Nebraksa-Omaha is an actual real Division I team and not some NAIA squad or something, and the Mavericks have had some success this year with a record of 8-3 including a win over Nevada (who is actually terrible this year but the name probably still means a little bit). Their three losses were all road games and they were in each one, losing by 8 to both Iowa and Drake and by 3 to UNLV. This tells me this team has a chance to be quite pesky.
How are they pesky? A high pressure man-to-man defense that creates turnovers, and the ability to both get to the line often and convert when there. They push tempo like crazy (MORE CIRCUS BALL!!!), ranking 8th in adjusted tempo this year after finishing 1st and 11th the previous two seasons, and a pace like that with pressure helps to create those turnovers (Iowa had 18, UNLV 21) needs in order to compete because they suck at rebounding. When they do have the ball, they will look to get into the paint where they are adept at creating fouls (65th in the country) and they excel at the line shooting 76.5% this year (13th).
UNO is a pretty balanced squad overall, with all eleven players on the roster averaging at least 11.5 minutes per game with 8 of them averaging at least 6 points per game. The three main cogs in the offense are C.J. Carter (15.1ppg/2.9rpg/3.3apg), John Karhoff (13/3.9/1.6), and Devin Patterson (12.6/3.1/4.0). Carter and Patterson are both little guys (6-1 and 5-11) who can handle the ball and excel at getting to the rim. Both can hit the three (41% and 35%) and Patterson is incredible when it comes to drawing fouls for a little guy, having taken 72 foul shots on the year compared to 83 field goal attemps, a ratio good for 40th best in the country. Karhoff is a bigger guy at 6-8, but is basically a perimeter guy only without a three point shot. He doesn't rebound well and takes a whole lot of jumpers.
With small guards and a perimeter based big man you'd think the Mavericks would be terrible at rebounding and they are. They do have two big dopey guys who grab most of their rebounds and don't score much in Mike Rostampour (5.8rpg) and Matt Hagerbaumer (7.4prg), but they are a below average rebounding team on both sides of the ball. Despite the Gophers size limitations they've been a good rebounding team this year, particularly offensively, and they should be able to exploit this to their advantage.
There is a tiny bit of upset potential here. We saw against Arkansas what happens when you try to speed up a team who loves to play fast, but the Gophers are getting better at it and UNO's personnel doesn't begin to resemble Arkansas. The Mavericks could aslo make a game of it if Carter and Patterson can get to the rim and the free throw line, but overall UNO just isn't good enough. The Gophers zone will most likely swallow up the guards' penetration and the Mavericks will have to hit shots from the perimeter in order to make a run at a big win. They're not a very good 3-point shooting team (34.3%, ranks 148th), but they do have a tendency to fall in love with the shot (37.1% of attempts are threes, ranks 72nd). Unless they're white hot from beyond the arc, the Gophers should win this handily, and it should be pretty fun in a circus ball-y way.
Minnesota 90, Omaha 66
I almost forgot to mention we have a chucker alert with Omaha in guard Justin Simmons. His playing time has been limited since a back injury in late November, but hopefully he'll be at full strength because he's a chucker. He takes 31.1% of the team's shots when he's in the game, but is shooting just 28% this year thanks mainly to his awesome 4-30 on 3-pointers (and also his terrible 38% on 2s). He also has a low assist rate at just 11%, so you know he really hates passing. He was top 20 last season in % of shots taken too, so you know it's not a fluke (although he shot much better). This year he has games where he's shot 0-9, 2-13, and 3-12. I love him already. I hope he's healthy.
|The website says these are Omaha cheerleaders|