Categories
Basketball CUSA Stuff

Final Thoughts On Frisco, Ford Center at Star, and the CUSA Tournament

Never trust arena pictures. A person’s eyes are much better able to process even the worst seating angle and enjoy the game than a picture can represent.

The Ford Center at Frisco is not an ideal basketball venue, but no ideal basketball venue is ideal for the men’s and women’s conference tournament. Couched in the public relations speak from the conference leadership is the fact that the league needed something that would draw attention, but also make it easier to run a conference tournament.

Frisco is the best spot for that of the available options. The city is approximately 1/2 the population of, say, Birmingham, but the Metro area is seven times that of the Birmingham-Hoover MSA. More importantly — the median income of Frisco is about 100K. If the goal is to bring in the average person-off-the-street interested in relatively cheap but quality sports entertainment it does not hurt to place it where there is disposable income.

Frisco is small enough to get around easily and not get lost, while providing all the big city-type amenities in restaurant and hotel options without having to deal with all the things a big city has — traffic, long lines, confusion. Obviously, if you are looking for those other big city benefits — museums, cultural attractions, history — Ikea and the Stonebriar Mall are not going to cut it. That is where having DFW just 40 minutes away comes in handy.

For the person coming to Frisco only for the C-USA tournament, this is a perfect spot.

The conference has a ready host school in North Texas and the league office a short drive away which makes managing the event much easier and cost-effective.

Aside from that factor, the venue is nice. In conversations with about 100 people ranging from students, band members, athletes, to administrators, retirees, non-college fans, and media members the consensus is that it is cool but there are some things that could be (and likely will be) improved.

Food & Shopping

“I like that I can walk across the street and there are restaurants.”

This was the most frequent praise point of the entire tournament. Everyone loved the shops surrounding the venue. Frisco has more than the Star complex and Your Favorite Blogger (YFB) did try a few of the spots.

Tupelo Honey Cafe
Norma’s Cafe
Bonnie Ruth’s
The Nest Cafe

Other attendees tried Raising Canes and the two restaurants directly facing the game had meet-up events for at least WKU and ODU fans at one point.

There is a good variety of dining ranging from casual to upscale so if your wallet was hurting you had options. You can eat and not be broke.

Hotels & Parking

“I had to drive around for a while but I finally found an old couple who were leaving and took that spot.”

The Omni looms over the Star, emblazoned with the Cowboys logo and provides an easy-access place to sleep after watching all of the basketball. If your wallet is thinner than the average corporate titan, you can stay at the Holiday Inn Express or one of the other surrounding hotels. You have options, folks.

YFB stayed at one of those options down Warren and it is literally a five minute drive away. The parking is free — woot! — and so the daily commute to cover this thing was short and sweet. For the NT fans that drove over from Denton, the media that came to produce Facebook streams and Stadium broadcasts, the same applied.

Once everyone figured out the layout by the second day, it was easy going. The first day there were a few lost souls but that is always going to be the case with an unfamiliar venue. Once this event is a regular occurance at the Star, there will be old pros that know how to navigate the area effortlessly and it all will be a little smoother.

On the busiest days there were some parking lot sharks — the people slowly trailing the lone pair of folks to their cars in hopes of stealing their spot quickly. The biggest games draw the biggest crowds. Frisco is an ever-developing spot, so I expect the area will be different with more places to choose very soon.

Adam Martinez/The “up-and-coming” means there is a lot under construction.

The surrounding businesses were not quite ready for the rush. The nearby café reported a slightly higher rush than a typical weekday, and the Rally House by Dr. Pepper arena was scrambling to rush over some Mean Green gear. Next year, they will presumably be ready to take full advantage of the tournament.

Ford Center and Views

“Oh yeah I can see just fine from here.”

I said not to trust the arena pictures and I cannot tell you how much I mean that. I sat in every section — in the football seats, both sections of the premium general admission,  the court-side section, and also stood next to the suited conference folks to take it in from near the bands. I talked with some of each fellow visitors to get their feelings on things, also. No one complained — at least not directly to me.

The entrace to the Ford Center overlooks Court A and many took games in from that view.

“I think maybe the best spot might be up there in the second level.”

The above quote was referring to the off-limits second-level of the arena. The low angles for all the seats did obscure the court-side screens and so getting the score was a chore if the view was obstructed.

Even from press row, if you were seated from the free throw line extended and lower (lower to the baseline) the view of the scoreboard was limited.

While the free wifi was useful, and clever fans could use their favorite sports app to keep up with the score, fouls, and stats, it was not ideal.

