Back in November we discussed this team and were less than enthused. Some of those concerns remain, like the fact that NT has no obvious closer or system to generate crunch-time buckets. Others have been addressed — the new guys are getting comfortable.
North Texas handled FIU handily to open conference play in Denton yesterday, and blew out FAU on this afternoon. Before that, the squad split the WKU/Marshall road trip but impressed enough to be frustrated at the WKU loss.
North Texas sits at 3-1 and KenPom has them favorites for most of the rest of the way. The team plays hard, gives good effort, and is well-coached.
Against the Herd, there was some good fortune that helped NT in the win column rather than excellent play. The good news is that NT puts itself in positions to win and be in those tough situations. The hope is that eventually the team learns and grows from being in that position so often.
Umoja Gibson is shooting 40% from three, on 101 attempts thus far and stretches the floor for the slashing of Hamlet, Bell, and opens space for Zach Simmons and Deng Geu, everyone’s favorite player.
NT is still not overly long or big, but they play tough, fight for every possession, and have shooters. It is a nice basketball team. The most exciting recent development was the play of Roosevelt Smart against FIU. Two seasons ago he was NT’s best offensive player but has lost that position these last two seasons.
North Texas will run into problems when it faces talented teams like WKU and UTEP, and will struggle against good defensive teams like ODU and Charlotte, but no one in this league is unbeatable.
Javion Hamlet and James Reese — two of those newcomers — were stars of Saturday’s win vs FAU. Last year, NT had a balanced scoring attack but was overly reliant on Ryan Woolridge getting inside the paint and Zach Simmons doing a one-man wrecking crew at center to initiate much of that action. This season the improvement of Geu and the others gives NT a little more variety in attack and Hamlet, Bell and others can all attack off the bounce or slash to get second-chance buckets.
NT played a tough schedule and competed well even if they did not put up wins. They’ve opened conference play on a great note, but they’ll face some challenges and we will see how much improvement they have made. March and the conference tournament is just two short months away and McCasland will want to build his team to play the best basketball right as the tournament starts.
That is everyone’s goal, sure, but playing good basketball in the conference season is how you make it easier on yourself in Frisco. Long term, we see the kind of program that Grant Mac wants to build in Denton. He won 20 at Arkansas State, but escaped that situation as soon as he was able. He won 20 in Denton, and followed that up with a good team with some obvious flaws.
This season is his third in Denton and we know the style he wants to play and the kind of guys he wants to coach. In short, this season can possibly result in some championship hardware and the future is bright.