Friday Basketball Thoughts

Let’s talk some UNT basketball today. It’s been an interesting season so far. One game UNT looks like a top 5 team in CUSA the next game they look like a bottom feeder. Right now I have UNT ranked 12th in MGN’s basketball power rankings. It’s not that I think UNT is that bad, because believe me the talent is there to be a top 5 team. The reason they are ranked so low is the inconsistent play and poor execution at times. One minute you see great ball movement, the next minute it’s stale. One minute you have good defense, the next you have a guy getting beaten off the dribble and no help defense. It really is frustrating. With that let’s get into some topics. I’ve got 3 areas that I want to get to 1. The Players 2. The Schedule 3. The Coaching.

1. THE PLAYERS

I broke the team down into 4 different categories, and I only accounted for players that have played minutes this year. You have the “PTP’ers” or Prime Time Players. These are the best of the best on the team. They are the guys who can do it all and look good doing it all. If the game comes down to one shot you would want in their hands. The second group is the “Glue Men.” These are the guys who are vital to the team’s overall success. They do a lot of the dirty work on the floor. Every team needs the glue guy or guys. The next group is the “Role Players.” These guys aren’t quite on the level of the PTP’ers talent wise, but on any given night they can look the part of a PTP’er. Finally you have the “Bench Subs.” They are simply the guys who fill out the roster. They may see some significant playing time in games if they are truly on or out of necessity, but for the most part these guys should stay seated.

The PTP’ers or Prime Time Players: Jordan Williams T.J Taylor

Glue Men: Alzee Williams Colin Voss

Role Players: Chris Jones Ventrail Vaughns Maurice Aniefiok Keith Coleman

Bench Subs: Brandon Walton Armani Flannigan Kelvin Gaines

This team goes as Jordan and TJ go. They are really the only guys who can consistently win one on one battles. Jordan has really been on a tear the last few games averaging 15.8 ppg in conference play. T.J is starting to finally hit his stride. He had a great game against UAB, but struggled to finish around the basket against UAB. When Alzee Williams is attacking the basket this is a different team. UNT really needs him to be aggressive down the stretch. Colin Voss has developed into the only low post scoring threat this team has. Maurice Aniefiok is instant offense, and I wish he looked for his shot more or if UNT could focus more on getting him open shots. Ventrail Vaughns is a nice player coming off the bench. He is a pretty good at knocking down the open jumper. Not great at finishing around the rim, but adequate. Chris Jones is up and down, he is a really good distributor, but I don’t think he has much confidence in himself right now. I say that because he hesitates to take the open shot. I wish we could get 2012 Brandon Walton back. Keith Coleman flashed at the beginning of the year, but just hasn’t stayed healthy and hasn’t been in games long enough to have a big time effect. Armani Flannigan had a nice game against UAB, and you can see how athletic he is, but you can also see how raw he is. I wish he would actually set a screen. I’ve watched him about 20 times now not even make contact with the defender.

2. THE SCHEDULE

With 10 games left in the regular season I decided to break down the games into 3 categories. The first category is called “Winners.” These are games I expect us to win and would go on to say our win chances are greater than 60%. The second category is called “Squeakers.” These are games I would put our win chances between 40%-60%. Finally we have the last category called “Prayers.” Those are the games in which I label our chanced of winning at below 40%. Here is how the 10 games break down.

Winners: >60%

2/6 @ Rice

2/15 @ ECU

2/27 @ UTSA

Squeakers: 40%-60%

2/1 @ Tulsa

2/13 ODU

2/20 @ FIU

2/22 @ FIU

3/6 Tulsa

Prayers: <40%

3/2 UTEP

2/8 @ La. Tech

I think when it’s all said and done UNT will at least finish with 14 wins and I’d be willing to say that they at least win 2 games out of the Squeakers category. That would give UNT a 16-14 overall record and 7-9 in conference play. Of course UNT could shock us all and win more than that or they could lose more than I believe. It’s really hard to say with this team, because of their up and down play throughout the season.

3. THE COACHING

Men’s Head Coach Tony Benford has seen his share of critics during his time at UNT. He took over what was arguably UNT’s most talented basketball team last year and couldn’t quite put it all together. That team was decimated by injury and up and down play. They finished with a disappointing 12-20 record bowing out in the first round of the Sun Belt tourney. Fast forward to this year and he has already almost matched that win total with 10 games left to play and against tougher competition. His team is deeper and more balanced. Last year 27% of UNT’s total minutes went to players coming off the bench. This year that total is up to 38%.

A lot has been made of Benford substitution patterns. He likes to keep the players constantly rotating shuffling them in and out. Part of the reason behind this is because there is not much separation in talent between the 11 guys UNT plays. Another reason is the inconsistent play from one game to the next. One game a player might be on and the next game he isn’t. Believe me almost every coach wants to have his starting five and 3 to 4 guys that he can rotate to fill in minutes behind them. Benford substitution patterns don’t cost UNT games nor does it make him a bad coach. I watched very closely last home game against Middle Tennessee St who was coming in and out. Every time a player was substituted out he either made a mistake or you could tell he was tired. I don’t always agree with taking a player out because of mistakes. Sometimes you need to let players grow and learn. In fact some coaches who have players with a fragile confidence will take them out after they have done something good. Either way no one can sit there and point to the substitution pattern as the main reason or a reason that UNT has struggled at times this year or that Benford is a bad coach.

Is Benford a bad coach? I think the answer is “No”, for right now. I’m still believe in giving him the time to get it right here at UNT. I recently submitted a question to Seth Davis of CBS Sports asking him how much time does a coach deserve to get his program rolling. His answer was no less than 4 years. I find a hard time believing that UNT fans can wait that long. Fans want to see good basketball, because they have become accustomed to it. The final facts are that this years team is improved over last years team in a number of ways.

  1. Better Shooting

  2. Better Ball Movement

  3. Less Turnovers

  4. Better Defense Efficiency

  5. Better Effort

The last one is key to me in deciding whether a coach is doing his job. Always when I watch a team play I want to see where their effort level is. Last year it was just plain awful. This year the team plays hard, they battle, they have fun. To me that’s a sign that they are listening to Coach Benford. When a team stops playing hard for a coach then that is usually a sign its time to take the program in a different direction. I continue to plea with fans to give this team a shot. Continue to go to the games and watch, because this team is close. It’s close to being a solid basketball team. I’m not going to say that they are NCAA tourney worthy, but you never know. When the CUSA tourney roles around they maybe playing at a higher level. In NCAA Div I basketball anything is possible. The conference tourney’s are essentially everyone’s chance to punch their ticket for the Big Dance. Maybe this year UNT strikes up some magic and finds a way to shoot itself into March Madness. I hope all of you gals and guys stay tuned because its going to be a wild ride!

Also stay tuned into MGN for some other upcoming write-ups. I’m going to be breaking down UNT’s 2-3 zone defense that has been so effective lately. Also going to look at UNT’s fast break and whether or not UNT should try to run on a more often basis. All that and our power rankings will come out every Wednesday.

Enjoy your hoops weekend and the Super Bowl!

GMG