A four-game losing streak hasn’t necessarily put UNO’s postseason hopes on hold, but it definitely hasn’t helped.
After a strong start to the season, it appears the Mavericks still have some work to do to reach postseason play for the first time since beginning the transition to Division I for the 2011-12 season.
The Mavs (15-13) wrap up their regular season with games at Ralston Arena on Thursday against IUPUI and Saturday against IPFW.
“This weekend will affect it,” said Josh White, the UNO senior associate athletic director who oversees basketball. “We may not have to go 2-0, but if we go 2-0 our case becomes a lot stronger. I think there’s still a chance if we go 1-1. I don’t know what the chances are if we go 0-2 and finish 15-15.”
As a transitioning team, UNO is still ineligible to play in either the 68-team NCAA tournament or the 32-team National Invitation Tournament. But the Mavs are able to play in either the 16-team College Basketball Invitational (CBI) or the 32-team College Insider.com Tournament (CIT). There is no apparent pecking order between the CBI and CIT, though last year’s CBI field included Purdue and Texas and a more established list of mid-majors than did the CIT.
White said both tournaments have been in touch with UNO.
“It seems like we’re under consideration more for the CIT, based on the interest they’ve shown,” he said. “It would be exciting for us to get into one of these tournaments, especially to honor the seniors who have helped build our program the last couple of years.”
White said tournament organizers related that a number of factors are considered, including a record of .500 or better.
“They look at RPI, how you’re trending, and your willingness to host a game,” he said. “Pending the availability of the Ralston Arena, we’d be interested in hosting one if we could.”
White said schools are required to pay a guarantee in order to host a game, but that guarantee wouldn’t necessarily make the game a money loser. He declined to reveal the guarantee required.
He said UNO also has other factors in its favor as a potential postseason team.
“We talk about our style of play, that we play an exciting brand of basketball,” he said. “And it’s a good story — we’re a transitioning school and we had a very good nonconference season when we took some of the big boys (Iowa, UNLV and Minnesota) down to the wire. I don’t know if geography matters, but I imagine that being in a metropolitan area would help us, because it’s easier to get teams in and out of here.”
Last season, East Carolina beat Weber State in the CIT championship game, while Evansville and Northern Iowa were the other semifinalists. Oakland, which finished fourth in the Summit last year, was among the teams in the field. The CBI has its two finalists play of best-of-3 series, which Santa Clara won last year against George Mason. Western Illinois, which tied for the Summit title, played in the CBI, and so did North Dakota State, which finished third.
Agreements could be reached before conference tournaments conclude and before the NCAA tournament field is set, White said.
The Mavs’ losing streak has dropped them to sixth in the Summit at 4-8. Their RPI has tumbled to 187, according to ESPN.com. There are 29 teams with better RPIs than UNO that have losing records against Division I teams, theoretically putting the Mavericks 158th among the teams competing for 148 postseason berths. Many of those teams are capable of getting over .500 and could also have non-Division I wins that would count in their favor. And while some of those teams may not elect to play in the postseason, last year both Purdue and Texas entered the CBI with sub-.500 records.
UNO coach Derrin Hansen talked postseason with his players last week, presenting them with the overall possibility. He said the Mavs will narrow their aim for this weekend.
“We’re just going to focus on Thursday first,” he said. “After that we’ll focus on Saturday. And then we’ll go from there.”
First up for UNO is IUPUI (6-23 overall, 1-11 Summit), which may look like a pushover on paper but recently knocked off Denver to snap a 23-game losing streak against league opponents. Also in their last five games, the Jaguars have played close on the road against league leader North Dakota State and against South Dakota.
Earlier in the season IUPUI lost by a combined five points to West Virginia (by three, on a shot from just inside midcourt at the buzzer) and Northwestern (on a basket with 2.3 seconds left).
The Jaguars played five games without scoring leader Ian Chiles (hand injury), but the junior guard returned in Saturday’s loss to IPFW and played 20 minutes.
“They have quality athletes they can put on the floor,” Hansen said. “They’ve struggled in bits and pieces. And we played as well against them (a 99-71 win on Feb. 1) as we’ve played at their place. I’m hoping for a repeat performance, but that’s hard to count on.”