We are in April and that is a very long way from the meaningful portion of a college basketball season. Last year’s very good league season was hurt slightly by the relative lack of big wins in the non-conference schedule. For teams at this level, getting an at-large bid is about threading a needle and getting very good fortune. Here at MGN, we do not worry too much about it. The path to the NCAA Tournament is through the league tournament, and securing a good spot there is about getting through the league season. This will be true for the foreseeable future. It is fine.
North Texas had to reload the roster after the end of the incredible career of Thomas Bell, and the departure (on good terms) of Mardrez McBride1.
There was also a coaching change, bringing in Achoki Moikobu aka “AC” in for the departing Jareem Dowling. Moikobu has been a part of winning programs and developing players and has a reputation as a good recruiter.
Jayden Martinez – 6’7″ transfer from New Hampshire who averaged 14.9 per game last season. He is a talent and should fit in well. He’s also from Cibolo, TX (San Antonio ‘burb) and so this is a home-coming of sorts. Some YT of him. Given his shooting numbers (.562 True shooting, .549 eFG) he can step in for the Drez role. Drez shot about 2 more per game than Martinez did at NH, and there is an element of system and fit confounding any comparison there. Jayden can score in more ways than just hoisting threes, but he might be asked to keep those in his locker for the good of the team. We shall see. Also a note about Drez — all the great shooting in the world doesn’t matter unless you are hitting them when it matters. Drez hit gigantic, huge, enormous shots for this team on the way to a tournament win and a first-round NCAA upset. Let us not forget.
Kai Huntsberry – 6’3″ transfer from University of Mary in Division II. He’s a scorer and averaged ~19 points per contest. I don’t know how well a DII scoring guard transfers into CUSA, but we can trust the eyes of Mac and company, who know talent when they see it. Thomas Bell put up 12.5 points per contest, and if Huntsberry can manage 64% of his DII output that would equal Bell’s contribution. I can see the vision. I can also see the possibility of reducing the scoring burden on Tylor Perry. He was great for most of the year, but asking him to be the clutch guy is a lot, and having another guy who can create his own look opens things up for everyone including Perry. TP has a great step-back, but can also do a catch-and-shoot thing. Imagine Huntsberry driving and kicking for a Perry three. I like it.
Moulaye Sissoko – 6’9″ transfer (with three seasons left!) from Dayton by way of Lincoln Academy in Georgia, by way of Mali. He’s big and can finish at the rim with authority. I like the potential for spelling Ousmane — and even pushing him for a few more minutes — and being a big body for some of the league’s battles. He’s been part of a winning program at Dayton and should come in with good habits here. Hameir Wright did not play as much as expected as Bell and Scott played the four and Ousmane and Scott manned the five (with situational Bell minutes there). I can see NT rolling with some big lineups in spots, with both Sissoko and Ousmane, but expect the transfer to be the backup five while Scott slides into a three/four look.
How does it all fit?
There is plenty of time to see it all work out. I would like to see another wing player for depth. NT got hurt late in the last two seasons and it restricted things. I know top programs only go so deep, but it is all good quality.
Ball Handlers — Perry, Jones, Huntsberry
Scorers — Perry, KH, Martinez
Shooters — Perry, KH, Martinez … Jones is getting there and I liked Scott testing his range
Bigs — Ousmane, Sissoko
Stretch bigs — Martinez, Scott
I think ether of Stone or Browne has a shot to impress and win minutes. I would focus on defense if I were them, as there is no one here that obviously slots into the JJ Murray defensive role. Drez was a good defender for NT as well. Everyone in the program is asked to defend, but it remains to be seen which of the new additions will be able to even approach the quality Bell brought to the team. Rubin Jones was locking down the opposition all year and has the size and quickness to defend 1 through 3.
I expect we will see Mac use the opening part of the season to see rotations and figure out fit. Perry, Jones, and even Huntsberry will get some time as the primary ball handler. I expect we will see a little of Scott at the three, but probably more 4 for him (a good thing). Sissoko will get a shot to earn minutes and if he fails to impress, we’ll likely see Ousmane and Scott rotate there. Martinez *should* step into the bulk of Bell minutes at the 4 and can slide over to the 3 if NT wants to go big.
A key development opportunity is around Rubin Jones. He showed flashes of being the primary scorer, and if he can do that in stretches I like Perry running some off-ball screens and saving the step-back, one-on-one stuff for crunch time. Bell made a leap last year, from solid piece to centerpiece. Jones has the opportunity to do something similar. He can defend, and will have looks to score as teams focus on Perry and while Martinez and Huntsberry get used to their new teammates.
There is a long offseason ahead, and perhaps more changes coming. The league will be smaller this season and that means more familiarity which requires more versatility. I like where NT is going so far.