Nebraska Omaha (0-0) at Northern Illinois (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 8, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convocation Center (17,732) -- DeKalb, Illinois. Television: None. Home Record: Omaha 0-0, NIU 0-0. Away Record: Omaha 0-0, NIU 0-0. Neutral Record: Omaha 0-0, NIU 0-0. Conference Record: Omaha 0-0, NIU 0-0. Series Record: Nebraska Omaha leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The Nebraska Omaha Mavericks will attempt to defeat the Huskies in back-to-back season-openers when they visit the Convocation Center to tangle with Northern Illinois on Friday.
The Mavericks made the transition from Division II in 2012-13, and while the results weren't great, they certainly showed some promise by winning 11 games, six of which came in Summit League play. An improvement for the squad and ninth-year head coach Derrin Hansen is expected thanks to the return of four starters. Nebraska Omaha played at an extremely fast pace which gave it a nation-high average of 73 possessions per game. The Mavericks were a very high-scoring group as a result, but they also tended to get lit up by the opposition.
Coach Mike Montgomery's first two years in DeKalb have been frustrating as he has gone a woeful 10-51 over that span. The Huskies managed only three Mid- American Conference wins last season and lost their top player, Abdel Nader, who elected to transfer to Iowa State. NIU had the worst offense in the conference with an average of only 54 ppg and it ended the season on an 11- game slide. NIU hit its lowest point when it scored only four points in the first half of a game against Eastern Michigan, and finished the game a disastrous 1-of-33 from beyond the arc.
Omaha is 2-0 versus the Huskies in history. The Mavericks defeated NIU, 77-64, in the season opener last season at Ralston Arena.
The Mavericks have a sensational leader in Preseason First Team All-Summit League selection Justin Simmons, who averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a junior last season. No other player returning to the Summit League had a higher scoring average. The experienced backcourt will be rounded out by C.J. Carter (9.7 ppg, 2.8 apg) and Alex Phillips (8.2 ppg), while John Karhoff (12.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and newcomers Rylan Murray and Jake White will be a factor the paint. Senior guard Caleb Steffensmeier is four assists away from breaking into the top 20 in Omaha's record books for career assists.
Montgomery will try to replace Nader and Akeem Springs, who left the team last February before landing in Milwaukee, with Travon Baker and Daveon Balls, both of whom struggled with turnovers last season as freshmen. Sophomore forward Aksel Bolin (7.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is going to have a tough time getting open looks unless freshman guard Dontel Highsmith learns very quickly on the job as the team's new starting point man.
NIU does not have what it takes to overcome Omaha's run-and-gun style of play. The Huskies will need a huge performance out of their junior center Pete Rakocevic, as every rebound will be crucial if they hope to avenge last season's loss to the Mavericks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska Omaha 75, Northern Illinois 64
11/08 10:42:28 ET