North Texas begins the defense of the league crown this month. They beat up on Oklahoma Christian 1 and take on Buffalo, UT-Arlington, and Kansas to round out November. Last season capped an incredible two-year run that saw Javion Hamlet lead NT to back-to-back league titles — one in the regular season that saw the tournament be cancelled on account of the pandemic, and the other in a pandemic-weirded season that saw NT win its first NCAA tourney game.
This season is something of a rebuilding year but with some talented returnees. The expectations have both changed and have not. That means we do not expect a league title, but we expect a quality program that could compete if they get the right luck and some faster-than-expected development.
Key Returners: Mardrez McBride, Thomas Bell (extra year), Rubin Jones, Abou Ousmane, JJ Murray (extra year), Jahmiah Simmons (injury)
Key Losses: Javion Hamlet, Zachary Simmons, James Reese (transfer)
Key Newcomers: Tylor Perry (JUCO), Hameir Wright (Washington), Rasheed Browne (Texas A&M-CC), Bryce Zephir (JUCO), Matthew Stone, Aaron Scott, Chris Morgan
Best Non-Conference Games Ranked
- Kansas (Neutral)
- Nevada (Home)
- Wichita St (Away)
- Buffalo (Home)
- Massachusetts (Fort Worth)
Toughest Conference Games Ranked
- La Tech Jan 29th (Away)
- UAB Feb 19th (Away)
- WKU Jan 15th (Away
- Marshall Jan 13th (Away)
- Rice Feb 12th (Away)
Our Projected Starting Lineup:
- Rasheed Browne 6’2 R-JR. Guard
- Mardrez McBride 6’2 SR. Guard
- Rubin Jones 6’5 SO. Wing
- Thomas Bell 6’6 SR. Wing
- Hameir Wright 6’8 SR. Forward
Why They Will Be Successful
North Texas has one of the top Mid-Major coaching staffs in the country.
NT is lucky to still have Head Coach Grant McCasland after the back-to-back conference championship seasons and a NCAA tournament win over a Final Four-quality team. McCasland is the leader, but he has quite the support staff. Associate Head Coach Ross Hodge is the de facto defensive coordinator for the Mean Green, and they’ve been very good in that department. It won’t be long until Hodge is running his own program. Associate Coach Jareem Dowling is key recruiter and developer of talent. He’s also the coolest coach on the staff. Assistant Coach Matt Braeuer is an up-and-coming recruiter and helped land some quality talent for this year’s team. All these coaches work very well together and have a great plan for putting together and developing really good and tough teams. They are reason number 1 why North Texas can continue the success from previous years.
They still have a core of solid players in Thomas Bell, Drez McBride, and Ruben Jones.
If you’re looking for where NT gets it scoring from next year you have to start with those three core players. Thomas Bell opted to stay for an extra year at NT. He’s been the guy for two years that teams would mark as “let him beat us”. Now Bell might be the guy who teams plan to shut down first. McBride is coming off a blazing hot post season run, in which he was clutch beyond belief. His 3-point shooting in post season play was 53% and he averaged 11.3 points per game. One area he’ll need to improve on is attacking the basket off the dribble. Drez showed some flashes of this in the post season. Jones is a super talented sophomore wing who can play multiple roles in this offense. He can attack off the dribble, create his own shot, create shots for his teammates, and matchup defensively with other good wing players. It will be fun to watch how much he can grow in year 2.
NT has plenty of options with possible lineups. We mentioned the core group above, but NT has some solid returning role players and some talented newcomers. Grant and his staff will have the flexibility to pair together some interesting lineups that could cause matchup problems for opponents. Mark us down as intrigued to see these lineups:
- 6’5 Rubin Jones
- 6’7 Aaron Scott
- 6’6 Thomas Bell
- 6’8 Hameir Wright
- 6’10 Abou Ousmane
- 5’11 Tylor Perry
- 6’2 Drez McBride
- 6’5 Rubin Jones
- 6’6 Thomas Bell
- 6’8 Hameir Wright
Why They Will Struggle
Replacing legendary players at a Mid Major program is no easy task.
NT is not an elite Mid Major recruiting destination. They’ve become known for developing under-the-radar JUCO talent. Sometimes JUCO talent takes time to get acclimated to the higher-level competition. We’ve seen it before with Javion Hamlet, James Reese, and Drez McBride. Its probably going to take some time for guys like Tylor Perry (JUCO), Rasheed Browne, and Bryce Zephir (JUCO) to feel comfortable in the new system. Other newcomers like FR Aaron Scott and FR Mathew Stone may also take some time to get adjusted. That isn’t to say that these guys will struggle to get playing time. They just may not play to the level that they are capable of right away.
The non-conference schedule is incredibly tough and CUSA has only gotten better.
Buffalo, Kansas, Nevada, and Wichita St, UAB, La Tech, and WKU are all top 100 KenPom teams. The ESPN Events Invitational that NT is in also features 6 teams in the top 100 Kenpom teams- Dayton, Miami, Alabama, Belmont, and Drake. Iona the other participate in the 8-team field is loaded with talent and coached by the legendary Rick Pitino. NT plays Kansas in the first round and then plays the winner/loser of Dayton and Miami. CUSA has 2 really good teams in UAB and La Tech. After that the conference has plenty of teams with potential. WKU, Marshall, Rice, UTEP, Charlotte, and ODU are all teams who could end up in the top 4 of CUSA at seasons end. This type tough of schedule has led to success for NT the past two years, but it could also easily lead to some struggles.
The Tough Questions
Who Replaces Javion Hamlet?
