The fastest-playing basketball team in the country last season was right here in Omaha.
That would be the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
While Creighton's NCAA tournament team was one of the country's most efficient offensive units, UNO operated at a pace that could at times make opponents plenty uncomfortable.
“It's not by design, but we do give our guys a lot of freedom within certain parameters,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “I'd like to think we've established that style a little bit. We probably do shoot it a little quicker than others, but we also didn't have the size to grind it out. So we played more possessions to see if we could get some of the bigger teams sped up a bit.”
UNO's national-high numbers came in adjusted tempo, the statistical website kenpom.com's estimate of the possessions per 40 minutes a team would have against a team that wants to play at an average Division I tempo. The Mavericks' adjusted tempo was 72.8 (possessions per 40 minutes). For comparison, North Carolina was 15th at 70.6, UCLA was 30th at 69.5 and Memphis was 31st at 69.4.
“I didn't know we were playing that fast,” said junior guard CJ Carter, one of the Mavs' high-flying and fast-moving contributors. “But that's exciting to know. We came here to play up-and-down basketball.”
Another statistical analysis, on teamrankings.com, shows that UNO was 28th last year with 72.3 possessions per game and has been, over three years, tied for second with an average of 76.8 possessions per game.
Playing twice per year against grind-it-out Summit League teams like Western Illinois and North Dakota State cuts into UNO's total number of possessions, thus the adjusted tempo calculation.
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Summit newcomer Denver runs a clock-consuming Princeton offense and replaces up-tempo Oakland this year — Western Illinois and Denver had the two lowest adjusted tempo and possessions per game figures in Division I last season — so UNO's total possession average may go down in 2013-14.
The Mavs' season-opening foe, Northern Illinois — a 7 p.m. Friday road game — also has been a pace-controlling team.
But the Mavs will still try to push the pace when appropriate, with speedy junior college transfer Devin Patterson injected into the playing mix.
“We have the athletes to do it,” senior point guard Caleb Steffensmeier said. “We've brought in Devin Patterson, who's one of the quickest players I've ever played against.
“We're playing to our strengths — our athleticism and our quickness.”
The Mavs frequently played last season with four players 6-foot-3 or smaller on the floor — a group that included some combination of the ultra-athletic Justin Simmons (6-3), leading a band that includes Carter (6-0), Alex Phillips (6-3), Steffensmeier (6-1) and Marcus Tyus (6-2).
The since-departed Alex Welhouse started as the power forward — a “stretch 4” at 6-7 — alongside 6-8 John Karhoff. While Karhoff returns, his up-front running mate could be Mike Rostampour, a more traditional 6-8 power forward.
Hansen has big bodies on the bench, too, in Matt Hagerbaumer and Simon Krych.
Over time, the Mavs may be able to pick their spots and maybe not be quite as itchy to shoot it.
“We're going to go in and try to have the same identity,” Hansen said. “But all teams evolve. No team stays the same. We'll evolve a little through our first 10 games and then we'll start to understand who we are as we get into conference play. Depth, how guys adapt, possible injuries ... a lot of things can happen during a season.”
UNO may not adjust its tempo, but it would like to improve its adjusted offense and adjusted defense — the number of points per 100 possessions scored and allowed. UNO ranked 169th (100.8 points scored per 100 possessions) in adjusted offense, but was 344th of 347 (116.2 points allowed per 100) in those categories, according to kenpom.com.
UNO was also 344th in rebound margin at minus-7.6 per game — though getting outrebounded by seven in a 75-possession game isn't as glaring as getting outrebounded by seven in a 55-possession game.
“Maybe,” Hansen said. “But we've got to be better defensively, and we've got to rebound better.”
» Forward Jake White, who has to sit out this year anyway after transferring from Wichita State, recently tore an anterior cruciate (knee) ligament and will soon have surgery. “He was great to have in practice and he was really coming on, too,” Hansen said. “He was starting to understand how we do things, getting a feel for his teammates and for our offense and defense. But he's a mature kid and he's taking it well and doing well.”
» Hansen said he still hasn't determined a starting lineup beyond Simmons, Karhoff and Carter. Tyus will likely come off the bench as he did last year.
» Hansen said no decision has been made yet on whether to have 6-7 freshman forward Rylan Murry redshirt.