The countdown to UNO’s season opener in its new arena is on.
And, thanks to new rules allowing coaches to work with players more in the offseason, the Mavericks feel like they’re on schedule.
In fact, when including last year’s initial foray into Division I, the Mavs are in a good place.
“We’re ahead (of last year),” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “We have more stuff in and our concepts are better as a unit. We have some guys who have some experience. I don’t think we’re waiting on two or three guys ever. They’ve all picked it up pretty well.”
Four returning starters — center John Karhoff, forward Alex Welhouse and guards CJ Carter and Caleb Steffensmeier — help form a nucleus that figures to be joined by transfers Koang Doluony, Justin Simmons and Alex Phillips.
“We were kind of able to go into the first day of practice ahead of where we were last year,” Karhoff said. “I think the new guys have done a good job coming in. They’re jelling really well with the returners. I’m liking where we’re at so far.”
UNO plays Northern Illinois — the lone Division I team it beat last season — in a 7 p.m. game Nov. 9 at the Ralston Sports and Event Center.
Of course, the Mavs will be missing one key element from their 11-18 team last season — high-scoring wing Mitch Albers.
But an added year of experience for the returning players, and the potential impact of the newcomers, have the Mavs feeling like they can make up for the loss of Albers with a group effort.
“We’re more dangerous from different spots now,” Karhoff said. “We have guys the defense is going to have to respect every possession.”
Said Hansen: “I haven’t thought one time about, ‘Holy cow, we lost 17 or 18 points (per game).’ I’ve thought about our team — who can score it, how much, where we can score it from — and all that will evolve as practices go on.
“There’s going to be nights where it’s not going to go in, but I think there’s nights that we can be a productive offensive team.”
And, on those nights where it doesn’t go in, the Mavs think they’re in a position to play better on the defensive end.
Karhoff and fellow front-court players Matt Hagerbaumer and Simon Krych have put on weight. Doluony, Simmons and Phillips bring defensive résumés.
“Because of our length and athleticism and experience, we’re going to be better defensively as well,” Hansen said.
Doluony is a 6-8 wing who could play either forward position. Simmons and Phillips are both 6-3 wings. Phillips, though, has missed the past eight practices following a concussion.
The Mavs played a closed-door scrimmage last Sunday against North Dakota, with the teams meeting halfway at Sioux Falls University. This Sunday, UNO has another closed-door scrimmage with Northwest Missouri State at the Ralston Arena.
“It’ll get us in there in a game-type situation,” Hansen said. “And that will be good.”
Once the games count, UNO may not put together the same kind of season as last year, when it went 10-3 against non-Division I foes and 1-15 against the upper level. But that doesn’t mean the quality of the Mavs’ play will necessarily have dropped off.
“I think we can be better,” Karhoff said. “Obviously there’s a hole offensively, but we’ve got guys who can put it in the bucket anywhere you look. The big thing for us is going to be the defensive side.”
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