I think we can all be honest and admit that no one is going to replace the legendary Javion Hamlet. Maybe the question is who does Grant McCasland give the keys to at point? There are a few options:
First option would be Rubin Jones. Jones was the secondary ball handler for most of last year He also showed flashes of being able to create for his teammates last year before an injury ended his season before post season play. Second option might be Rasheed Browne. Browne is a more of a traditional point guard in that he looks to get others involved first. His JUCO stat line was impressive – 14.0 points, 9.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.8 steals. He didn’t get to play much last year at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but he did have solid games when he did play. The final option is junior college star Tylor Perry. Perry is a fun dude to watch. He did light it up from everywhere on the floor in JUCO and is quick. Biggest knock on him is size.
If Jones gets the nod, then I would imagine you see a different lineup then we have projected. Perry would then slide into the starting lineup and would play off the ball. I would then expect Browne to be the secondary ball handler off the bench. If they go with Browne then Jones would be the 3/wing and Perry would give McCasland some instant offense of the bench and a guy who could handle the ball.
Who is the front court leader?
Hamlet was the legend, but Zach Simmons was the foundation of the program. Simmons had the knack for getting a bucket when NT needed it the most. He also could hold his own against some of the best big men in the country. Perhaps his most underrated skill was the ability to pass. He could find guys open, and he could pass effectively out of double teams, something that is hard for young big guys to do. McCasland has two real viable big guys Abou Ousmane and Hameir Wright. They are both very different players and change the feel of the lineup dramatically. Wright is a new age 4 or stretch forward. His offensive game is mainly shooting around the permitter. Defensively Wright is an adequate rim protector. Abou is more of a traditional center and likes to play with his back to the basket. He was more skilled on the offensive end last year, and honestly surprised some with his ability to score around the rim. Defensively it took time for him to find his grove, but by the end of the year he provided some big-time minutes against quality big guys.
So, who plays and when? That’s a good question. Grant could play both at the same time because Wright isn’t going to clog up the lane. The only real issue to playing both is depth behind these two. If either Wright or Ousmane get in foul trouble NT has to then go small with either Thomas Bell or Jahmiah Simmons having to guard 5’s. Our take is that NT will stick with only starting one big either Wright or Abou. NT got Zach Simmons early game rest a lot last year, either because of an early foul or just to do it. It would make sense to follow the same script this year against most teams. The 4 position will be a mixture of mostly Thomas Bell and then FR Aaron Scott, and Miah Simmons.
What is the tempo?
For those familiar with the past two seasons NT has played a turtle’s pace (Ranked 350th out of 353 teams). Part of this was out of necessity due to lack of depth. The other part was it worked well to have a player with tremendous break down ability (Hamlet) to get quality shots and looks for his teammates at the end of the shot clock. Now that there is no Hamlet and there seems to better depth will NT speed the tempo up some? We aren’t predicting NT to have a tempo ranked in the top 100, but somewhere in the mid to low 200’s can be expected. What does that exactly equal? Well about 2-4 more offensive possessions per game for NT. We tend to believe that NT will be experiential with their tempo during the non-conference schedule to find that right balance. By the time conference play rolls around they may dial it back or up just a smidge. History would lead us all to believe that dialing it back is the play for Grant and his staff.
Where Do They Rank in CUSA?
NT was picked 6th in the CUSA preseason poll. We’d argue that’s probably a little to low and that 4th is a good spot. UAB and La Tech are the clear 1 and 2 preseason teams. It’s your preference on who you believe should be ranked #1. UAB has the better roster and coaching staff, but La Tech has a good returning roster. It would be hard to argue with picking La Tech and Kenneth Lofton, Jr. as the best team. Behind those teams you have WKU and handful of other teams who could potentially make some noise. We chose to go with North Texas at 4 because we believe in the coaching staff getting the newcomers to play at high level once conference play comes along.
1. Rubin Jones – 6’5 Ball-dominant scorer. Can score off the drive, can pull up from the mid-range, can hit open or contested 3’s. Active defender.
2. Thomas Bell – 6’6 Skilled forward. Good rebounder who can drive and shoot threes off the catch. Excellent defender. Can guard wing players or big guys.
3. Drez McBride – 6’2 3-point shooting guard. Skilled catch and shoot guard. Above average defender.
4. Hameir Wright – 6’8 Stretch forward. 3-point threat who will rebound. Has ability to be rim protector.
5. Tylor Perry – 5’11 Ball-dominant scorer. Can score multiple ways. Instant offense.
6. JJ Murray – 6’1 Versatile role player and defensive savant. He does a little bit of everything on the floor. Can occasionally knock down an open 3.
7. Abou Ousmane – 6’10 Traditional Center. Strong rim protector who can score with his back to the basket.
8. Rasheed Browne – 6’2 Floor General. Pass first player but has the ability to score and be a stat sheet stuffer.
9. Aaron Scott – 6’7 Versatile role player. Lengthy wing with a nice mid-range game. He will excel on defense early.
10. Matthew Stone – 6’4 Versatile role player. Will be known for how hard he plays. Offensively he will look to get others involved.
11. Bryce Zephir – 6’4 Versatile role player who is skilled 3pt shooter. Can play multiple positions on the floor
12. Jahmiah Simmons – 6’4 Role Player. Will get minutes to guard big guys.
13. Chris Morgan – 6’8 Traditional Center. Raw freshman who will need time to develop.
Wrap – Write Me A Love Story
The 2021-22 North Texas season will be defined by how special the newcomers make it. NT has enough returning fire power to make some noise, but the newcomers can help keep things spicy. If the transfers, JUCOs, and freshman live up to their hype then North Texas will once again be a force in CUSA. Grant has earned the ultimate trust from us in how he builds his roster and develops his talent. We believe he and his staff will again work his magic on this roster. This team will once again be a major player in the conference regular season championship hunt as well as the post season.