatively thin roster this season, Tricker could find some playing time this season but will still have to compete for minutes in the post with Daniel Meyer, Mitch Hahn, Tre’Sh(damn it), and other incoming post players.  With his jump shooting ability, you could see Tricker being used to spread out the floor and keep someone like Mike Daum out of the paint on defense.

Tyus versus Bradley: A match up we never expected

Thursday night will mark, probably, the last time that Marcus Tyus and Jalen Bradley face off against each other, a match up Maverick fans never expected to see.

Seeing Marcus Bradley and Jalen Bradley in Omaha gear for the first time gave me a mix of emotions.

The first time I saw Tyus in person, he was coming off the bench to play a Western Illinois squad in the Ralston Arena.  He came into the game, and it appeared as if someone replaced the muscle in his arms with paper mache.  He didn’t scored any points and had only had 1 rebound, and I just found myself wondering why the hell the Mavericks were not redshirting this kid for his own benefit, and for the benefit of the program having him another year when they officially had a chance at making the post season.  The Mavs decision to not redshirt Tyus was apparently made the day before the 2012-2013 season started.

I questioned what this skinny guy from Minnesota could do.  I remember searching the ends of the internet to find any information I could on this freshman, and there was nothing.  This was a time, where it was easy to question why a kid would want to come play basketball at a school transitioning to division one.  There was nothing out there, almost as if he never existed.

That same season, we saw another freshman of that recruiting class, Jalen Bradley, sitting at the end of the bench who was redshirting.  As a fellow Nebraskan, it was easy to know where to go to get the details on Bradley.  It was known that he was a great shooter, and probably needed to work on his defense and point guard skills.  The fans that showed up to games in 2012-2013 could watch Bradley come out before the beginning of warm ups, and watch him drain half court shots as easy as free throws.

Omaha was the only school to give Bradley a division one offer at the time, and I’m not sure how much stock you want to put in Omaha’s division one status at the time.  As far as I can tell, Omaha was also the only division one offer for Marcus Tyus.

The question I had back then was: why are the Mavericks redshirting this one kid who appears to have the exact same positives and negatives of this other kid?

This may sound as if I was resentful toward Tyus over Bradley as a freshman.  I was not.  Both players were part of maybe UNO’s best recruiting class, but perhaps the 2015 recruiting class will prove to be a bigger asset to the program.  With the Mavericks coming closer to post season eligibility with each passing season, it was understandable that the recruiting would improve year-after-year.

With the recruiting continuing to improve, I never imagined either Tyus or Bradley to become starters for the Mavericks.  I was always under the impression that they would have been the high energy and highly efficient guys first off the bench when the transition period was over.

The first impression of Tyus wasn’t great, but after time you could see there was a spark to his game.  At first, he may have seemed as just a shooter.  There was an efficiency to his game, something that many Mavericks at the division one level had not had.

He handles the ball with ease, and moves around screens into open shots or open lanes to get wherever he wants on the basketball court.  Tyus even rarely makes a pass that has you wondering what he could have possibly been thinking in that scenario, unlike many other stars that have come through the Maverick program.

In Tyus’ sophomore season, he saw a slight increase of minutes in the line up due to injuries to senior Justin Simmons.  At the time, it became maybe questionable as to why Tyus was getting the start over senior Alex Phillips.  Tyus’ efficiency on the offensive end could have been the deciding factor as to why he got the starting job.

From his freshman to his sophomore season, Tyus’ points per game average increased by 3.4 points per game, and his minutes only increased by 1.5 minutes per game.

While Tyus was seeing success, Jalen Bradley was struggling to see the court as a Maverick. Bradley only played 9 minutes per game as a freshman, which were mostly garbage time minutes, and his lone season as a Maverick was cut short due to an injury.  Still, when Bradley saw the court, he was never timid to score.  He averaged nearly 5 points per game in his limited time, shot 50 percent from the field, and 40 percent on threes.

With the addition of Devin Patterson, I’m sure Bradley felt he may never see the court with the Mavericks, and that maybe there was no role for him in Omaha.

Bradley’s transfer for more playing time was understandable, but when Tyus went down with an injury toward the end of 2014-2015, Bradley’s presence on the basketball court would have been much appreciated.

With the loss of Tyus, and having no Bradley, the Mavericks were left without an efficient guard who could knock down threes with ease.  Can you imagine Omaha with Jalen Bradley on the court in 2015-2016 without Marcus Tyus?  The Mavericks would have had a knock down shooter.  He would of had the bigger role he was seeking.

