So there are 13 weeks until the Mavs basketball season starts, so what is a better time to start previewing their 2015 fourteen non-conference opponents? Probably last week actually if I wanted to take it one team at a time. Crap. Oh well. Here we go.
The Mavs will open their season at the brand new Baxter Arena in Mavtown with the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. Don’t you love it how nicknames of California teams (pro and college) make no sense? This will be after Mav hockey will already be 10 games into the season, but there will not be any hockey this weekend, so really it is a great weekend to open up the season for the Baxter Arena for basketball. UNO Men’s soccer should be in Denver this weekend for the Summit League tournament and championship, and hopefully the women’s soccer team will have made some noise at this point and maybe have already made the Summit League tournament. This will also be the final weekend of the regular season for the volleyball team.
I know some Mav fans were expecting a bit time opponent to open up the arena. Some were thinking the likes of Nebraska or Creighton, but the Gauchos are not a small opponent by any means. In fact, they actually finished the 2015-2016 season with an RPI of 98. If case you forgot: Creighton finished at 157; and Nebraska finished at 155, but I know it is more about the name and prestige for most. The Gauchos also finished the year with a winning record, tied for 2nd with UC Irvine in the Big West, and a trip to the CBI where they lost to Summit League team Oral Roberts.
In addition to all of this, Santa Barbara had one win over a power conference team, Washington State. I know Washington State is someone to not take incredibly seriously right now as far as power conference teams ago, but the Gauchos beat them 71-43.
Side note: My Northwest friends are mostly Washington State fans. Last year, when I heard UNO was going to Seattle and looking to play Washington or Washington State while in the Northwest, I told my Northwest friends that they might have a Mavericks versus Cougars match up. They laughed and said “there is an easy win for UNO.”
Speaking of Seattle, remember when UNO lost to them and we were incredibly shocked by it? The Gauchos beat Seattle 87-46. Looking at the rest of their 2014-2015 schedule, they had some close losses to some good teams. As mentioned, they lost to Oral Roberts by 4 in the CBI. The Gauchos also traveled to Lawrence early in the year to lose to Kansas by 10, the Jayhawks had a final RPI of 5. The team did also split games with Florida Gulf Coast, losing to Dunk City by 6 in overtime before beating them by 13 later in the non-conference schedule.
I really wish UNO and Colorado State could meet every year, the Rams are a fun team to watch, and they are “sort of local” with a large number of UNO alumni (and former Omahans) in the state of Colorado. Santa Barbara lost to the Rams by 2. Colorado State had a final RPI of 37.
Speaking of other teams I would like to see UNO play, but this is because of my wife’s fan hood, Santa Barbara lost to Oregon by 4 points in overtime in Eugene. Also, a team I hate discussing, SMU, beat Santa Barbara by 7. Larry Brown’s final experiment finished with an RPI of 27.
The Gauchos are coached by Bob Williams, who has been with Santa Barbara since 1998 after winning a Division 2 championship with (then D-2) UC Davis. Williams has made the NCAA tournament with the Gauchos 3 times, his last time was in 2010-2011.
Who did they lose?
The Gauchos lost a huge piece of their team. 6’8″ and 265lbs Alan Williams averaged a double double in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons for Santa Barbara. He was an All Big West player for all three of those seasons as well. He is actually probably solely responsible for what kept Santa Barbara in the game against Kansas, as he showed to be too much for Perry Ellis, in which Williams had 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
Williams averaged 17.3 ppg and 11.8 rpg his senior season, he also was not a terrible free throw shooter at 77%. He had a 20 rebound performance in a 65-60 overtime win over Mercer. Oh Williams also led the NCAA in rebounding in 2014 and in 2015.
Willaims did miss 6 games in 2014-2015 with the Gauchos going 4-2 in his absence, and those two losses were against UC Irvine and UC Davis, the two top teams in the Big West.
After finishing his career as a Gaucho, Williams played for the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Summer League, where he was named All Summer League 2nd team after a 22 points and 21 rebound performance against the 76ers. He has signed professionally with a Chinese team.
I feel like Mike Rostampour would have loved competing against this guy.
Who do they have coming back?
Williams is obviously a huge loss, but he was not the only Big West 1st Team player that the Gauchos had. 6’4″ senior Michael Bryson also made the all conference team after averaging 14 points and nearly 5 rebounds a game. Bryson loves taking threes, he made about 2 threes per game in 2014-2015 with a total of 68 on the year. In comparison, CJ Carter, who led the Mavericks, made 48 on the season. Bryson also shot 85% from the free throw line.
The Gauchos return two more wing players that averaged over 10 per game last season. 6’5″ senior John Green averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds per game, though Green was mostly used at the 4 position last season since, other than Williams, the Gauchos did not have much of a post game. The team also return 6’3″ sophomore Gabe Vincent who averaged 10 per game, but did face inconsistencies throughout the year, as most freshman do. Vincent shot 41% on threes on the year, and had a total of 57.
So you’re telling me there is a chance?
Probably the Mavericks biggest weakness last season was their perimeter defense, so you get a little scared when you hear they are facing a team with their strength being their group of returning wing players. The Gauchos will be trying to adjust to life without a walking double double, and after Williams, the Gauchos did not have a reliable post game.
So the keys to the game could be how much the Mavs can work the ball into Jake White and Tre’Shawn Thurman, as well as how good of a perimeter defender new Mavericks Tra-Deon Hollins can be in the game…who sounds to be a pretty stellar defender.
This is not going to be as easy of a game as playing Central Arkansas to open up the year, but to get better the Mavs have to play the best, this is great competition. As of right now, it does sound as if Santa Barbara has the edge, but hopefully opening up the new arena (to basketball) can create a great atmosphere to give the Mavs a great home court advantage in this game.