The journey continues. If you are like most of this nation, you are amusing yourself by watching the Men’s National Championships. You know it better as March Madness®. This is strange because the most important tournament happening right now is the National Invitational Tournament. It will continue this weekend with some lower right bracket action. Follow as you see fit.
Your humble proprietor has been swimming in a sea of college basketball, nearly to the point where the games are inseparable. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and we are nearing it here in MGN HQ. Before we arrived at that point, we did watch some Virginia basketball, dusted off some old You Tube clips, and also jumped on a podcast. Links far below.
The updated bracket as of 2022-03-19.
As of this writing, North Texas is favored by 3.
How to Watch
Sunday March 20, 2022 — 5:00 PM CT — Super Pit, Denton TX
Broadcasters: Ted Emrich, Lance Blanks
Radio (Local): Mean Green Learfield IMG College — Dave Barnett, Hank Dickenson
Series Record: Virginia 1, North Texas 0
Fun fact: This will be just the second all-time meeting between UNT and UVA. They met on Nov. 20, 2013 in Charlottesville, VA. Virginia won 80-64. North Texas is 3-26 all-time versus current ACC schools. Virginia won 80-64 win over North Texas on Nov. 20, 2012 in the NIT Tip-Off consolation. Tony Mitchell had 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Cavs, or Hoos are one-time champions with a long history of basketball success. They’ve won this particular tournament twice, when it was slightly more prestigious. Tony Bennett one-time Wisconsin-Green Bay hooper, and current second-generation basketball coach loves him some defense and slow offense. For we North Texans, this has currently been a recent flavor and we’ve enjoyed it quite a lot.
The Blocker-Mover or Sides, according to Virginia Gameday host Casey Pazzalia is a methodical offense that is simple in concept and useful when executed well. The general idea is that you have two “blockers” or screeners and three “movers” or well, movers who use those picks to get open. It can be strange to see in the modern game with all of the five-out spread looks.
This season, the Cavs have not been as amazing defensively, or as efficient on offense. A good portion of that is because they cannot shoot the three as well as in year’s past. They went 0-fer twice this season, and without a big to step out and let it fly, the offense can become predictable.
Guys to look out for: 0 Kehei Clark — the “heartbeat” of the team that won a national title, and runs the point. He can and will shoot it, but will primarily effect the game with his passing. He and 2 Reece Beekman have the highest assist rate on the team.1 Jayden Gardner is 6’6″ and is used as a post guy. He transferred from ECU and has been the primary scorer for this team. He can step out to 15-feet but is iffy beyond that. Look for him to try to drive or post Thomas Bell inside. 22 Francisco Caffaro and 21 Kadin Shedrick are the other bigs, and have a lot of size. Caffaro is 7’1″, and Shedrick is 6’11”.
Virginia is a Kenpom 81 team. Here are some comparable squads for ya. The main lesson here, is that when the defense plays well it usually means good things. The lone exception was the Tech game in the league semifinal. Then, NT played really great but the offense was abysmal.
|Team (rank)||Def efficiency (Off efficiency)||Def efficiency (Off efficiency)||Def efficiency (Off efficiency)|
|Tech 99||72 (62) – L||82 (94.5) – W||107 (109) – W|
|UAB 49||96.2 (97.9) – W||114 (104.3) – L|
|Drake 85||98 (104.2) – W|
|Kansas 6||102.7 (85.3) – L|
|Buffalo 129||105 (101) – L|
|Wichita St 96||82 (97.8) – W|
|Tx St 130||98.4 (104)|
North Texas should do a great job denying entry passes, guarding the main actions, and overall doing the things a top-15 defense does. Abou Ousmane will have a tough time getting his normal looks in the paint. Virginia likes to “choke the post” by doubling the postman once he gets below the block area.
They like to hedge hard on ball-screens, meaning their bigs will jump out and force the ball handler to dribble around them. The usual counter for this is for the big man to slip the screen. Tony Bennett has seen this done to them a ton, so they usually are ready for it.
The vulnerability in their style of defense is in allowing catch-and-shoot threes. North Texas has struggled a bit in this area, with McBride going 2-14 from distance in the league tournament. NT shot 11-29 from three vs Texas State, but that was the only the sixth time the squad went in double-digit made threes.
