What school has a mascot with two horns and may just be home to the best basketball team in the state of Nebraska?
That’s right, it’s Omaha.
This season, Omaha Maverick men’s basketball has played its way to a 19-10 record, the best mark the program has reached since joining Division I.
To get to this point, the Mavericks have been pulling off stunning comebacks and hitting heart-stopping buzzer beaters. Players like Zach Jackson, Mitch Hahn, Matt Pile and others have been putting on historic performances for Omaha.
It’s certainly been a fun team to watch, and people are starting to notice. Record crowds have been showing up at Baxter Arena to get a glimpse of this exciting Maverick basketball team. MavRadio’s basketball color commentator Matt Kirkle has been a part of these crowds all season long.
“The community has really rallied around this team year because of their success,” Kirkle said. “At every single home game, more and more people were showing up because they saw what this team was becoming and what they were capable of.”
Without a doubt, this has been a banner year for Omaha basketball.
One other thing that has made this year so exceptional for Omaha basketball has been the somewhat-disappointing play of the other Division I basketball schools in Nebraska.
Across town, the Creighton Bluejays have seen their season slip away in a disappointing direction. The Jays started off the season in very strong fashion, with a win over then-No. 16 Clemson early on and then the held their own in a very competitive loss to No. 1 Gonzaga. Since then, however, the Bluejays have lost a number of important games. In most of those games, the Bluejays even had leads late on, but would then squander them. Now, Creighton’s record stands at 17-13.
That said, the team has picked themselves up lately and are currently on a four-game winning streak. The team could yet sneak into the tournament as an at-large bid, which given how the majority of the season has gone, could be considered quite satisfactory for the team.
The play of the other Division I team in the state, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, has been even more disappointing this season.
Before the season started, many basketball experts were predicting that this would be the year that Husker basketball finally broke through. This could finally be the year that Nebraska won a game in the NCAA March Madness tournament. At the start of the season, it did look like that could be the case.
Like the Bluejays, the Huskers started off their season in strong form. For a good portion of the first half of the season, Nebraska stayed ranked in the Top 25 polls. However, the good times did not last for the Huskers. Once Big Ten play started, the team startled to falter.
Nebraska started 2-6 in Big Ten conference play. It was at that point in the season that the final nail in the Husker’s coffin, a season-ending injury to star Isaac Copeland Jr., was laid. Now, Nebraska is 15-15 and will most likely need to win the Big Ten tournament in order to make it to March Madness.
In comparison to these two teams, Omaha basketball has looked absolutely phenomenal. In a year when Creighton and Nebraska are down and the Mavericks are having their best ever season, it could well be argued that Omaha is, in fact, the best team in the state. At the very least, this could potentially be the only team from Nebraska left standing in March Madness.
Of course, there is still much work to be done in order to get to that point. Maverick coach Derrin Hansen has admitted that “my guys are focused on the task ahead,” since that mentality of just winning the next game has been what’s gotten his team to where they are now. But regardless of what happens in the Summit League tournament, Omaha has proven some things this season.
First off, Omaha has proven that they are a team that should never be counted out. Picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the Summit League, the Mavericks have entirely defied those expectations and have even had the audacity to finish as high as second in the Summit League regular season. Granted, the turnaround that this team has had from last season has been nothing short of phenomenal.
“This team, in a one-year stretch, has proven that they can mature and that they can get better that fast,” Kirkle said. “They went from a nine regular season to a 19-win regular season in one year and I think that’s remarkable. I think in the future, it’s only going to get better.”
The second point that the Mavericks have proven this season is that this is a team that deserves to be in the conversation of “Best Basketball Team in Nebraska.” Previously, the Mavericks would have never been in that conversation, especially when compared to established programs like Creighton and Nebraska, two programs with longer histories and more success.
Now, the Mavericks are in that conversation this season, and they deserve to be going forward.
This is a basketball program that is clearly on the rise and has ambitions far beyond just excelling in the Summit League.
Making the post-season would be a dream come true this season, but not making it this year shouldn’t be too discouraging. The Maverick’s moment to play in the ‘Big Dance’ and to represent the state of Nebraska is coming. It’s only a matter of time.