Amid the madness of the month in the NCAA Tournament is the little old National Invitation Tournament. It has history and it starts out inauspiciously on home campuses. Well, it usually does but sometimes it means you have to travel like Sam Houston and Oklahoma State did. Not one is preparing for hosting the NIT, apparently, and spring break and/or wrestling tournaments can boot your basketball squad to gyms on the road.
North Texas has not faced these challenges. In two seasons and in about an hour North Texas will have hosted four contests in the Super Pit (2-1) with little noticeable issue. Let’s applaud the game-day staff and administration.
This week it will be Sam Houston State. Last year NT beat a version of this squad in Denton by 10, and controlled things throughout. The Bearkats are much better this season, and won a big game in Santa Clara on the road — even though they were the higher seed.
Grant vs Jones: Qua Grant is a quick, 6’1″ guard that can score. The Bearkats like to get him isolated in crucial situations and let him work. Santa Clara found a way to get him loose with the ball at times, but he came up big. North Texas likes to put Rubin Jones on a team’s best ball-handler and we will see this this afternoon. Jones did about as well as could be done vs Jelly Walker in the semifinals of the league tournament but Walker was able to get buckets.
Perry/Ousmane vs PNR: North Texas had some trouble with the trapping UAB did on the Tylor Perry pick and rolls. They changed this up in response, attacking Walker later, and McCasland said that he thought TP did a great job passing the ball and getting looks for other guys. SHSU is good vs pick and rolls and also has a solid post defense. Abou Ousmane can get a ton of buckets as the roll man in screen/roll situations, but did not quite take full advantage against Alcorn State in the first round. He needs to be aggressive and look to dominate those, as he can and has before.
Ousmane vs post defense: Kaosi Ezeagu is 6’10” and a good defender. He comes from K-State, and before that, UTEP. Ousmane has played against quality defenders before — Charles Bassey, the Purdue towers, etc — and done well. He can sometimes get shut down when maybe he’s over thinking or his little baby hook isn’t working. NT needs aggression and good decisions — passing or scoring — from the big man.
North Texas vs The First Half: Alcorn State came out strong, UAB came out stronger, and North Texas has had some trouble starting with the same level of aggression as their opponents. It cost the Mean Green a title-game berth, and it caused some consternation among NT fans watching the short-handed Alcorn State stay in the game for longer than anyone was comfortable. Starting this one strong would be a throwback to last year’s matchup with Sam Houston in which NT went up 20 and controlled the game the rest of the way.
The fun part about being in the NIT is that there are good matchups, good teams, and compelling storylines throughout. Everyone is good. There will be some fun situations. There will be stress. Also, there will be more fun prop bets available. One I saw is Kai Huntsberry over/under 18.5 points+rebounds+assists. Or how about Aaron Scott over/under 0.5 three-pointers made.
North Texas is a -5.5 point favorite. The over/under is 118.5, and NT is -240 on the money line. I picked NT, the under, and NT.
The squad has been focused, from what I can tell and the staff has been busy. Is that in preparation? Is that in recruiting? Is that in just squeezing in some family time after a long regular/conference season and tournament? Is that just taking some meetings with some interested new gigs? I have no clue, maybe a little of all of that. North Texas does not really need extra coaching at this point. They are the team they are and it is about tweaking and staying sharp. NT won and has been preparing for a home game against a somewhat familiar opponent. Right now it is about mentality and being ready for the game and execution.
The teams from this point on are good. Alcorn St was down four guys and played hard. Teams playing hard and disciplined basketball is table stakes for post-season basketball. There are no UTSAs here. UAB — the team that jumped out on NT and held on through the second-half? They are in this tournament also. Things will be tough and North Texas will need big time, clutch performances from their best players and anyone who is on the court. It’s time to hoop.