UNO will reach the end of its seven-games-in-15-days start to the season this weekend with the final two games of what is known as the Nebraska Classic — the four-game tournament that concludes with games in Valparaiso, Ind.
And while the Mavericks’ skid reached four games in a 75-62 setback Sunday at Nebraska, there’s no sense of doom and gloom around the program.
“There are things we can build upon,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “I’m not judging our basketball team on how we do playing BCS conference schools on the road. I want to improve in those games, not get our heads down in those games and come out the better for it. Then the last 10 weeks of the season let’s see where we stand.”
This weekend’s games, though not against BCS conference schools, are no walks in the park for the 1-4 Mavs.
They play Bethune-Cookman (1-3) in a 4:30 p.m. game Friday at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The Wildcats reached the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament last season, where they lost to Norfolk State by three points — just a few days before Norfolk State became the darlings of the NCAA tournament by upsetting Missouri in Omaha.
Two starters — 6-5 former Nebraska player Adrien Coleman and 5-9 guard Kevin Dukes — are back for a team that went 17-15 overall and finished fourth in the MEAC. Alex Smith adds 6.5 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Wildcats, picked sixth in the league this year.
Coleman, averaging 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds, was ruled academically ineligible after committing to Alabama-Birmingham out of high school, joined Nebraska and played in six games in 2009-10 before leaving, then resurfaced last year at Bethune-Cookman.
“Dukes is really talented, Coleman is a tough matchup who can drive it and shoot it, and Smith is a good duck-in, low-post guy who also gets a lot from what the guards create,” Hansen said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of keeping guys in front of us and containing the dribble to slow down their effectiveness.”
The other half of the tournament bracket matches 1-3 Chicago State against 3-1 Valparaiso. Chicago State was 4-26 last season, while Valparaiso is one of the co-favorites in the Horizon League.
Saturday’s games, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., match Friday’s losers in the early game and the winners in the late game.
Valparaiso has beaten Northern Illinois 69-46 (UNO beat the Huskies 77-64), and lost 50-48 to Nebraska before beating Kent State 88-83 in overtime.
Continuing score comparisons, Kent State — after losing in overtime to Valpo — beat Bethune-Cookman 69-68 on a basket with 1.3 seconds left. Bethune-Cookman has also lost by just 65-55 to a Tulane team that beat UNO 76-52.
So getting one win out of the weekend — possibly Saturday against Chicago State — appears on paper to be a best-case scenario for UNO. Knocking off Bethune-Cookman would likely lead to another road game against a solid team in Valparaiso.
Hansen is encouraged by the Mavs’ effort level against Nebraska as well as their ability to transfer the scouting report onto the court.
Now, with the size of the players a little more equal in upcoming matchups, he’d like more.
“Because of who we’ve played lately, we haven’t won many 50-50 battles,” Hansen said. “Loose balls, long rebounds, diving on the floor — those kinds of things. Yes, we want to guard well and take things away from them, and be more efficient offensively, but when it comes down to the toughness things, the 50-50 battles, we want to win more than we’ve been winning.”
» MAVS NOTES: Hansen said center John Karhoff and point guard CJ Carter have missed practice time this week because of illness. “Hopefully it’s contained,” Hansen said. “Luckily they’re Omaha kids so we sent them home so they wouldn’t give it to their roommates.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/RWhiteOWH