It will be a year before the University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s basketball team steps up to a full Division I schedule in the Summit League, and four years before the “transition period” is over and UNO is eligible for NCAA Tournament play, but it already feels like things are happening. The Mavs are moving, not just divisions or conferences, but locations as well.
UNO announced in late September that the team will leave Sapp Fieldhouse, the team’s home since 1949, following this season to play in the brand new Ralston Sports and Events Center, scheduled for completion in the Fall of 2012.
“The new Ralston arena will provide the team with a first-class, state-of-the-art venue in which to play and will offer our fans outstanding amenities and great convenience just south of our campus,” AD Trev Alberts said. “We’re looking forward to a mutually beneficial partnership with the city of Ralston.”
The move to Ralston will open new revenue streams for a team that’s suddenly competing with the big boys of college basketball, but there’s still one season left to play in the heart of Omaha and the transitional schedule provides plenty of intrigue on its own. There will be games to say goodbye to some local rivals – Doane, Hastings College, Concordia and, of course, UNK – as well as a introductions to new conference foes South Dakota, North Dakota State, Western Illinois, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Indian University-Fort Wayne. The Mavs also have a Dec. 4 trip to East Lansing, Mich. to face perennial powerhouse Michigan State as well as notable games against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Colorado State.
Head coach Derrin Hansen enters his seventh season with a relatively young squad featuring six underclassmen. Full-time starters Torrian Harris and Tyler Bullock are gone from last year’s 19-9 squad, but the Mavs do have two 20-game starters to look to for leadership.
Sophomore C John Karhoff (Creighton Prep) had a solid freshmen season, starting 24 games and averaging 20.2 minutes per game. He’ll anchor UNO in the middle and is the team’s leading returning rebounder at 5.0 per game. Karhoff also added 16 blocks last year to finish second on the team.
Offensively the Mavs will rely on senior G Mitch Albers (Papillion-La Vista). Albers played two seasons at UNO before transferring to Nebraska in 2009 where he sat out a year then returned to Omaha. Last year he was second on the team with a 17.3 points per game scoring average. Albers enters the season ranked 10th on UNO’s all-time scoring list with 1,258 career points, 559 points behind Dean Thompson Jr. If he can average 20 points per game this season, Albers could end up as the leading scorer in school history.
Junior Alex Welhouse provides coach Hansen with a dangerous inside-out threat. The 6-7 forward led the Mavs with a .430 three-point percentage last year and also hit better than 84 percent of his free throws while averaging 3.8 rebounds per game.
<i>UNO first home game of the season is against Concordia on Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at Sapp Fieldhouse, 6001 Dodge St. Tickets are available at omavs.com.</i>