Your Mean Green enter the Round of 32 riding the high of the first round upset over Purdue. Javion Hamlet is becoming a widely known name and everyone wants to talk about the time they actually went to NT for a semester before transferring to TCU or whatever.
All are welcome to the Mean Green Nation.
How To Watch
Sunday, March 21st, 2021 – 7:45pm CT – Indianapolis, Indiana – Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Broadcasters: Jim Nance, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson
Radio (National): Westwood One — Sirius 85/check local affiliate
Radio: (Local) MGSN
Have you really made the tournament if your game has not been broadcast by Jim Nance and Bill Raftery? Well whatever you feel about that this will be the case today. The Mean Green are co-Cinderella’s 1 with Abilene Christian (they beat Texas) and Ohio, led by a former teenage blogger, and of course Oral Roberts.
Every program wants to be the new Gonzaga, so it is worthwhile to remember the current undefeated, favorite, winner-of-the-first-round-by-40 point squad 2 was once just a Cinderella crashing the 1999 NCAA Tournament. They got to the Elite Eight and then went from being the cutesy “Zags” to the juggernaut of today.
Villanova has won two NCAA Tournament titles in the last five years and are coached by Jay Wright, one of the most respected coaches in the game. He is known for his 4-out-1 offense, known for their great spacing, excellent fundamentals and smart players.
They have not changed much and this new cast of characters is not expected to challenge for a national title, but no one is counting them out. They are ranked 15th on Kenpom, four spots ahead of the Purdue squad NT faced. The rumblings of the possible upset at the hands of Winthrop had more to do with the lack of starting point guard Collin Gillespie ahead of the tournament. They got some practices in, and that helped.
The main difference between this game and the Purdue game is this: Villanova can attack you in more ways than Purdue. The Boilermakers’ attack relied on paint touches from their big men, their ability to get offensive rebounds, and complimentary shooting from their wings.
Villanova does not shoot quite as well from three but they are by no means poor shooters. They get into the lane, create offense, and make smart cuts that mean easy buckets. The offense they run requires smart decision making and talented, skillful players to make those. They have that. We mentioned Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on the MGN Podcast, talking about his ability to play all over the floor. He’s 6’9″ and can handle the ball like a wing player. When your offense asks its players to rotate, switch, attack from different angles, it helps to have a guy that can post up effectively and be a ball handler outside.
The Mean Green under McCasland have run a little bit of the same concepts 3 but have relied more on some guard-guard screens for Hamlet and Reese/McBride. You will see criticism of NT’s offense being overly Hamlet-focused but that is simply leaning into what works.
When Zach Simmons was NT’s best offensive player, NT would clear out more often and let him go to work. Now that Hamlet is the team’s most electric scorer, it makes sense to run more stuff for him specifically. In this video of all Hamlet stuff you can see some of the same concepts of the 4-out-1 motion offense here. Watch Ousmane consider coming up for a screen a couple of times.
Ingredients For a North Texas Win:
- Javion Hamlet getting clutch baskets. If you went back and read our game previews for each tournament game (conference and big dance) you will see the we start every game this way. NT relies on him so heavily that it makes sense.
- Shooting with confidence — When North Texas plays poor basketball, it is because guys are hesitant shooting the ball. The deliberate pace at which they play is because they have trained themselves to look for great shots. That can backfire sometimes as that becomes overthinking. James Reese did not shoot a potential game-winner from three at the end of regulation in the first round, and the universal thought was :”SHOOT!”
- Play your game — Mardrez McBride tried a little isolation against Purdue late in the second half and launched an air-ball. While I respect it, that is not how NT got to this position. Finding the balance between being aggressive and playing within yourself is the sweet spot. McBride has been super clutch from three but he is best at catching and shooting and not dancing and pulling up from three like Steph Curry
- Zach/Ousmane big minutes — Zach Simmons is an all-time NT player but he struggled vs Purdue. Interestingly, he was not physically overwhelmed or anything, he just turned the ball over twice down the stretch run when they were super costly. Abou Ousmane played big time minutes vs Purude’s big men. NT may not play Ousmane at all in this one given the matchups but whatever time is played needs to be effective.
- Stay hungry — NT started this run of five straight tournament wins after losing three straight to end the regular season. In those games we saw Hamlet miss a game-winner, Bell, Reese, and McBride hesitate when shooting the ball, and NT turn the ball over. Basically, it was a different team. NT has played with hunger and a little bit of anger and that fuel needs continue to power this team.
How To Sound Smart Talking about NT Basketball
- Javion Hamlet (Number 3) is a crafty player who can shoot from three and get to the basket, but his super power is his midrange game — especially those little flips and floaters from midrange (10-15 feet)
- Thomas Bell (Number 13) is a streaky shooter but he can guard all five positions and had the game winning block vs WKU in the title game, and a huge block down the stretch vs Purdue.
- James Reese (0) is probably North Texas’ best shooter, but is also great at getting steals and running the floor. He can jump and gets chase down blocks, lobs (alley-oops) and other wow-that-was-amazing plays.
- Zach Simmons (24) is NT’s big man and has an array of moves in the post.
- North Texas won the regular season title last season, and won the Conference USA tournament in this one. They were not predicted to win the conference this year, but not because they were bad, but because the league is good. WKU, and Louisiana Tech are both quality squads and are in the National Invitational Tournament right now.
In case you are new to this concept, it has something to do with Cinderella crashing the ball — or big dance. Make sense now? ↩
Gonzaga also took in Ryan Woolridge, the former NT point guard and MGN favorite ↩
Everyone steals good ideas in sports. If you have a good play or clever concept, someone is going to steal it for their own. ↩