North Texas was eliminated in the Round of 32 by Villanova, 84-61 in a game that saw North Texas play well. Yes, really and truly NT played well. Villanova played better, showing their versatility, size, depth, and ability to shoot the ball from three.
Sometimes this game is simple and they could knock it down from seemingly anywhere on the court. Their big run in the middle of the first half erased a brief North Texas 8-point lead and put Nova firmly ahead for good. They went into the half with a 20-point lead. Eight different players combined for 15 of 30 shooting on the night from distance.
North Texas shot a respectable 8 of 26 from there– some of those heaves in the final two minutes. The game plan was about getting the Wildcats to shoot from three, but like a standstill, hand-in-face kind of deal. Instead they were able to get rhythm looks from wherever they wanted. Combine that shooting performance with a zone look that stymied some of NT’s offense just enough at the right time, and Villanova’s big run was just about all they needed.
Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright is a good one. He has won two national titles and won a lot of games. He has his teams prepared and ready to play. He recruits and develops players that can do it all and that total package was on display tonight. North Texas was able to frustrate some of what they saw thrown at them before Wright switched up some things. North Texas’ famously short bench just did not have the versatility to match up with it.
Wright brought in some more size and his starting “center” Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was able to move to the four-spot. NT got bullied in the paint a few times and had difficulty attacking the zone they ran. There was a little bit of a reminder of the UAB series, in which that team sat back in a zone and North Texas bombed away with little success. It happens and that is the game.
We said on the podcast that all you can ask from your favorite basketball teams is that they compete, come prepared, and play to win. North Texas did that and it was not enough. That is that. The end to the best NT season in history is over, and the work to build on that success begins now.
These last two seasons NT was a senior-led team that was expected to compete. It earned just about all of the accolades that could be earned: one regular season title, one conference tournament win, one NCAA win, a player of the year award for Hamlet, and a tournament MVP win for him as well.
Depending on who stays, NT has either another run to look forward to, or the start of a reload. My gut tells me the seniors (Hamlet, Bell, Reese, Simmons, and Murray) all say goodbye and move on to the next step in their careers. Hamlet’s dad’s sweater had “Javion’s final act” on the back, after all.
In recruiting, NT has a couple of three-star guys and a solid SF slated to come in next season. Add to that the current squad of Abou Ousmane, Terence Lewis, Rubin Jones, Mardrez McBride, Jalen Jackson, and Mykell Robinson and you have a nice team.
Ousmane was outstanding in his minutes backing up Simmons and has a bright future. He will not directly fill the shoes of experienced big man Simmons but he can start making his own name and continue to do good things. Terence Lewis got a lot of time early in the season — and posted like four double-figure point games. Rubin Jones was the point guard back up and is versatile enough to play the four, also. McBride you know as the shooter extraordinaire, and Mykell Robinson showed a ton of potential as the springy five man. Jalen Jackson has not played much in his two seasons backing up Javion Hamlet.
I am not entirely sure of NT’s scholarship situation right now1 but the transfer portal might bring in another program-changing guy. It is reasonable to think that this tourney run will sway a player that was on the fence about North Texas.
Make no mistake: there is no replacing a Javion Hamlet. NT is not looking to do that, however. They are looking to play good basketball. Hamlet was the lead scorer for this team, but the heart and soul was a commitment to playing together, working hard on defense, and executing. Executing on this team meant getting Hamlet the ball. On next year’s team it may mean a more balanced scoring attack like the 2019 team that saw four 10+ point scorers.
North Texas basketball is good again and it is great.
It really depends on the number of players returning and their budget. Again, I imagine NT’s seniors are going to move on but someone might come back. Beyond that there is the budget for scholarships. NT might have one available but no money for it. This tourney run will help that.↩