After peak performance, Summit season starts

Summit League play opens this week with the nine-team conference in the midst of its best season ever.

Its member schools have achieved an all-time high with 74 nonconference victories, including 60 over NCAA Division I opponents, and have won more road games (26) than any other league in the country.

The Summit has the 10th-best RPI, second among all mid-major conferences and ahead of leagues like the Mountain West and Missouri Valley. It reached an all-time high of eighth in the RPI two weeks ago.

Count UNO coach Derrin Hansen among those impressed by what the league has done so far.

"Won a lot of good games in a lot of good places, and some good games at home," he said. "We got as high as eighth. That says a lot about what our league's about and the emphasis they put on the men's basketball part of it. There's some really good teams in here right now. There's been a lot of good wins."

Hansen's team faces the squad that got the ball rolling for the Summit — Western Illinois — in its conference opener Friday at Baxter Arena. The Leathernecks (7-4), picked to finish last in the league in the preseason, stunned national runner-up Wisconsin on the road in the opening game of the season.

It was the first of three Summit League wins over the Big Ten this season. UNO (8-6) nearly had a fourth, dropping a 93-90 decision at Minnesota during a stretch in which it played nine of 11 games away from Omaha. Those road trips totaled nearly 11,000 miles for the Mavericks, who won five of those games.

Most of those contests came against teams UNO had never played before.

"Everything was a brand-new scout for us, with a relatively young team," Hansen said. "And that was good for us to play in new places, new venues, different crowds, different environments. Grand Canyon was the greatest environment I've been in in a long time. That was really good for our guys because it shocked us, and then we overcame it. Hopefully, nothing will now shock us. Hopefully, we can learn from all those experiences, which will be beneficial in the league."

For the first time since moving to the D-I level and joining the Summit League, the Mavs will open conference play at home. UNO faces Western Illinois and IUPUI at Baxter Arena on opening weekend before heading on the road for five of its next six conference games. That stretch will include trips to South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Oral Roberts — the teams picked to finish in the top three in the league.

Hansen would like to see his team get off to a positive start in the Summit this week.

"Hopefully, being at home — being in our own beds, playing in front of our home crowd — will benefit us," he said. "You always want to win your home games. We've been on the road every year we've been in the league until this year. We want to take advantage of that."

Hansen said he got what he wanted out of the Mavs during their 14 nonconference games. Most important, he liked the way UNO put its previous result — win or loss — behind it before its next game.

He said the same approach during league play, where there are "no easy outs," will benefit the Mavs.

"For most teams in our league, there'll be ups and downs. And you have to get through those," Hansen said. "So far, we've shown the ability to do that."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1027, tony.boone@owh.com, twitter.com/BooneOWH

1 p.m. Friday • Baxter Arena • 1180 AM KZOT

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