Written by Andrew Nelson
Early last week, the UNO Men’s basketball team received news that they would be hosting a first round game in the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament, their first Division-I postseason tournament in school history. The Mavs are also the first team still in the transition phase to NCAA Division-I to ever make the CIT tournament in its six year history.
“This tournament validates that we’ve made the right strides in the transition to get where we want to go, which is to ultimately play for an NCAA Tournament bid,” Derrin Hansen said.
To qualify for the CIT, a team must be a Mid-Major program not invited to the NCAA or NIT tournaments and have an above .500 record. With the Mavs unable to be invited to the NCAA or NIT tournament, the CIT was one of the few postseason opportunities that would give them the nod.
The CIT is a 32-team bracket that uses the old NIT Model, which means future round games are determined by results from the previous round. All 31 games are played at campus sites and with the old NIT model used the first round games and rounds after that will be determined by geographic distance to lessen travel and class time missed for the student athletes participating.
The CIT is a postseason tournament that is devoted exclusively to deserving Mid-Major men’s basketball programs. The tournament has featured several non-BCS schools that have after going to the CIT, later went on to the NCAA Tournament within the following four seasons. Eight of the conference champions that have already punched their NCAA Tournament tickets so far this season have all played in the CIT within the last four seasons. Creighton even made a CIT appearance in 2010. There have also been fourteen teams so far that have gotten their very first Division-I postseason wins in the CIT.
The tournament has even featured a couple current NBA stars on the rise in the Blazer’s Damian Lillard who played for Weber State in the 2012 CIT, and the Rocket’s Jeremy Lin for Harvard in the 2010 tournament. This tournament has contained a few record breaking games as well. The longest game winning shot in NCAA history happened in the first round of the 2009 CIT by Bradley’s Chris Roberts 75-foot game winner. The largest comeback in NCAA postseason history was Fairfield’s 27 point comeback in the second half against George Mason in the first round of the 2010 CIT.
The CIT is a special tournament that features some of the country’s best up and coming men’s basketball programs as well as a few stars sprinkled throughout. It’s a tournament that gives Mid-Major basketball programs many opportunities for some program firsts and chances to grow and promote their programs.
With March Madness less than a week away and Omaha already in the middle of a playoff buzz, UNO’s first round game this week should have an atmosphere never seen before at Ralston Arena. Sophomore Marcus Tyus is about to compete in his first of hopefully many more postseason visits with the Mavs. Tyus had this to say about playing in the upcoming tournament game compared to the regular season.
“We expect it to be more competitive because it’s a postseason game. We expect them to come out hard, and we’re going to come out hard too,” Tyus said.
“It’s the postseason. Nobody wants to be one and done, so we’re expecting it to be a fist fight no matter who we play”, senior Justin Simmons said Friday after practice.
Simmons, along with a lot of his teammates have little to no postseason experience at all.
“I’ve been through high school and junior college and never have played in the postseason, so this is pretty big for me.”
The senior from Milwaukee, Wis. will surely be fired up come the tournament’s first round game.
The coaching staff however has postseason experience either coaching, playing or both which should benefit the Mavs heading into their postseason appearance at the Division-I level.
“I think that experience helps with preparation because we know how to prepare a team for March”.
Coach Hansen then went on to say, “We want to make sure we keep the team fresh, keep them focused and make sure they get thier rest, so it’s different coaching into March than it is any other month”.
None of that experience though is at the Division-I level besides assistant coach Pat Eberharts experience as an assistant at Colorado State during their 2003 conference championship and first round NCAA tournament game against Duke.
“I think it is all about the same with the preparation and the rest, but Coach Eberhart’s Division-I experience definitely helps”.
This week’s game at Ralston Arena gives Omaha a chance to come out and see a Division-I postseason game and really feel the March Madness atmosphere. However, something that has been lacking most of the year for the Mavs is the student section.
“We want to see our student section grow. We want to see a bigger student section in the next few years for sure,” said Marcus Tyus.
Tyus’s statement would be agreed on by many students and fans that have been to a home game this season.
“I hope the turnout is good. I mean there isn’t anything else going on no state playoff games going on, NCAA tournament games besides the play-in games are not until later that week so hopefully Omaha is excited about the state’s third Division-I team playing in the postseason right here in town.”
Coach Derrin Hansen anticipates a good crowd for next week’s game, and there is no reason the crowd shouldn’t be large next week at Ralston Arena. What better way to spend a Tuesday or Wednesday night in Omaha than watching some tournament basketball featuring the hometown team.
The atmosphere is going to be unlike anything seen at a Maverick home game in awhile and the competition is going to be top notch for two up-and-coming Mid-Major squads. So if one is in the Omaha area this week and doesn’t have any plans Wednesday night, make sure to come out and support the Mavs in this historic game.
The Mavs will face North Dakota University on wednesday night at Ralston Arena. North Dakota is 17-16 on the season. The two squads met last year and the Mavs won 83-75.