To this point in UNO's short stay in the Summit League, one team has been playing at a different level.
The Mavericks get their next look at that team Thursday, in a 7 p.m. game at North Dakota State.
“We've had about one half in the last three years where we've actually played well against them,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “I'm looking forward to see how we compete against them on the road, in a difficult environment against another very good team.”
North Dakota State hammered UNO's first Division I team 98-65 in 2011-12. Last year the Mavs lost to the Bison 95-51 in Fargo and 84-57 at the Ralston Arena.
In the Summit League — 14th among 32 Division I conferences — North Dakota State sends out a team with few apparent weaknesses. Just ask Notre Dame, which lost at home to the Bison 73-69 on Dec 11.
North Dakota State, playing a schedule ranked 71st, is ranked No. 44 according to RealTimeRPI.com, and No. 89 by KenPom.com.
Besides Notre Dame, the 12-5 Bison also have top 150 wins over Delaware, Western Michigan and Rider, while Santa Clara, Towson and Bryant are in the top 175. NDSU's losses have been to Ohio State (No. 15 RPI), Southern Mississippi (40), Saint Mary's (54), Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne (146) and North Dakota (286).
The IPFW loss was on the road last Thursday in the Summit League opener, while the North Dakota defeat — while a head-scratcher — was on the road against an old rival.
The Bison boast the league's preseason player of the year in Taylor Braun, a versatile 6-foot-7 wing. And 6-8 center Marshall Bjorklund, who leads the country in field goal percentage (.671), trails three very familiar names in NCAA history for career field goal percentage — Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Hakeem Olajuwon.
“You have to pick your poison against them,” Hansen said. “I've seen teams try a lot of things. Do you run at (double-team) the big guy and give good shooters looks at the (3-point) arc, or do you stay home and leave the leading field-goal shooter in the country one-on-one in the post? We'll have to pick something, see if we can get them to miss a few, and then rebound it.”
The Bison trail only UNO among Summit League teams in scoring (79.7), while ranking among the national top 30 in field goal percentage.
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“I'm looking forward to see how we fight and compete,” Hansen said. “Hopefully we can get it to a five- or six-minute game.”
UNO had the type of game last weekend at Western Illinois, leading by 12 points with 9 ½ minutes to go in regulation, by eight with 4 ½ minutes left, and by four in the final minute. But the Mavs couldn't hold on and wound up losing their Summit League opener in overtime.
“We've responded to that disappointment well,” said Hansen, whose team is ranked 109th in RealTimeRPI and 121st by KenPom. “We didn't execute great the last four to five minutes, but I don't want to overreact.”
Besides heading off to North Dakota State, the Mavs play Saturday at South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are the defending league champions. Not only is UNO the only Summit team to open with three straight on the road, those first three league games are against the teams that finished first and tied for second last year.
“We're looking at arguably the toughest road swing in the league with these two games,” Hansen said. “We want to play well and give ourselves a puncher's chance to steal one or two. The schedule didn't do us any favors, but we have to make sure we understand that the homes and the aways are going to even out.”