FRISCO, Texas — A stellar regular season is over, and the rest of North Texas’ playing future will be a series of win-or-go-home games 1. Tonight, we begin with Louisiana Tech in the quarterfinal round.
Last night Tech played FIU in an overtime thriller. The Bulldogs shot their way into a 20-point lead — thanks to Keaston Willis’ 4 threes — by the 16minute mark of the 2nd half before getting pressured out of their minds by Jeremy Ballard’s Panthers. Arturo Dean and Denver Jones led the way, often with Dean getting steals and Jones hitting jumpers. That all led to an overtime session where the Dawgs escaped thanks to eight points from bouncy Quandre Bullock — he had seven straight in overtime that gave Tech its entire lead.
North Texas’ men’s coaching staff was watching the game, as is custom for the waiting team, and preparing for the game. Mac had to do all of the pleasantries as there was always at least one person wanting a handshake. During overtime, he was eating popcorn. Tonight, he will be screaming and coaching and squatting and pointing.
The main advantage of a team in a bye is rest. The sneaky disadvantage is rhythm. The key for NT in this one is to not let Tech jump out and get too big of a lead. The legs for guys like Crawford, and Willis will not be as strong by the last five minutes of the game just because they played 40+ last night in the OT game. Still, they are good players and good athletes. They will be strong to start, and that is where NT has to be ready to play.
The oddsmakers have the squad at something like a -7.5 to -8.5 favorite. That’s about right. Tech is compromised, without a true experienced ball-handler. They relied a ton on Keaston Willis to get dribble penetration for kick-outs, and he’s also the main shooter (shot 200 threes this season). Last year Willis hit some clutch ones vs NT and that changed the game in the semifinals. This year, NT will have more tools to target him, and fewer worries now that Cobe Williams is out.
That isn’t to say that Tech present some challenges, as they have a nice roster. Isaiah Crawford is a handful at 6’6″, with size enough to get post-buckets and handles and shooting skill enough to step out and make you deal with him in space. FIU put their big man — um, tall man. That dude is rail thin — on him and Crawford ate him up off the dribble. North Texas has Rubin Jones and Aaron Scott as options to guard him there. A certain spy saw Kenny Hunter getting taped up on his ankle while grimacing after fouling out. He’s a 6’10” guy with mobility and a motor. If he is limpy, that is good for North Texas. Yes, you read that very obvious analysis.
Newly crowned player of the year Tylor Perry gets a debut. Meanwhile on court B, Jelly Walker will be going up against a weak Rice team that nearly lost to UTSA. We might see Jelly going for 50 on one side while Tylor Perry gets a chance to shine in front of the large home crowd. North Texas’ Kai Huntsberry, newly named Newcomer of the Year, is also a question with his own ankle problem. He has had a week to recover, however so things should be better. He is necessary for any trophy-raising in this or any future tournament, but may not be absolutely required to win this game tonight.
Things To Watch
- North Texas matching the early Tech energy
- NT making Crawford and Willis work for everything on both ends — take full advantage of their playing 40+ minutes yesterday
- Abou Ousmane getting to feast inside
- Rubin Jones/Aaron Scott defensive work on Crawford/anyone
I know it is easy to get superstitious. We are humans and not very far removed from thinking some very silly things about the way the world works. The truth of the matter is that North Texas *should* blow the doors off the Tech squad. Sure, there are always reasons to think Tech has a chance but the NT staff and the NT squad (who were at the game for a bit) all know what those things are. They know what they need to do. If North Texas plays with defensive intensity and executes offensively Tech will wear down and they do not have as many game-changers as the Mean Green. It is that simple, folks.
Now, basketball is a funny old game and miracles and unlikely events *do* happen so yes, it is possible for a massive upset to happen and for us to all be very said tonight at around 10pm.
A North Texas Win Looks Like
NT is stifling defensively, and Willis’ contested threes are coming up short. Crawford gets some foul shots, but doesn’t have the same touch around the rim that he did last night. Kenny Hunter is limited a bit, and Jordan Crawford fouls out again while trying to guard Tylor Perry. NT swats away a late run by Tech and wins after some game-sealing 3s from Tylor Perry and a couple of Ousmane dunks off the press.
A NT Loss looks Like
NT is cold for a long stretch, and Keaston Willis and Isaiah Crawford work a two-man game that looks to stretch Ousmane. Foul trouble get one or more players sitting, and NT is chasing the game by five or six for an uncomfortably long time. The wide-open shots are off target, and the ankle-breaking looks from TP are not dropping like they normally do. NT needs a clutch basket or two and simply doesn’t get them.
The league looks more comfortable with the set up. There are more black curtains in more places. The television camera is at a lower angle and the bright lights above the court are pretty blinding for media row. Outside of that it is very much the same stuff. They have games and things for the kids outdoors and the bands and teams do pep rallies outside. There is fun to be had but the crowds were a bit sparse in the cold and rain on Wednesday. Thursday sees the home team play and the better squads in action so it makes sense that turnout will be better tonight. Plan accordingly.
Concrete Cowboy is the spot where the alumni association people are going. Get some green beer.
Well, there *could* be an at-large. There *could* be an NIT invite. Nothing is guaranteed so those are simply not counted here ↩