MGN Basketball Breakdown: Analyzing The Gauntlet

North Texas took care of business Saturday night vs. Rice with a thrilling 74-70 victory. It wasn’t pretty, but after last season a W is a W, and the goal of this team is to keep racking up as many W’s as possible. Now North Texas moves into the toughest part of its conference schedule. UAB, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Marshall will all face North Texas in the next two weeks. We are talking about 3 top 100 teams. MTSU is quite possibly a top 50 team depending on which ranking you chose to look at. I believe its time to analyze what NT’s chances are against those teams.


UAB

Date: 2/8

Where: Away

RPI: 172

KenPom Rating: 96

Haslametric Rating: 104

Stat That Stands Out: Best 2PT shooting percentage team in CUSA play.

Match-up Nightmare: F Chris Cokley. Cokley is a PF/4 that North Texas has no answer for. The best match-up for him is probably Tope. There is no way you want to get Holston matched up with him he is too big. Simmons would also get overpowered and out maneuvered. Plus you still have C William Lee to worry about.

KenPom Prediction: UAB 74-64

Haslametric Prediction: UAB 75-64

My Thoughts: UAB just got beat up by ODU. North Texas can play a similar game to ODU, but not as well. They can draw UAB into an ugly game, but that front court of Lee and Cokley is going to be an issue. If North Texas were to pull an upset it would be, because the combination of Smart-Draper-Duffy all knock down a bunch of 3’s. UAB is susceptible in that area, and we’ve all seen that NT can get really hot from downtown.

Upset Chances: 25%


Middle Tennessee 

Date: 2/10

Where: Away

RPI: 22

KenPom Rating: 40

Haslametric Rating: 61

Stat That Stands Out: Top Defensive Efficient Team in CUSA (89.3). In their last 4 home games they are basically allowing only 79 points per 100 possessions.  In real time they are only allowing 51.7 points per game during those games.

Match-up Nightmare: F Nick King. Nick is playing his way to being CUSA’s Play of the Year. He is also a top 10 player on KenPom. He can take you inside or outside. He is probably too athletic for Simmons or Tope to guard. Holston is probably the guy who gets matched up with him.

KenPom Prediction: MTSU  72-58

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 73-56

My Thoughts: MTSU is playing extremely good basketball right now. Its hard to see anyway that NT could go into their home and pull off the upset. The Blue Raiders are just too good defensively to allow that to happen. Their one loss in CUSA was to Marshall who hit 10 3’s. That game was also at Marshall. Much like the UAB game, NT would have to hope that Smart-Duffy-Draper are all lighting it up. Plus NT would need a great defensive effort.

Upset Chances: 2%


Western Kentucky

Date: 2/15

Where: Home

RPI: 50

KenPom Rating: 55

Haslametric Rating: 70

Stat That Stands Out: In conference play 22.9% of WKU’s points come from free throws, tops in CUSA. North Texas is allowing its opponents to get 22.2% of their points from the free throw line that the worst in the conference.

Match-up Nightmare: F Justin Johnson. This dude reminds me of a better Shane Temara. He can also play both inside or outside. He is shooting over 40% from the 3pt line. In his long career against UNT Johnson has averaged 11.5 points and 7 boards, but in his last two outings he has averaged a double double 14.5 points 10 boards.

KenPom Prediction: WKU  73-66

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 73-63

My Thoughts: Western Kentucky probably has the best collection of talent in CUSA. They’ve lost two games in CUSA play. They lost at home to MTSU, a game in which they probably felt like they could’ve won. The loss at UTSA, WKU just didn’t shoot the ball well at all. It was their worst offensive output of the season. Hard to believe when we are talking about a team that has played Villanova and Purdue. Oh yeah they also beat Purdue. If you dont know Purdue is one of the 3 best teams in the country.  If North Texas were to pull of the upset it would be because of their defense. It would also be one of those wacky Thursday night CUSA upsets. Anything can happen at the Super Pit right? Only if you show up.

Upset Chances: 15%


Marshall

Date: 2/17

Where: Home

RPI: 114

KenPom Rating: 133

Haslametric Rating: 140

Stat That Stands Out: In conference play 39.7% of Marshall’s points come from 3’s, tops in CUSA. North Texas has the 3rd best 3pt defense in CUSA.

Match-up Nightmare: G CJ Burks. Burks has been playing all over the floor for Marshall the past 5 games. He has played some 4, 3, and 2. Smart may get the call to guard him early on, but my fear is that Draper will get matched up with him. Burks would dominate that match-up. He can get whatever shot he wants.

KenPom Prediction: Marshall  78-77

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 77-75

My Thoughts: I really like NT’s chances at beating Marshall.  I think they match up best with them out of all these teams. Marshall rely’s heavily on their 3 pt offense, and well NT is pretty good at defending the 3 pt line. Plus its a Saturday game so there should be a pretty good crowd at the Super Pit. One area that could concern me in this game is if Marshall starts to attack the basket more than shooting 3’s. Don’t want to put the best free throw shooting team in CUSA on the line.

Upset Chances: 60%


Final Thoughts

If North Texas goes through this stretch and comes out 1-3 I would feel good. To stay in the hunt for the 4th seed they really need to go 2-2. They would need to beat UAB and Marshall. Tough task as I highlighted above. If North Texas beats Middle or WKU then you have my permission to streak through the streets. If North Texas goes undefeated in this stretch then by all means please party like we won the Super Bowl.

Look its as tough a stretch as North Texas has played all year the only comparable stretch was OU-UTA-Indiana St, but even that might not be as tough. For the record I think each one of these teams could win a game in March. They all have a characteristics of mid majors that you don’t want to see in March.

We are about to find out if this North Texas team is a contender or a pretender for the Conference crown in Frisco. There is no shame in losing to all these teams, but NT is paying Coach McCasland like a guy who should win these games.