Transition basketball comes naturally for this team in transition. Omaha (formerly known as Nebraska-Omaha), Hawaii’s opponent tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center, still has that new-car smell as a neophyte to Division I. As one of the latest teams transitioning from NCAA Division II, the Mavericks of the Summit League have little in name recognition.
A peek under the hood, however, reveals a fine-tuned engine that’s passed a number of road trials so far this season — close losses at Iowa, UNLV, Drake and Minnesota. Omaha went to Reno, Nev., and defeated the Nevada Wolf Pack 82-80 an enviable feat UH never pulled off in its Western Athletic Conference days.
Omaha (10-4) has done it with an up-tempo attack that calls upon a rotation of 11 players to keep legs fresh and its quick-strike offense humming in the open court.
|RAINBOW WARRIORS BASKETBALL
>> Matchup: Omaha (10-4) at Hawaii (10-3)
>> When: 7 p.m. today
>> Where: Stan Sheriff Center
>> TV: OC Sports, Ch. 16
>> Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
UH (10-3) has similarly gone up-tempo this season, but has done so — especially lately — with a narrowed rotation effectively at seven or eight, and plenty of fullcourt pressure.
To each their own; the two teams have won a combined 15 of their last 17 games.
"I love their style," said UH coach Gib Arnold, who conceded the Mavericks play at a faster pace than his team. "I think it’ll be one of the more entertaining games of the year. … Twenty wins between us. So both teams know how to win."
It is the final pre-conference game for UH and the last of a five-game homestand. From here, the Rainbow Warriors play four of their first five Big West Conference games on the road.
Plenty of shots are expected to go up in this one — both teams average more than 80 points per game (UH at 82.4 and Omaha at 84.9).
"Perfect," said UH’s top scorer, forward Christian Standhardinger (18.4 ppg), who is coming off a 29-point, eight-turnover performance in a 77-66 win over Norfolk State on Monday. "Scoring for everybody. Great."
Point guard Keith Shamburger had his mind on stops, not scores.
"They shoot the ball fast, we get a little bit into the clock more," Shamburger said. "It’s going to be an interesting game to see how it goes. It’s going to be all about defense. The team that wants to play defense the best is going to be the winner."
Omaha, in its third season of D-I ball, needs just one more victory to match last year’s win total. The Mavericks, behind an experienced and deep rotation, are scoring 20 points per game more than this time last year.
"(If) we do get a chance to push it, we go, and the first good shot we’ll let it go," Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said.
The Mavs are not eligible for the NCAA or NIT tournaments until 2016, and thus will not play in the Summit League conference tournament. But they may participate in the pay-to-play CIT or CBI tournaments if they finish above .500 in the regular season.
So there is, indeed, something to play for in the meantime.
"There are a lot of challenges," Hansen said. "Right when we came up two years ago, it’s a five-year transition before you’re eligible for the NCAA or NIT tournament. So you get badmouthed … in the recruiting process. It’s hard to get guys to believe in what you’re doing and what your vision is. And it’s hard to get guys who know they’ll never have a chance to play in one of those tournaments. That for a lot of guys, is what the goals are. But I gotta give our assistants a lot of credit, they’ve done a great job of getting guys here and believing in what we’re doing."
Omaha takes pride in getting to the line and converting. The Mavs are third nationally in free-throw percentage at .782. They’re also ninth in assists per game (17.6) and their scoring ranks 16th.
One of the main reasons? Six different Mavs are proficient 3-point shooters and will bomb away at the first sign of daylight.
UH assistant coach Scott Fisher said of Mavs point guard Devin Patterson: "Baseline to baseline with the ball, I think he’s the fastest guy we will see this year."
Patterson (12.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) will look to push it on makes and misses alike. UH will look to counter by slowing the Mavs with fullcourt pressure variations. Meanwhile, Omaha is expected to fall back into a halfcourt defense.
Junior guard CJ Carter (15.1 ppg) leads UNO in scoring and 6-8 senior center John Karhoff (13.6 ppg) is the reigning Summit League player of the week.