Tony Benford lined up in front of a camera and playfully dabbed. It was not good and should have been a lighthearted moment. I cringed, but not the good-natured kind. Benford seems like a solid guy. I would love to sit and talk basketball with him, listen to stories of road trips and unbelievable scenarios involving the life of an college coach.
I do not want him coaching North Texas basketball. I think I sports-hate our own basketball coach.
I will grant you that this is not an unusual position. Most of the (handful) of NT basketball fans have deemed him unworthy of the title and look forward to swift action by Athletic Director Wren Baker when the (inevitable) disappointing season concludes.
That is an ugly feeling to carry. How can we feel good about rooting against our favorite college basketball team? It seems have our own version of the Trolley Problem. I will be honest and forthright with you here:
I do not believe Tony Benford is the man to lead this team.
There. I said it. You know how I feel.
I will root for the team to go undefeated — and by extension Benford to do the same — in spite of this.
Can this team beat last years’s Cinderella squad MTSU, or UAB, or ODU? No, probably not.
There is talent on this roster.
C 7′ 0″ 270 SO #23 Ricky Brice Jr
F 6′ 7″ 215 JR #1 Jeremy Combs
F 6′ 8″ 260 SO Kahlil Fuller
F 6′ 7″ 220 GSR Derail Green
F 6′ 6″ 203 JR Bryce Jackson
F 6′ 9″ 225 JR Shane Temara
G 6′ 4″ 180 SR #10 Deckie Johnson
G 6′ 1″ 180 SO #3 Ja’Michael Brown
G 6′ 5″ 190 SR #4 Keith Frazier
G 6′ 4″ 191 Jacob Gross
G 5′ 10″ 55 RSFR DJ Draper
G 6′ 7″ 190 SO Allante Houston
G 6′ 5″ 190 FR AJ Lawson
G 6′ 2″ 185 SR #52 J-Mychal Reese
G 6′ 2″ 205 JR #2 Greg White-Pittman
G 6′ 3″ 175 FR #0 Ryan Woolridge
Everyone is looking at Ricky Brice JR and Jeremy Combs to lead this team. Meanwhile they will be flanked by Deckie Johnson and J-Mychal Reese on the wings. Deckie is the shooter but his percentages are not the best. He is streaky but can hit off the dribble and the catch, which is more useful than the more common stand-still guy. College Basketball is the true home of 3-point shooting, according to the numbers.
When SMU transfer Keith Frazier joins in December, he’ll be joining an NT team that should have figured out some things and primed for a CUSA run. This team is talented enough to play with the upper-echelon of the conference but not likely to do much more than pull off an upset in the tournament.
But that’s basketball right? The regular season — for this team — is only about gelling for the conference post season. CUSA is still a one-bid league and that will go to the conference tournament champion. Thought strange things have happened, the likelihood of a non-top four seed (who receive byes) winning this thing is very small. So the question is: Can the fighting Benfords make the top four?
Probably not. The fourth seed was 12-6 in conference last season, and 13-3 in 2014. Most projections have NT somewhere in the middle of the pack. In 2016 ODU (a preseason favorite) finished 5th but made the title game, losing by one two points. They fought their way through this grueling tournament by blowing out FAU (who had played less than 24 hours before against UTSA) in the first game, allowing the team to rest before the next game.
In 2015 MTSU managed an even better run from the same situation, winning close games the entire way … except for the fact they lost in the final game.
My point here is that it will be very difficult to win the CUSA title game. Still, the right run of luck is all any team needs.
Realistically, that is the probable ceiling for this team. Tony Benford’s teams have not had an identity outside of collecting available talent. A couple of years ago this team had no point guard and no shooters, for example. So while we can be hopeful that Combs/Brice/Deckie/Reese/Frazier (in Dec) are talented enough to carry this team there is little else propping it up.
That said, in this era of college basketball amassing talent might be good enough. The problem here is that there are four or five teams in this league with the same amount or more talent and a solid coaching base.
While this all may sound very cynical, it is not meant to be. It is important to manage our expectations. There is enough talent here to make things interesting and even amazing, but the coaching is still the coaching.