North Texas is 67th in Kenpom’s adjusted efficiency margin. The squad is still ranked below UAB in this metric, even if they are above the Blazers in the standings.
UAB is still very good, but also dropped a heart-breaker to previously winless Marshall. Last week I made the point about taking every win as precious even if it is ugly, or if the margin is too narrow, or whatever. It is tough to grind out a win streak even if you have the superior team. A sign of a well-coached team is when the outfit 1 shows up against the good teams (La Tech) and the bad ones (USM).
This week NT plays UTEP and UTSA
on the road. El Paso is approximately 500K miles away, and UTSA on a Saturday after the long trip from El Paso is dangerous. The UTEP game is the good one, and the UTSA game is the trap this week.
Edit: For some reason I misread the schedule and thought NT was away this week. The games are at home, which is obviously easier.
I have watched zero minutes of UTEP basketball this season, but I know they are on a five-game win streak. The competition therein is unimpressive (ODU, UTSA twice, FAU — goodish, and FIU — garbage). Still, they have talent (Boum, Bieniemy) and have greatly improved their defense under Golding.
If you are unfamiliar with the league’s west division, let me help you a bit:
Tier One: NT, UAB, La Tech. Any of these teams can win this league and do damage in the tourney.
Tier Two: UTEP, Rice. These two teams can pull off an upset, but probably cannot do sustained damage and are a bit one-dimensional.
Tier Three: USM, UTSA. Gar-bage.
I won’t give you keys to the game but consider that NT is pretty poor when handling the ball — 20.5% turnover even while having the slowest offense in the league. That’s a feat 2. UTEP thrives on turnovers, and that is driving a lot of their defense. They are right up there with the newly good MTSU, and the very good UAB.
UTSA is bad, and with bad squads it can be a matter of dealing with life when you are so wide-open you are shocked at how it came to be and you are thinking that something is off. That can throw a team’s rhythm off. It can also make you lose your edge, as you get used to the easy buckets and second and third chances. Just a note. This is still very much a trap game.
In the MGN Slack a while back, we discussed the likelihood of McCasland leaving for (even) greener grass. He has a good thing here in Denton, but seeing empty stands, and running a clear second to football is not as fun as being the star guy. Being the main attraction is it’s own hell, from what I can tell of the Louisville-Mack situation. MGN HQ is in St Louis, and I have taken in some Billiken games. It is a good squad in a quality arena, and with good support. The fan support is a little entitled? This kind of thing can happen. My children ate a lot of restaurant and fast-food in this last month (we moved up from Texas and it was a necessary luxury) and they adjusted pretty quickly to the new standard. It is a little hard getting them to eat “regular” food.
Again, Grant has a good thing in Denton, and probably could have a Kermit Davis tenure here for a couple of decades. Ross Hodge is probably going to be poached somewhere, but the foundation of hard work and the style built here is sustainable. NT has lost players to graduation, the pros, and transfer and still holds the top spot in the division. That is evidence of a program. That is the staff knowing what roles are needed, recruiting, developing and coaching players. That is evidence of the players buying in, developing, building the culture of hard work and winning, and it all coming together. It is great.
What, beside a few extra zeros in the paycheck, would make you leave that kind of gig? Well, having access to a higher level of talent. Being in a more basketball-mad area. Maybe. Scott Drew is winning in Waco, and well winning can be done in Denton.
I want that new arena, and some engagement from the locals in this basketball program. Another tourney run is a bit of a stretch to expect but it would be majorly instrumental in igniting even more passion. It might be enough to keep the staff around for another five years, too.