Even without an injury to Tyus, Bradley would’ve eventually found a role with the Mavericks by his junior season.  Both the Omaha and Oral Roberts coaching staffs have given him a high amount of praise for how hard of a worker he is in the gym and in the weight room.  He may have had even the same role at Omaha as he currently does at Oral Roberts, but obviously the cast of Omaha could be different at this point had he stayed.

But Bradley did leave, he averaged over 17 points per game in junior college, and picked up interest that led him to being a Golden Eagle, so we’ll never know what could have been.

I am not sure if there are any ill feelings from Bradley toward Tyus for being part of the reason he didn’t get a lot of playing time in Omaha, but in their first meeting as opponents, Bradley helped the Golden Eagles cruise to a victory and had 24 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and only had 1 turnover while Tyus dealt with foul problems and only had 10 points.

According to the commentators, Bradley had his parents in attendance in Tulsa…and also according to them, you always play better in front of your family.  Bradley will surely have his Nebraskan family seeing him in Omaha Thursday night, and they will definitely show up to see the senior play in Vermillion, where his sister also plays basketball.

Back in 2012, we never envisioned a day that we would see Bradley and Tyus going up against each other.  As Mav fans, this might be awkward for us.  Rooting on Tyus to defend Bradley well, but still kind of okay with Bradley having a good game.

 

 

 

My trivial Summit League rankings – Nov 16

1. Fort Wayne

A road loss to Arkansas should not raise any concern to Fort Wayne fans.  I hope no one is getting too crazy about Fort Wayne beating Division 3 Kenyon 117-60.

The biggest issue with the ‘Dons last year was their lack of depth.  They were able to play 9 players at least 10 minutes in the loss, and 8 of those guys scored.

Sophomore guard John Konchar had 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists in Fayetteville.  This may be the guy better than Mike Daum.

2. North Dakota State

2-0 is a good start, duh, but the schedule may be the weakest out of all Summit League teams so far.  The lack of a post game could hurt the Bison down the road.  The Bison had 6 blocks against Arkansas State, who only had two players in their rotation that are taller than 6’6″.

3. South Dakota

It seemed like there were two ways for South Dakota.  Either somewhat okay, or really bad.  Starting off 2-0 is better than somewhat okay.  The Coyotes did beat a Missouri Valley team and  MAC team, but neither of them have been overly competitive in recent years…still, they won two games that could have been considered toss up games.

The newcomers on this team are improvements over what the Coyotes lost…which was just about everything.  If the Coyotes can get everyone on the same page, they may end up being far more competitive in the Summit than people thought.

Guy to watch:  Trey Burch-Manning.  He averages a 1 double-double per game right now.

4. Omaha

With a difficult schedule so far, the Mavericks could have just worn themselves out with 3 games in 4 days.  They should hopefully get some much needed rest before the fast paced Rice comes to Baxter Arena.

The improvement of Zach Jackson has been a nice lift for the Mavericks.  If Jackson can be a regular 10 point and 6 rebound guy, the Mavericks could compete with Fort Wayne this season.

5. South Dakota State

A tough schedule with two road games at Cal and UC Irvine shouldn’t have the faithful Jackrabbit fans mapping out the tallest buildings in Brookings.  The Jackrabbits shooting 29 percent over two games as a team should be a cause for concern, especially with their two biggest shot takers, Reed Tellinghuisen and Mike Daum, both shooting 32 percent from the field.

Another contributor who was expected to be an impact player went 0-for-10 in the Jacks’ two games.  There is still time to fix this, but the Jackrabbits have two more games on the road this weekend against Wyoming (2-0) and Idaho (1-0).

6. IUPUI

The Jaguars did have a tough schedule with two road games against Eastern Kentucky and Michigan, but Eastern Kentucky is a young team this season.  The Jaguars were competitive in the Summit League last year, partially, because of their scrappy defense, but they may not have that edge this season.

The Jaguars have showed little interest in caring about getting home games in the non-conference schedule, which makes sense when they can barely get 1,000 people to their home games.  The Jaguars have a home game against Howard on Friday, and then 6 straight road games.  They may only win three non-conference games.

7. Western Illinois

Some of their guys looked good against a NCCAA team.

8. Denver

The Pioneers are in the middle of changing their program’s culture.  Rodney Billups has some of the right pieces to transition into his new run-and-gun offense, but this team will have to learn to play a face paced defense.  They let Jacksonville score 92 points in Denver.

Billups did claim before the beginning of the year that Daniel Amigo could have a break out year this season, and he did have 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists against Jacksonville.

9. Oral Roberts

A 15 point loss to a Big 12 team and an 11 point win against a D2 team sounds weird.  Get ready for the most inconsistent team in the Summit League.