There's a little something unusual and a little something familiar for the UNO men's basketball program.
The Mavericks received their BracketBusters matchup on Monday and found out they'll play North Dakota in a 1 p.m. game Feb. 23 at the Ralston Arena.
UNO coach Derrin Hansen said his team, in its second year in Division I and its first as a member of the Summit League, is looking forward to its first BracketBusters experience.
And in North Dakota, UNO plays a traditional rival as well as a team it faced in a preseason scrimmage. The teams met halfway and played one another in Sioux Falls, S.D., prior to the season.
“I hope we've gotten better since then,” Hansen said. “But I'm sure they're better, too.”
UNO is 8-17 overall but has turned a corner since a 1-5 start in Summit League play and is now 5-7 in conference games to stand in fifth place.
North Dakota is 9-12 overall and 6-6 for fifth place in the Big Sky Conference. It is North Dakota's first year in the Big Sky.
North Dakota and UNO used to meet regularly as former North Central Conference rivals, with North Dakota leading the all-time series 45-32.
The teams haven't faced one another since March 9, 2008, when UNO won the North Central Conference tournament championship game 75-68.
“I think playing a team with some name recognition locally like North Dakota brings some appeal to it,” Hansen said.
While many coaches have come to lament the timing of the BracketBusters, which disrupts the normal conference schedule routine, Hansen has no such qualms.
UNO had no conference schedule last year. And UNO plays Chicago State in a non-conference home game four days before North Dakota comes to town.
“It's all new to us, and I think it will be good for us,” Hansen said.
North Dakota coach Brian Jones is a former UNO assistant — he shared an office with Hansen for a couple of months after Hansen joined Kevin Lehman's Maverick staff before Jones took a position at Missouri State in 1998.
UNO assistant coach Randall Herbst was a long-time North Dakota assistant.
North Dakota and UNO have played several common opponents this season. Both lost to South Dakota State (UNO by 15, North Dakota by 1) and North Dakota State (UNO by 44, North Dakota by 20). UNO swept a two-game series with Missouri-Kansas City, while North Dakota lost to the Kangaroos by three.
In the realtimerpi.com rankings through Monday afternoon, UNO was No. 302 while North Dakota was No. 279.
Though the BracketBusters series is set to be discontinued, UNO will still be obligated to play at North Dakota in a return game in either 2013-14 or 2014-15.
Troy Huff, a 6-foot-5 junior, leads North Dakota in scoring at 18.1 points per game, while 5-10 junior Aaron Anderson adds 13.8 and 6-1 junior Jamal Webb 9.4. Webb is 16th in the country in steals at 2.4 per game. Huff leads the Big Sky in scoring.
North Dakota shoots just 41.4 percent from the field, but connects at 34.2 percent from 3-point range.
North Dakota, which successfully completed its transition and achieved full Division I status starting this season, went 17-15 last year and 19-15 in 2010-11. It has won the past two Great West Conference postseason tournaments and played each year in the Collegeinsider.com Tournament, losing at Drake and at Air Force in close games.
The Great West winner doesn't receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and as a transitioning program, North Dakota wasn't eligible for the NCAA or NIT tournaments before this season.
“They've been in a Division I postseason tournament two years in a row, and that's something that in the next few years we'd like to get to,” Hansen said. “So this will be another good measuring stick for us.”
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