In many ways, the Fort Wayne men’s basketball squad will be facing itself in its opening game of the 2017 Summit League Tournament. The Mastodons (19-11) will battle Omaha (16-13) Sunday at 9:30 p.m. (EST) in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Both Fort Wayne and the Mavericks like to push the pace offensively and shoot 3-pointers. They are the top two scoring teams in the conference, as well as shoot the most 3-pointers.
It is a razor-thin margin that separates these two teams and that showed over the past two months.
The Mavericks (9-7) won just one more game than Fort Wayne (8-8) within the league and when the two teams met, the outcomes weren’t surprising. Fort Wayne won both games, but in Omaha it was a mere 80-78 win, while it took the home game 108-101, but it was in overtime.
If you look up the definition of a “pick ‘em game,” it has this matchup listed.
Here are some keys to look for Sunday.
Omaha does a nice job of defending the 3-point line (second best in the league) and that showed in their first game against the Mastodons – for 20 minutes.
The Mavericks locked up the Fort Wayne shooters and forced them to miss 14 of their first 17 3-point attempts. The result was a six-point halftime lead for Omaha. However, the Mastodons adjusted and made a scorching 54 percent in the second half to rally for the road victory. How well Fort Wayne shoots from 3-point range (and Omaha defends) will be a significant factor.
Omaha wants to create a chaotic game with defensive pressure and no Summit League team has done a better job of doing so this season. The Mavericks average nearly nine steals per game, but that strategy didn’t work against the veteran and talented guards of Fort Wayne.
The Mavericks forced opponents into 231 turnovers in league play, but the Mastodons had just 15 at Omaha and an impressive 10 in a 45-minute game at Fort Wayne. If the Mastodons handle the pressure put on by, among others, Summit League Defensive Player of the Year Tra-Deon Hollins (3.5 steals per game), like they did two other times this season, that will be tremendously beneficial.
Get to the ball
Both of these teams do a nice job of rebounding their own misses, but it is the other team’s missed shots that could determine this outcome.
The Mavericks don’t do that nearly as well as the Mastodons, who pounded Omaha on the glass in their first win 38-24 (14-7 offensively).
Fort Wayne forward John Konchar and center Brent Calhoun will get theirs, you can guarantee that, but the Mastodon guards will have to be active in their pursuit of the ball to help secure this win.
Konchar needs to be… Konchar
No team will be more happy two years from now to see Konchar graduate than Omaha. The 6-foot-5 athlete scored 53 points and grabbed 27 rebounds against the Mavericks this year, and that was with the Omaha defensive gameplans designed to contain him.
Konchar probably won’t shoot 13 of 15 from the floor (as he did in the win at Omaha), but he needs to have a great performance as he has twice this season against the Mavericks. If he is off, and he rarely ever is, then that is great news for the Mavericks.
Drive Mo, drive
Omaha held a significant advantage over Fort Wayne at the free throw line (51 attempts to 35) in the two earlier games, but senior guard Mo Evans can positively impact that for the Mastodons Sunday.
Evans didn’t attempt a free throw in the win at Omaha, but he got to the line 11 times in the home win. If he can be active and drive the ball, that is a better opportunity to produce offensively than just jacking up 3-pointers, plus it will cause foul trouble for the Mavericks.
In the same vein, Calhoun needs to be active in the post and draw fouls, if possible.
Omaha doesn’t want to play centers Daniel Meyer (6-9, 250) and Zach Pirog (6-10, 220) too much, which will leave much smaller bodies on Calhoun. He only had a combined five free throws in the two earlier games, if he has more on Sunday that will help.
Close is no big deal
The pressure of the postseason can negatively impact many teams and players, but that won’t be the case with Fort Wayne.
This game will be close, but if the Mastodons lose, it won’t be due to any wilting under pressure.
Of Fort Wayne’s 16 conference games, 10 were decided by six points or less or in overtime. Three times in the past month alone, the Mastodons have played overtime games, including two on the road.
Prediction: I can’t envision this game not being like the other two, high-scoring, a lot of 3-pointers taken, and an incredibly close outcome. It will be a massive challenge for Fort Wayne to beat a very comparable team for the third time this season, but that is precisely what will happen.
Forget the difference in seeds (Omaha is third and Fort Wayne is sixth), any of the top six teams in this tournament could win it. However, any of the four teams that play Sunday (South Dakota State plays Denver in the other quarterfinal) could lose in their first game.
The Mastodons have the talent and experience to overcome Omaha once again and will win by four.