North Texas Basketball Is Back

The greatest North Texas basketball game I have been to was the win over Texas Tech in the Super Pit on Tuesday November 16th, 2011. The place was packed and North Texas won 92-83 in OT. Josh White had 32 points including a clutch basket down the stretch.

NT went 20-11 that season, averaged 4006 fans and fought through a mid-season slump and ultimately lost to UALR in the Sun Belt title game by one point. Since then, NT has been on a slow regression to terrible.

Enter Grant McCasland.

He has reinvigorated the program with a modern style, energy and most precious: wins. North Texas basketball is 14-1 on the season and yes, a good portion of those wins were against bad programs. There is value in preparing for league play with a rough-and-tumble non-conference schedule. There is also value in building up confidence and rhythm and hype.

North Texas needed good feelings more than it needed tough competition. The same rationale applied when the Mean Green entered the College Basketball Invitational — a throwaway postseason tournament to a good number of teams. They won that tournament, against okay competition, and built up the hype and good feelings that have carried over into this season.

Oh, and the style of play was honed in that tournament. Senior guard Michael Miller was famously coached to switch his shooting hand in the pregame shootaround and thus began a new style of play that has carried over to this season.

As we enter conference play, let us take a closer look at our Mean Green:

0 Ryan Woolridge: G 6’3″ JR

Woolridge has been an iron man in his three years at NT, playing a ton and handling the ball as the primary point guard. He is quick and can get to the basket and finish around the rim. He has extended his range to three this season but still does not shoot a ton from there even though he’s at .400 from deep this season. He is iffy from the FT line, or we would see him average something like 14-17 PPG.  In this drive-and-kick offense he is one of the guys that can get anywhere he wants.

Advanced numbers via KenPom.com

Numbers: 12.9 PPG 6.3 RPG 5.2 APG | 102.0 OffRtg 24.5 %Poss 54.6 eFG% 27.3 ARate 43.3 FTRate

2 Jorden Duffy: G 6’1″ SR 

Duffy is a scorer who can light it up from deep when he is on. In the CBI he was finally healthy and he broke out with 18 per game. He’s not been hitting them at the same rate this season, but he’s averaging 10 a game and is a solid contributor right now. He’s a streaky guy so expect him to break out during this conference season.

Numbers: 10.0 PPG 4.2 RPG 2.2 APG | 103.9 ORtg 19.1 %Poss 42.9 eFG% 34.7 FTRate

3 Roosevelt Smart: G 6’3″ JR 

Rose is listed as a guard but he plays the “three” or SF position often. In modern basketball this is not really a big deal, but this is also usually a bigger wing than the two-guard. NT is shorter across the board, so the 6’1″ Umoja Gibson will often play the two while Rose is at the 3. Smart is a shooter, plain and simple, and he can light it up. He had an injury in the offseason. He’s not quite back to the level he was at last year (110 ORtg, 19.5 per game compared to this year’s 95.7, 10 ppg) but he is working his way back into shape.

He is not driving and getting to the line as much and that is a good reason why he isn’t as efficient or effective just yet. He’ll get there.

Numbers: 10.9 PPG 2.4 RPG 1.3 APG | 95.7 ORtg 22.4 % Poss 50.0 eFG% 6 FTRate

23 Michael Miller: G 6’3″ SR

Mike Miller broke out in the CBI and he has been incredible since. He had 35 against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on 5/6 shooting from deep. He can shoot now, and has developed a nice little midrange attack using both hands. NT plays him at the 4-spot often and you can see how the four-guard lineup can be lethal with so many scorers spreading the floor. He has made 11 threes thus far this season, which was last year’s season total.

Numbers: 11.4 PPG 4.6 RPG 1.2 APG | 126.1 ORtg 20.7 %Poss 65.7 eFG% 32.5 FTRate

24 Zachary Simmons: F 6’10” SO

The key to this four-guard lineup has been Zach Simmons’ play. He has to do all the big man work since he is the lone big man. His offensive rating (131.2) is 31st in the nation among all players who have used at least 16% of their team’s possesions. That is to say he has been an efficient and productive offensive player.

Against Louisiana Tech Simmons was instrumental. Witness these two plays late — the patience in the post to get a layup over two guys, and the movement to make the final Tech drive difficult.

Numbers: 12.3 PPG 6.9 RPG 0.8 ASG | 131.2 ORtg 19.3 %Poss 64.6 eFG% 31.1 FTRate

The Bench


1 Umoja Gibson: G 6’1″ RFR

Umoja balled out in his first couple games last season before he was injured for the year. He has returned to the roster and filled in nicely in Smart’s absence.  He’s quick and can shoot the ball well. Right now, he is mostly a three-point shooter in this offense, taking far more threes than twos. He had an off night vs Tech, and that contributed to the Tech comeback.

