On twitter, friend-of-the-blog Greg retweeted Evan Miyakawa’s tweet about teams that go on scoring runs. North Texas is in the part of the graph that shows teams that go on many runs, and also give up a lot of runs. That just about summates the game vs Rice. The Owls pulled away late in the second half, and pulled away the game. North Texas went dead and that was the game. Early on, NT started out strong with a big run to start the game but let Rice climb back in.
NT is not the good nor all the bad, but both. The criticism after the game was about the team’s inability to guard the Rice ball-handlers, who attacked the rim, against type. Rice seemingly locked in at getting into the paint instead of shooting threes, something they are known for. NT on the other side, was challenged to finish at the rim with the bigs (well, just Abou Ousmane) and the guards. That didn’t happen. NT shot well from three, but couldn’t get the inside buckets when it mattered. Ousmane has been the primary 2-point maker for a couple of years, but Thomas Bell was the second-leading bucket getter from 2 last year with .522 shooting on 224 attempts. In 2021, Javion Hamlet was the leading 2-point maker while Zach Simmons was second (by five buckets). Right now that is Ousmane and Kai Huntsberry. Whereas NT was averaging about > 50% in the previous two years from two point range from their top-two bucket getters, NT is under that this season. Kai and Abou are at about .425 from inside the line.
It is a small thing but in razor-tight games it makes a difference. Mac likes to play inside-out but you have to be a threat inside to make that work. NT shot well from three — 10/27 for .370 shooting and 30 points. They shot 11/29 from inside or .379 for 22 points. “Okay shoot more threes then” is maybe the response to that line. But like anything, it isn’t so simple. How do you create three point looks? You can just chuck them up. Shooting rhythm threes is the key, and getting rhythm threes means you have to keep the defense off balanced. Rice forced NT to take shots inside (for the most part, I mean, 27 looks from distance is solid) and North Texas couldn’t finish those as well as they wanted. Javion Hamlet was lethal from midrange and could finish around the rim. Zach Simmons shot like .655 from the paint. Abou Ousmane has an array of moves around the bucket but isn’t as good of a finisher.
It made the difference vs Rice.
UAB at 3pm
This was the biggest game on the calendar around preseason time. After having played some games, the FAU ones were bigger, but UAB is still a mental hurdle. The Blazers are the defending champions and have the most talent. Jelly Walker was in a boot for a week or so and missed a couple of games, but might return for this afternoon’s matchup. If you were concerned at the on-ball defending from NT vs Rice’s guards? Well that will be 2x concern vs these dudes. The Blazers boast the fastest backcourt in the league. Trey Jemison is still a beast inside and will put Abou Ousmane in foul trouble — something AO has been in vs Dishman et al — and that changes things for North Texas.
Simply put UAB just has more dudes. When they are flowing it is hard to guard Walker and Jemison is a good defender and rebounder that puts stress on your front court. You can throw a lot at the Blazers and then Jemison can simply get the rebound and you have to do it all over again. Defensively they don’t have the on-ball defense like last year, but still have athletes that can get into passing lanes. The main thread is again Jemison who prevents the inside-out looks. NT should be able to get loose from some three balls but the same issues we saw vs Rice will doom NT. Got to finish around the rim — that’s the other, often forgotten part of advanced analytics. It isn’t just three-balls, but also high-percentage twos. For some guys — Javion Hamlet — that means a midrange free-throw line jumper off the dribble. For others, that is dunks only. The Mean Green offense has to find the recipe for getting high percentage twos to compliment the three-point barrage.
If that sounds familiar or simple, you are right. That is the whole strategy of basketball since the first peach basket was hung up.