2017-18 North Texas Basketball Preview

Outlook

New Mean Green Coach Grant McCasland has been tasked with returning NT basketball to 20 wins, but that’s not all he must do. McCasland must also take this Mean Green program to new heights. Heights that include conference championships, NCAA post season tournaments appearances, and winning games in the Big Dance.

It wont be easy for McCasland in his first year. He wasn’t left with a great roster. There is plenty of rebuilding and reloading to do. McCasland brought in 8 new players. This season will be all about mixing those new pieces together. That was always the case under Tony Benford, but he never knew how to correctly build or manage a mid major program. NT is hoping that McCasland can fix the issues of past and turn NT into a solid mid major program.

Who Is Out?

Well nearly everyone is out. Only 7 players returning, which is not a bad thing, but the constant roster turnover needs to stop under this new staff. The biggest loss is F Jeremy Combs. He was often the lone bright spot under Tony Benford. Mean Green fans could count on a Combs double double every night. I hope nothing but the best for Mr. Combs as he takes his talent to LSU. Other notable losses would include Deckie Johnson and Derail Green. Both Johnson and Green were viable scoring threats. J-Mychal Reese the primary ball handler was granted a medical wavier and his release. Reese has yet to commit to a new school. Ja’Michael Brown is gone, he flashed some potential and could have fit well in the new system.

This is what UNT losing in terms of stat production

  • 58% of their minutes
  • 30% of their offensive rebounds
  • 50% of their defensive rebounds
  • 60% of their assists
  • 55% of their blocks
  • 51% of their steals
  • 58% of their points

Who Is In?

North Texas loaded up with plenty of JUCO firepower in McCasland’s first recruiting class. Roosevelt Smart is a 6-3 guard who can get to the rim, but will be better known for his outside shooting. 6-1 Jorden Duffy is a smooth ball handler who will see some time at point. Duffy filled it up at San Jacinto College averaging 19.4 ppg. Shawnee Community College guard Michael Miller is a combo guard, who averaged 14.3 ppg. Tope Arikawe will bolster the rebounding and paint protection. Arikawe is 6-8 F from Panola College who averaged 11.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg.

Umoja Gibson may end up being the everyday starting point guard by year’s end. Gibson averaged 22.4 ppg and 11.1 apg at University High School in Waco last year. Gibson is a really good shooter. Zachary Simmons a 6-9 F from Cedar Hill HS in Abilene could very well be starting too. The freshman will help provide rim protection, but he may end up being the best scoring big in the paint. Simmons averaged 16 ppg, 12 rpg, and 6 bpg. A freshman that McCasland is quite high on is 6-10 F Mark Tikhonenko. Tikhonenko is a big man with range. I am not sure how much time Tikhonenko will see early on, but his potential is very high.

Who Is Returning?

Perhaps McCasland’s best recruiting effort was getting AJ Lawson and Ryan Woolridge to stick around. Lawson and Woolridge were a few the bright spots coming from such an ugly season. Lawson led the team in scoring and Woolridge was 4th. These two are the leading returning scorers. McCasland has something to build around here — Lawson can get to the rim whenever he wants, but he needs to improve his outside shooting. Woolridge is great in the open court and can also get to the bucket, but he needs to work on his ball security.

Other notable returners are Shane Temara and Allante Holston. Temara will provide front court depth, outside shooting, and a veteran presence. Holston will provide defensive ability, versatility, and depth.

Player Breakdown

GRADES
Backcourt Frontcourt Bench/Depth
B- C- C-

Projected Starters

  • G Ryan Woolridge
  • G Roosevelt Smart
  • G AJ Lawson
  • F Zachary Simmions
  • F Shane Temara

Schedule Breakdown

Home or Away Winners 60% + Chance at a W
H Eureka College
H Bethune Cookman
H UTRGV
H Rogers State
H Grambling St.
H McNeese State
A Southern Miss
H Florida Atlantic
H Florida International
A Florida International
 Home or Away Toss Ups 40-60%
A Nebraska
H Indiana State
A San Diego
A Georgetown
A UTEP
 A  UTSA
H Charlotte
A  Rice
H Rice
H Western Kentucky
H Marshall
A Florida Atlantic
H  UTSA
H UTEP
 Home or Away Need a Prayer Less than 40%
A Georgia Tech
A Oklahoma
A Texas-Arlington
H Old Dominion
A  Louisiana Tech
A UAB
A Middle Tennessee State

CUSA Basketball Rankings

Rank Team Backcourt Frontcourt
1 MTSU A B
2 La Tech A B
3 Old Dominion A- B+
4 UAB B B
5 WKU B B+
6 UTEP B B
7 Marshall A- B-
8 Charlotte A B-
9 North Texas B- C –
10 Rice B- C+
11 UTSA C+ C+
12 FAU B C-
13 Southern Miss C+ D+
14 FIU C- D+

Final Projection

This 2017-18 North Texas team will be much improved from last years. There is a good amount of immediate impact talent coming in to replace who left. What can be expected is that this team may look sloppy and struggle early on. They may have to grind out wins early, which is okay. Any time when you have so much roster turnover it takes time for players to develop their roles. McCasland will get these guys to figure it out, he’s a good coach with a good staff.

I expect North Texas to be a very physical man to man defensive team. A team that will rely on its defense to create offense at times. Under McCasland there will be more emphasis on defensive fundamentals that’s guaranteed. Offensively I believe NT will be more up-tempo than under Benford. I do expect them to be a motion offense team again, although McCasland will do a better job of teaching the principles.  It will be interesting to see who develops into the go to scorer when crunch time comes around. Or who will be the guy that NT goes to in order to stop a run. Early money would be on AJ Lawson, but I wouldn’t surprised if Duffy or Smart take the role either.

Bottom line is NT is playing catch-up to a pretty talented CUSA league. While NT was adding talent so was everyone else. It’s going to be tough for the Mean Green to turn heads in year one under McCasland. Most projections have NT finishing no better than 12th in CUSA. I think they are better than that. I certainly think this team can climb into the middle of the pack in CUSA play. What I’m unsure of is just how high can this team climb. A lot of that will be determined by how fast these guys become accustomed to playing with one another. The other big piece will be player development. Either way North Texas fans should be happy with the progress they see from this team. I think you’re going to see a team compete nearly every night. I think they are going to steal a few games in league play. I really think they will be an exciting team to watch. Finally I believe North Texas will end up winning 18 games during the regular season and 1 in post season play finishing with a record of 19-14.