North Texas beat up on overmatched Oklahoma Christian 79-40 in the traditional glorified scrimmage that kicks off the season. The basketball prognosticators have NT anywhere from 2nd to 8th or so, depending on your flavor of preview.
Last year NT absolutely needed Ryan Woolridge to play every minute and when he was hurt, the team struggled. Umoja Gibson filled in at point, but he is much better as a shoot-first off-guard.
NT started hot but cooled after injuries took the depth and required a change of pace. Even though the team beat FIU in the first round of the league tournament in Frisco, they limped to a loss vs WKU. The day after exiting the tournament, Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons looked like walking wounded as they returned to pick up their stuff, limping in and out of the Star in Frisco.
North Texas head coach Grant McCasland has back-to-back 20-win seasons under his belt. His first was bolstered by a pay-for-participation postseason tournament and his second saw a dramatic dip in form.
Whatever criticisms you have of his style, he is winning in Denton, and that was not the case under his predecessor. This season we will likely get the full McCasland basketball theory. He had the one season at Arkansas St and the two here in Denton. Now, with a third year in the program the foundation is laid. It is time to build.
NT wants to drive and kick and have shooters everywhere. Last season, the offense struggled when Roosevelt Smart had a season-long dip in form, but got good moments from Umoja Gibson and Jorden Duffy. Gone is point-guard extraordinaire Ryan Woolridge, but in are a couple of guys with some talent and the ability to shoot.
Javion Hamlet is the new lead guard with Gibson playing his preferred off-guard spot. Rose is at the third guard spot, and hopefully is back to the version of himself that was a problem for defenses across the league.
NT has a lot of length on the depth chart, but the starting lineup is guard-based and will need the shooting and attacking off the dribble to make the offense hum.
James Reese is a shooter with the same measurables. Larry Wise and Abdul Mohamed have been on the team but redshirted. The thinking is that the renewed depth will give North Texas the resiliency to play at the pace they want instead of mitigating because of injury.
The problem with playing such a high-variance style is that some nights everything looks bad. Relying so much on drive-and-kick means the team has a tendency to stagnate, especially against the more disciplined and defensively talented teams in this or other leagues. Drive-and-kick means that you A) can drive and B) the kick options are open if and when the defense collapses to rotate.
Teams with great interior presence will simply let the big man clean up the mess. WKU made it hard for NT to finish inside with either Zach Simmons, who had an incredible year last season, or anyone else.
The schedule is much tougher this season so we will not see a sterling start — but the team may be better for it. Playing a softie schedule can make it difficult to prepare for challenges in conference play. NT did not even get the supposed benefit from it: staying injury free.
WKU is the more talented team and UTEP is rebuilt and renewed. UTSA has the shooters but North Texas has some good players and a coach with lots of respect among those who follow the game. Expect to be entertained.