As March Madness raged on during its first weekend no one got to see Omaha play. It just didn’t seem right – but maybe that’s a sign of what the team accomplished this season.
Omaha’s only chance at making their first NCAA tournament was through the Summit League Championship. UNO fans felt optimistic about their chances, even as the Mavs trailed behind North Dakota State in the final. After all, UNO had made multiple last-second shots for wins and multiple comebacks from double-digit deficits during the regular season. The team had just claimed victory against Purdue Fort Wayne in a thriller the night before. UNO was 2-0 against North Dakota State on the season. As a bonus, the number one seed (South Dakota State) had been upset in the first round. Omaha was the highest seed remaining and the Mavs were the favorite to win.
With that kind of resume – and that kind of mentality – it just seemed assured that this was the year Omaha would break through. Some even said they couldn’t lose.
Of course, in college basketball nothing is assured. Omaha played its best game against North Dakota State – but it’s difficult to beat a team three times out of three games in any sport. The fan base left the Denny Sanford Premier Arena that Tuesday night dejected, but with an inkling of gratitude for a well-played season.
What if that feeling is a good sign – even if there is no tournament appearance to go with it?
Omaha basketball established themselves with a record-setting season in 2019. Coach Derrin Hansen came away with the Summit League Coach of the Year honor and players Zach Jackson and Mitch Hahn joined him with first-team All-Summit League honors. Jackson and Hansen were given NABC All-District 12 honors (first-team and Coach of the Year honors). Attendance had never been better, highlighted by a classic Feb. 14 game against South Dakota State that drew a record crowd of 4,228.
While Jackson and Hahn will leave in the spring, the team retains key talent. Matt Pile (known to fans more usually as MATT PILE!!!) will remain in the post. JT Gibson and KJ Robinson will remain as well, meaning Omaha will retain three starters.
All of that is to say this: Omaha established themselves this season and Omaha is not going anywhere.
Fans thought this was UNO’s chance. The university had moved to Division I just for this moment. While fate may have decided that 2019 was too soon, fate also decided to give the Mavs a deep lineup, a prestigious coach and an enthusiasm unparalleled in the team’s history.
That’s why fans thought it was destined to happen. This was not the year. But the time is coming – and soon.