Photo: Senior Devin Patterson by Omaha.com
Root for the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks? Yes, it’s true, we are rooting for them to have a good run in the CBI (College Basketball Invitational). They start Wednesday evening in Pittsburgh against Duquesne.
When you watch the Mavs you are looking at what Denver hopes to be be in the future with Rodney Billups at the helm. They run an up-tempo offense. With 84.4 points per game, 5th in the nation, they play an entertaining, fast-paced game. But they play defense, too. They steal the ball an astounding 9.4 times per game, also 5th in the land. Like DU, they struggle at rebounding with a -1.5 differential per game but, still, nearly 100 teams better than DU in this category.
Their head coach Derrin Hanson is a players coach. He has a solid 179-151 record while guiding UNO from the Division II ranks to Division I. After #3 seed UNO lost to #6 seed Denver in the Summit League playoffs, 78-70, he pleaded publicly for a shot to get his team into another tournament. He wanted to give his team, particularly his seniors, a chance to go out the right way. No doubt, his plea put pressure on the UNO athletic administration to absorb the additional cost of participating in the CBI. It’s easy to respect that in a leader.
Their players are solid guys that play hard, entertaining basketball. UNO trigger man at guard, Devin Patterson, fuels UNO’s up-tempo offense and was one of the team leaders to help transition to the Division I . He is joined by seniors Jake White, Kyler Erickson, Randy Reed and Tim Smallwood. Star junior guard Tra-Deon Hollins leads the nation in steals with with 4.03 per game and is 24th nationally in assists (6.0 per game). They have been through the battles together and the CBI is the second chance they all wanted and deserve.
The Mavs were arguably the best team in the Summit league in the first half of the season. They played Minnesota, Missouri, and even Colorado to the wire in all three road games. Colorado’s Tad Boyle said the Mavs were the better team the night they played – CU was fortunate to defeat Omaha in Boulder. It’s extremely respectable to see a mid-major program willing to take on such a challenging road schedule.
And of course, as LetsGoDU has stated in the past, UNO is likely the Summit League’s best and most geographically logical rival for DU. With a widely respected AD Trev Alberts, UNO would likely be vying for for the Director’s Cup (best NCAA athletics program without football) and making numerous NCAA appearances without the Denver Pioneers in their way. This year alone, DU has knocked their teams out of the NCAA playoffs in men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s basketball, and men’s hockey teams – and still face deep DU men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams later this spring.
We may be seeing what DU will look like in the future with this year’s UNO basketball team. And yes, we wish them the best in their postseason run.