Thomas Bell will have his hands full with Jayden Gardner, but we have seen him do well against this type of player before. He’s not quite Tech’s Kenneth Lofton, but he has a similar size advantage. Bell should be good with no help. NT will be challenged on the boards against such size. Still, Gardner is Option One, and will step out and also drive from the free throw line. This is an easy way to pick up fouls, and also allow offensive put backs. Watch this closely.
Tylor Perry started slowly and while he may think that isn’t worth tweeting about, he was struggling for a long time in the last one. Rubin Jones was vastly more aggressive, and that helps Perry by taking away the defensive focus. Virginia likes ball pressure, so we will see a lot of Clark on Perry and a crowded paint. NT will have to be ready to catch and shoot, or make buckets in traffic.
Mardrez McBride will need to be the knock-down shooter we know him to be. He was good vs Texas State, and more like the 2021 version of himself. More of that, and NT should be good. He shot 13 times from distance (made six). In two games in Frisco he shot 2-13. He was way more aggressive.
Watch for 4 Armaan Franklin, a transfer from Indiana. He’s a shooter, but has had an absolutely terrible season this year doing that.
Jones has done a great job of locking down the primary ball-handler in recent weeks. Virginia likes the blocker-mover, but there are other sets (of course) that they run. There is a lot of chasing around screens involved, and I expect to see the Cavs see how well Perry defends Clark or whoever on this. The primary actions come on pin-down screens (big screens and the little guy comes off this from the baseline toward the ball). This opens them up for a bucket going to the lane, and an easy dump-off if the big helps.
North Texas will likely guard this straight-up, but also mix in a little switching/matchup zone here. Virginia will just keep running this “wheel” action until they find something they like. It is effective. Beyond that, the other actions they use as change ups will have the bigs come out to the three-point line for dribble-hand-offs and pick-and-rolls. North Texas is pretty good at defending this, but watch for big-small switches. I expect Virginia to be able to exploit these better than other squads. Kansas killed NT on this.
Keys to the game:
- Look for the first, good shot — Virginia is like North Texas in that it will slowly crush your offensive dreams. Taking the first good look is the key. Look at Drez, Jones, and Bell for this.
- Stay clean on defense — They have some size, and it will be easy to start fouling out battling for rebounds and fouling on drives
- Early Perry — He waited until the 40th minute of the game to be himself. Let’s take those earlier
- Enjoy the moment — Grinding for possessions can be fun, and fun makes basketball easier.
- Virginia has 14 all-time appearances in this tournament vs NT’s one (this year). They are 18-11 and have won it twice. They were last in this in 2013 and reached the quarterfinals.
- A North Texas win would put the league record at 26-6 on the year. The winner play the winner of Oklahoma/St Bonaventure. North Texas would travel to Norman, or host the Bonnies.
- The 14th win at home would be one short of the record set in 07-08
So Are We Going to Win Or Nah?
Probably. The oddsmakers like us, and that is mostly because they do not like the Cavs vs our defense. This is slated to be a grind-it-out event, and well NT already saw that vs Louisiana Tech, Wichita St. It is not quite the same, but it is similar. North Texas is not nearly the same talent level as can be seen nightly in the ACC, but it is a disciplined team and that will present a challenge for the Hoos. For NT, the talent jump should be little bit of a shock, but that is mostly in depth and not in top-flight level. This squad still has dudes that beat Purdue last year. That team has the same guys who have that squad ranked highly this season.
An NT win looks like: North Texas is getting and hitting open looks from Drez, Jones, and Perry and Bell and Ousmane are getting enough inside to keep things moving. North Texas keeps Gardner in check, and stays out of foul trouble. Perry has 20 points, Jones 10-15, and Drez the same.
An NT loss looks like: Some absolutely crushing misses from three, some foul trouble, and Virginia locking up Perry and forcing the offense to run through others.
I see NT locking up and getting a nice win here. The home crowd, the opportunity and the close loss on Tuesday are going to drive this team.
We will be on twitter spaces afterward. Or maybe YouTube. I haven’t decided just yet.
Podcast with Virginia Gameday
Same thing but on YT