DJ DRAPER (@draperd55) WITH THE THREE FOR THE LEAD. UNT is up 69-67 with 3.4 remaining. pic.twitter.com/fgUIeOeSZB
— Matthew Brune (@MatthewBrune_) January 28, 2018
“DJ Draper — he’s more than just a shooter,” North Texas head coach Grant McCasland said on his way out of the team’s postgame press conference Saturday night.
It’s something he’s said before in practice and in post game quotes, but after this game, Draper’s play spoke for itself.
In a 56 second span late in the second half, Draper had two impressive steals, solidifying his spot in the closing lineup for McCasland in a tight game against Florida International University.
North Texas is in a tie for 5th place in the league. The conference tournament grants an important first round bye to the top four seeds. Given the strength of the top of the league — WKU, ODU, Marshall, UAB, MTSU — that was always unlikely. Greg Goedecker predicted a 6th place finish for little old NT and that is very reasonable.
Every league has some surprises and, well, luck. This blog’s official position on the luck has always been It is better to be lucky than good.
The nature of this year’s team is one that battles and keeps themselves in close games. Wins over UTSA, UTEP, and last night against FIU were lucky and the losses to Charlotte, ODU, La Tech were unlucky.
NT has had injuries and is in the first year of Grant McGasland’s tenure as head of the program. Going nine-deep is not ideal, and neither is playing Ryan Woolridge 40 minutes a night. Against FAU and FIU Shane Temara has been struggling. If he can return to his early season form, NT might have an outside shot of stealing a top-four slot.
NT fans should root for more chaos. UAB, one of the better teams in this league, were run out of Bartow arena by UTSA last night.
Getting into the top four increases the chances of success in said tourney considering the setup. The first round takes place on Wednesday and first round entrants have to win a game in four straight days — sometimes with fewer than 24 hours in between a game — to win the league from that position. Marshall had a miracle run in 2017 that saw them lose to Middle in the title game.
Given NT’s roster situation, reducing the number of games required to win the thing is ideal.