The last time there was a post on here the Mean Green were about to play WKU. That was cancelled, we were all snowed upon, the Texas governor said it was the fault of the one fan in the room that you left on, and Ted Cruz tried to take a vacation.
Put simply, things changed. That WKU game was cancelled/postponed and last week North Texas split against a solid Marshall squad. Tonight and this weekend the Mean Green will take on UAB. The Blazers were formerly considered good and now are considered mid-tier. If you do not have a lot of time to read this thing I will put it simply for you in the next paragraph:
The Mean Green are good, and need at least a split to get a bye into the third round. This is important because of the way the tournament is set up. Getting a 6/7 seed 1 means you have to win five straight games in five days. Getting a bye into Thursday means you need to win three in three (also against tired teams, probably).
Over on CUSA Report we laid out the scenarios for the entire league including North Texas’. I will put that here so you can understand exactly what needs to happen tonight and this weekend.
- The only way NT wins the west is by sweeping UAB. The squad clinches by winning percentage.
- If UAB sweeps NT, the Blazers win the second seed in the west.
- If the teams split, nothing changes.
North Texas is in a good spot. They are favored to at least split vs UAB by the advanced numbers, and the eye test tells the same. The Mean Green are playing some of their best basketball right now, led by former CUSA POY Javion Hamlet. He had 28 points and just about set up NT for the possible win in last Saturday’s game vs the Herd. He missed the would-be game winner on a little bit of an awkward shot. The takeaway is that he got a good look at a game winner.
NT has a great defense (93.8 DE, 3rd in the league behind La Tech and WKU) and a great offense (107.1 OE, 2nd behind Marshall). NT plays slowly, and if you do that you had better make the most of your limited chances. That is what they do. On the other end, they get turnovers, challenge shots, and get rebounds.
There is an argument to be made that if you brought back the greatest NT teams in history that this team would whoop the hell out of them. But that if for forum posts. You play the season to win banners and rings and cut down nets. The only way anyone is going to reward this team is if they do the work in front of them in the next two weeks.
UAB tonight. UAB on Saturday. Third round fodder that has two games played on their legs. It is a very reasonable request that we see NT vs WKU 2 on Friday, March 12. If NT sweeps the weekend then it is likely that opponent is ODU on that day.
NT can lose one game the rest of the way and not be done with the season. Be happy with split. That will likely set up NT to have to go through WKU and Tech, which is well difficult. The easiest thing to do in these scenarios is to just win. In my mind, I would prefer taking on the best teams and I do not want to duck anyone. Tech and WKU have eliminated NT in the last two (played) conference tournaments and a little revenge is in order.
If you just like basketball and competition, having the best teams battle it out in the most important games of the season is great. All season, any combination of WKU, Marshall, NT, La Tech has been a truly excellent game of basketball.
Okay we previewed this game at the beginning of the season and essentially said “UAB has a good record but we don’t know about them and we will learn more when they come to Denton”. That is largely the case here, but for the fact that UAB got smacked by Tech and ODU and UTSA took one off of them.
In short, the Blazers have some talent and have the tools to beat mid-to-bad teams and they have. The Tech game was a shock to their system as they had not faced anyone nearly so good (their strength of schedule was at or near the bottom of the league at that point and Tech’s was at the top) and it showed. They are not to be trifled with, as they have the talent to jump up and compete, but it should not be as tough as the Marshall game.
They are lower-half of the league in efficiency, because they cannot score. They get a lot of offensive rebounds and generate turnovers to help themselves. NT does turn it over often, but still have a good defense as they do not allow easy buckets.
Jalen Benjamin — the 5’10” guard can shoot the three, is good from the line, but disappears a bit. He had 21 vs UTSA in the loss, but was a no-show vs ODU, and combined had 13 points in two games vs Tech. He had a string of 20 point games against he likes of USM, Charlotte, Rice, and Middle though.
Michael Ertel — 6’2″ guard is a ULM transfer has been solid this season. He’s pretty much a 10-point-per scorer.
Tavin Lovan — 6’4″ forward has been a UAB mainstay for three seasons. He has been a little inconsistency, but is capable of getting buckets and will get steals.
Quan Jackson — 6’4″ forward is a transfer from Georgia Southern. he has not shot the three as well as he did there, but he’s good for a couple of steals, and about 12 points.
Tyreek Scott-Grayson — 6’5″ guard is the sharpshooter. he has played well in the last five or so games, and is shooting .414 from three in conference play.
For the unfamiliar, let us go through the squad the same way:
Javion Hamlet — 6’4″ guard through whom the entire offense runs. He controls the possessions, can get to the rim and shoot the three but is most dangerous getting the mid range stuff. He is not playing as well as he did last season, but is peaking right now.
Zach Simmons — 6’10” center is the heart and soul of the squad. He has all the tools of a modern big man — good pick and roll partner with good hands, but also can (and primarily does) post up and get buckets with some Tim Duncan moves inside. He does not have range but does not need to be that person in this offense. Also a plus defender against size and speed.
James Reese — 6’4″ guard with deceptive hops — seriously even though I know he can fly, it somehow surprises me that he is the primary dunker on the squad — he is the team’s sharpshooter (getting about 2 of 5 per game from distance) but also a sneaky good defender that will exploit passing lanes for easy buckets. Also likes to run the floor to finish the break.
Thomas Bell — 6’6″ forward who is the very definition of versatile. He can defend four positions adequately, and is the best rebounder of the squad. he can also step out and shoot it with confidence. Sometimes passes up open opportunities, though, mucking up the offense’s flow.
Rubin Jones — 6’5″ guard/forward is a freshman who runs the point, has good size and range. He is apprenticing behind Hamlet/Reese and looks to be a star of the future for the Mean Green.
We’ll add Mardrez McBride (good, probably the PG of the future who can shoot the ball), and Terence Lewis and Abou Ousmane who have had reduced minutes recently but are good size and plus players. Also, JJ Murray gets a ton of minutes but doesn’t get a lot of shots. He can shoot it, though.
Friday, March 5th 2021 7pm ESPN+ in Denton, Texas, America.
Saturday, March 6th 2021 4PM ESPN+ Denton, Texas, America
NT should have the edge in both games because the NT defense is simply better than the UAB offense. Offensively, UAB is pretty stout but NT has faced tougher and won. The real advantage is that UAB hasn’t played anyone and when they have they did not look so hot.
If NT continues their run of play, with Hamlet doing great things like getting the shots he wants, and getting huge buckets late, NT should have no trouble winning this. The danger is if he is off, and NT falls into some struggle-fests offensively and get into a grind with this squad. College games are short, and in a limited time mistakes can be hard to overcome.
UAB is good, but not better than some of the team’s NT has already beaten pretty handily. At best, they are a little worse than Marshall. At worse, they are a better UTEP.