On the right night he will be a game-changer.

Numbers: 12.4. PPG 2.3 RPG 1.6 APG | 95.4 ORtg 19.8 %Poss 45.6 eFG% 26.4 FTRate

10 Jamiah Simmons: F 6’4″ RSO

Simmons came along with Grant McCasland from Arkansas State. He is a burly forward that is rebounding well — his defensive rebounding rate is just about where Zach Simmons is at 17.7%.

Numbers: 4.6 PPG 4.3 RPG 0.8 APG | 101.0 ORtg 16.2 %Poss 47.9 eFG% 53.2 FTR

55 DJ Draper: G 5’10” JR

DJ is a fan favorite shooter. He has not been getting the same kind of time as he was last season, but he’ll come in and hit a three and sit down. Occasionally, he’ll make a great play that isn’t shooting and twitter will go wild. This is as it should be.

Numbers: 4.6 PPG 1.0 RPG 1.2 APG | 141.9 ORtg 8.7 %Poss 63.5 eFG% .478 3PT%

20 Tope Arikawe: F 6’8″ SR

Tope is big and powerful but does not get a ton of minutes. McCasland mostly prefers Zach for playing the big spot and four guards around him. Tope will come in and set screens and rebound. He has some touch around the basket but he is not scoring at the same rate he was last season. He’s only getting about 10% of the minutes so we won’t list numbers here.

13 Mark Tikhonenko: F 6’10” FR

Mark can shoot the ball but has not appeared in the recent games. He played well in the early season as NT was running throuhg some lineups and beating up on some minnows. Ideally he would be a stretch-four but with the four-guard lineup NT is running now, this is unnecessary.

35 Shakeem Alcindor: F 6’8″ FR

Another big-body forward who got minutes in a blowout. Good size.

The Season

North Texas has the third-best adjusted efficiency margin in the league — again, according to KenPom — at +5.39, just behind über talented Western Kentucky at +6.38 and defensive monster Old Dominion at +8.73.. Things will settle into a different rhythm once everyone is deeper into league play. Right now NT’s league-only offensive rating is 126 — number one in the conference — and that is heavily influenced by destroying the worst team defense in Rice on the road.

North Texas was expected to finish somewhere behind Western, Marshall, ODU, and maybe Tech. Thus far, the advanced numbers from the non-conference season and the first week of league play have bore that out.

The Mean Green are playing like a good team, with a balanced scoring attack reliant on spreading the floor and controlling the tempo. FIU (leads the nation!), Marshall, and UTSA play at a super-high pace, while NT plays fairly deliberately.

When NT is hitting threes, they are nigh-unstoppable, as most teams are. Usually, one or two of NT’s primary scorers are on, while the other is struggling a bit. This is fairly common in the game. The metronomes are Zach Simmons and Ryan Woolridge. While some of the other guys can get to the rim, Simmons and Woolridge are the two that can get inside and make things happen with consistency.

NT will face a few challenges in this league campaign. Louisiana Tech is talented — we all saw how DaQuan Bracey broke down the NT defense. Western Kentucky has 5-star freshman 6’11” Charles Bassey, 245 lbs, and dominant.

ODU is physically imposing and has two talented senior players in Ahmad Caver and BJ Stith. Marshall has Jon Elmore and CJ Burks, two of the best players in the league but has not been as efficient on either end without the departed Ajdin Penava.

The non-conference schedule was soft, so even a 1-loss season mixed with a conference tournament exit will not guarantee an NCAA bid. NT needs to win the tournament, and so this league season is about getting a good placement there. In a single-elimination tournament, any squad can get hot and upset someone. We saw Southern Miss eliminate Middle last season.

Whatever happens, this should be a fun season. North Texas basketball is back.

Schedule

The league schedule is Thurs/Saturday in league play. After February 16, the league switches to pod play. NT will be grouped according to their finish to have an 18-game schedule. More information can be found here.

January

  • Saturday Jan 5 – Southern Miss
  • Thursday Jan 10 – @ UTEP
  • Saturday Jan 12 – @ UTSA
  • Saturday Jan 19 – Rice
  • Thursday Jan 24 – UAB
  • Saturday Jan 26 – MTSU
  • Thursday Jan 31 – @ ODU

Feb

  • Sat Feb 2 – @ Charlotte
  • Thu Feb 7 – Marshall
  • Sat Feb 9 – WKU
  • Thu Feb 14 – @ FAU
  • Sat Feb 16 – @ FIU

Kenpom has NT winning all of these with the exception of the ODU game.