Last March everything was looking green. North Texas won the 2019-2020 regular season title, guaranteeing at least an NIT appearance while the league tournament was scheduled for Frisco, a short drive from the Super Pit.
Instead the Pandemic put an end to all that. Your favorite MGN author was driving to Mississippi (a wedding) when the news that the league tournament was cancelled. NT’s players celebrated what they could on twitter and some WKU players sniped that they shouldn’t be celebrating because a league tournament victory was more important.
It cemented the idea that we all lost out on an epic matchup between NT and WKU, who had already played an entertaining regular season game just a week before.
So far this season NT is 1-1. After a basically-preseason win over Mississippi Valley State 116-62, NT lost to a good Arkansas team 69-54. The team is adjusting to the departure of Umoja Gibson, the sharpshooting guard who left for Oklahoma.
In is place are Mardrez McBrine, and Rubin Jones. McBride hit 6/7 from deep in the first game but misfired on his only two attempts against Arkansas.
The rough core of the team of last year’s regular-season title team is intact, however, in reigning CUSA player of the year Senior Javion Hamlet, Senior James Reese, and Senior Zachary Simmons.
NT is bringing back roughly 51% of its minutes from last year, about 6% points higher than the D-1 average.
We should note that this season comes with the same caveats as the football season, in which games were cancelled right up to the day of the game in some cases. There have been some wild plans about what an NCAA tournament would look like under pandemic conditions this season. Nothing is really finalized right now, but if NT is going to qualify for whatever that version looks like 1 they will have to do it the old-fashioned way: winning CUSA.
It sure seems like something that would only happen to NT: wining the regular season, and being poised to win the league tournament in basically the hometown and it all be cancelled. The league and the big dance. Self-loathing aside, we can be excited about a good team in a nice little league.
The non-conference season (tentative, I suppose) looks like this:
- Nov 26 – MSVST – W 116-62
- Nov 28 – at Arkansas – L 69-54
- Dec 1 – Texas A&M Commerce
- Dec 4 – at MSST
- Dec 15 – Ark Pine Bluff
- Dec 17 – Houston Baptist
- Dec 19 – at LSU
The games to circle are the top-100 games against Arkansas (already a loss) MSST and LSU all away. The rest should be easy victories to sort out sets and rotations.
After that is the CUSA regular season which involves playing just nine teams — but all back-to-back in the same location.
- Jan 1 – UAB
- Jan 2 – UAB
- Jan 8 – at UTSA
- Jan 9 – at UTSA
- Jan 15 – UTEP
- Jan 16 – UTEP
- Jan 22 – at ODU
- Jan 23 – at ODU
- Jan 27 – at Rice
- Jan 28 – at Rice
- Jan 30 – Rice
- Feb 5 – LaTech
- Feb 6 – LaTech
- Feb 12 – at USM
- Feb 13 – at USM
- Feb 19 – WKU
- Feb 20 – WKU
- Feb 26 – at Marshall
- Feb 27 – at Marshall
There are a couple of interesting games here. The ones that standout are UAB to start the season, three games vs Rice, and finally two games vs WKU in February. WKU started the season out hot by beating Northern Iowa, Memphis, and just losing to West Virginia by six.
They are the team to beat in this league and we were robbed of an epic finale in the league tournament between these two squads. They return Charles Bassey along with 53% of their minutes.
UAB looks like they are back to becoming a solid-to-good team in this league while Rice is always difficult with their tempo. Playing three games in a row against them is a tough challenge.
Javion Hamlet is still a dude and the team will rely on him to get buckets in huge moments the way he did in the final stretch of the previous season. The challenge is in integrating the new guys into the system, playing tough defense, hitting big shots, and doing the things McCasland asks of his squad.
Grant Mac has his guys play a tough man-to-man defense with a deliberate offense that can occasionally push the tempo. The great thing is that McCasland has adapted his coaching to the roster in his time. When injuries struck the Mean Green two seasons ago, they grinded and slowed the tempo tremendously. That continued last year as NT worked the ball deep into the clock.
The result was one the most efficient offense in the league and the sixth-best defense2.
Replacing the shooting of Gibson, Draper, and even Rose Smart might put a dent in the efficiency numbers — NT was the top shooting 3PT team last year in the league. McBride was a great 3-point shooter at JUCO USC Salkehatchie, shooting 53%.
James Reese can stroke it and so can Hamlet and Rubin Jones.
Terrence Lewis is a New Mexico Junior College transfer that will be asked to do some of the Deng Geu work from last year. He added 12 points in just 15 minutes vs Arkansas.
The concern vs Arkansas was that the three of the main guys — Simmons, Bell, Jones — all had three turnovers. James Reese went one-of-seven and Javion Hamlet was shutdown, scoring only five in 30 minutes of action.
It is nothing to get overly concerned with, but it is notable.
This season — if it is completed! — should be fun. NT has talent, a good coach, and a winnable schedule. If everything goes right, we at least should get to see Javion Hamlet do his thing in the league tournament bubble to cap this season.
Anything less would be a disappointment in more ways than one.