March Madness has begun in college basketball, and no one knows that better than UNO men’s basketball coach Mark Slessinger.
With only two games left in the regular season, Slessinger wants his team to tighten things up and prepare for a run in this year’s Southland Conference Tournament, which begins March 9 in Katy, Texas.
UNO (9-18, 5-11) hosts Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday and Northwestern State on Saturday in its final two games. The Privateers say they believe they are in a prime position to build momentum.
“We want to get rolling and finish this thing out strong,” Slessinger said. “It’s important for us to enter the tournament on a high note, playing confident and go in feeling like we can play at a high level and get hot.”
The top eight teams in the Southland advance to the conference tournament, and while UNO is 10th in the standings, three teams ahead of them are ineligible for postseason play (Central Arkansas, Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian).
But Slessinger isn’t interested in “just making it” into the tournament. Ever since his arrival on the Lakefront, the fifth-year coach has preached his desire to take a step forward with the progress of the program every season.
The Privateers won in the first round of last year’s SLC tournament and hope to advance further this season in an effort to one day reach the goal of winning the event.
“Obviously, every year we try to move closer and closer to that championship game,” Slessinger said. “Our guys were really hungry last year. And seeing how close we were to making it to the semifinals made them even hungrier coming back.
“Showing the ability to build on your success every year is huge when you’re trying to form a winning program.”
Despite losing six of the past seven, Slessinger has been encouraged with the way his team has picked up the pace on the offensive end.
UNO is averaging 79.7 points over the past 10 games and has a 4-1 record at home over that stretch.
The Privateers have leaned on center Travin Thibodeaux and forwards Kevin Hill, Michael Zeno and Erik Thomas for the improved offense. The foursome combined for 41.8 points and 24.6 rebounds over that 10-game stretch — they are averaging 35.1 points and 23.2 rebounds for the season.
“I think our offense is starting to catch up to our defense, and that’s helped a lot,” Slessinger said. “Our forwards have come along very well, and those guys have been really steady for us down the stretch. We’re going to continue calling their numbers, and I expect they’ll be ready for the task when we do.”