Men’s basketball schedule raises expectations, bus mileage

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Photo by Omaha Athletics

Kenneth Pancake
CONTRIBUTOR

After a season that has been described as both “terrific” and “heartbreaking,” the UNO men’s basketball team looks to get back to work by pitting themselves against top-tier opponents like Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisville.

Long-time head coach Derrin Hansen announced the release of the schedule on Aug. 3. The season will begin with seven games on the road, and will include 18 road contests.

“We will need a road warrior mentality early in our schedule to face hostile environments in the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12,” coach Hansen said in his announcement.

The Mavericks’ schedule includes trips to Oklahoma, TCU and Washington. It also includes an away matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks, a team that made the elite eight in last year’s March Madness tournament.

The Mavericks are coming off one of their best seasons yet, after having fought all the way to the Summit League Championship game. The game ended in heartbreak when Tra-Deon Hollins missed what would have been the winning shot in the final seconds against South Dakota State. Omaha would finish third in the conference with an 18-14 record overall.

The Mavs are left without several of their top players from last year’s campaign. Tra-Deon

Hollins, a two-time defensive player of the year in the Summit League, and Marcus Tyus, the team’s lead scorer at 17.1 points per game, have both graduated. In addition, rising senior Tre’Shawn Thurman transferred to Nevada last spring. Thurman averaged 7.8 rebounds per game last season and had been widely considered as the leader for the team going forward.

Remaining on the squad is Mitch Hahn, a junior forward who led all team members in free throw percentage last year. He also scored the second most 3-pointers, behind Marcus Tyus. Zach Jackson, also a junior, looks to add onto last year’s impressive 3-point shooting percentage that led all teammates with more than ten attempts.

The team will not only face top-25 opponents in the non-conference schedule, but will have to face stiff opposition in Summit League play, such as defending Summit League Champions, South Dakota State. Mike Daum, a returning junior at SDSU (and last year’s Summit League Player of the Year) came off a record year, scoring 25.1 points per game on average. The Jackrabbits lost their only march madness matchup last spring against the eventual final four competitor Gonzaga.

Other teams of note in the Summit League include regular-season Summit Champions South Dakota, who finished the season with a 22-12 overall record. IU-PUI departs the Summit League for the Horizon League, leaving the Summit with eight teams until the 2018-19 season, when 2017 march madness competitor North Dakota joins Fort Wayne returns after a season in which they defeated then-ranked #3 Indiana. Oral Roberts, finishing 8-22 overall last season, will be led by new first-year coach Paul Mills.

Highly-anticipated home games this year include local NAIA competitor, Doane College, and a championship game rematch against South Dakota State on Jan. 6.

“We lost good guys and I get that, but I like our foundation,” stated Hansen in an interview with midmajormadness.com. That foundation will have to hold up against a tremendously difficult road schedule.

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