“We need to get those higher, yes.”

Adam Martinez/ Look at that obstructed view of the scoreboard.

The above came from an administrator about those scoreboards. While the criticism is valid, it is the good kind of criticism.

The first run is always important for finding bugs and making improvements. If next year’s tournament has the same issue? Well, then we will complain loudly.

Spectacle

“I think it is cool that they have all that stuff out front.”

The outside Fan Fest area was fun, if limited. There was music, random guys playing soccer, staff playing basketball, kids running around (one was my own) and well, fun. Oh and marketing. There was much marketing.

Underestimated is the unique prospect of the players queueing up before their game just under the bleachers. It is akin to the new NFL fad of having fan hallways where they can watch the players walk on and off of the field. Players left the court, in jubilation or disgust, and the distance from court to locker room door meant that everyone got to see a little bit more of the whole show.

It is a small thing, but not an insigificant thing.

More Benefits

The cost-effective hosting is lost on the average fan and frankly, that is not why we got into this fan game in the first place. You are forgiven if the budget of the league is not your top thought.

The primary benefit to the fan’s wallet of a single location is that the women’s tournament gets the benefit of better attendance and increased attention. No longer are you shuttling between locations a mile or so apart.

On Wednesday you could show up early, watch the women play, head out for dinner and return in the evening — a sort 2-minute walk — to watch the men.

Each session also allowed in-and-out privileges. You could leave and run to Raising Cane’s (as my friend did) and run back for the second half.

Oh, the concession stands have overpriced nachos and drinks as is usual for these kinds of things.

Final Thoughts

This is published before the league crowns the men’s and women’s champion but the tournament is all but done. Even if the nation only pays attention to a given non P5 league tournament on the final day or so, the diehards were here Tuesday.

Four and a half days are plenty to get a feel. To summarize the above for you:

Hoops At The Star was a success. Next season should be even better.

Categories
Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Loses to WKU In Semifinal

There have been celebrities at every NT game. This time it was the bachelorette.  Apparently she and her fiancé are here for this. She is covering the game and he is tagging along. The celebrity quotient remains high for North Texas basketball games. This time noted Saints LB and NT alumnus Craig Robertson brought his kid in tow. That makes us similar, as I brought mine. Also in attendance was recent combine attendee Jeff Wilson.

All were there to see the Cinderella team of the women’s bracket. After dispatching 6th ranked Charlotte and 3rd ranked Louisiana Tech the NT women were facing an even greater challenge in this conference tournament. The other part of survive and advance that is frequently unstated: Survive and Advance to Face An Even Better Opponent.

WKU’s Ivy Brown boasts an approximate 17/10/1.5 block per game split and performed to average in Denton earlier this season on the way to a 14-point Topper win. This is a different North Texas team, one which does not require the regular season depth. Instead they had been relying on the standbys and that had carried them throughout this magical tourney run.

Jalie Mitchell said as much after the Tech game: She was going to rely on her girls to do what is needed.

Early, the two squads felt each other out and WKU looked a little hesitant. North Texas missed some drives to the bucket, but then started to get the luck. Micayla Buckner had a smooth spin and score that ignited the crowd, and Grace Goodheart faked a pass and got a rolling lay-in. North Texas was up 8-6 after Terriell Bradley got a bucket and the foul.

Western’s Tashia Brown was silent through the first with only two points on 0/5 shooting. NT sold out to front the post to any both talented post players from getting in the paint and wreaking havoc. Speaking of selling out, early on Brittany Smith flew down the court to knock the ball away from Ivy Brown after Brown had a breakaway. NT looked to be doing the things required of underdogs.

Western’s play of the first quarter was Sidnee Bopp firing an 27-foot three to beat the clock. NT had done well to keep the Lady Toppers out of the paint but Western would figure out a different way to attack.

After one quarter it was NT 14 WKU 13.


During the quarter break there was some underhanded play — both rebounders in the little timeout game were knocking the ball away from the opponent. That’s the kind of animosity this game is producing apparently.


Lauren Holmes hit a three to start the second quarter but it was WKU who would get crazy with it. Ivy Brown hit two and Sidnee Bopp hit another Steph Curry three to steal the lead for WKU. North Texas was taking everything inside and so Western decided that the deep stuff was the best stuff.

Late in the second, North Texas was starting to waver a bit. WKU’s press, like La Tech’s the day before, was starting to bother the Mean Green and careless passes were tossed. Lauren Holmes managed a ridiculous deep three herself to keep NT in it. That was at the 3:29 mark. NT hadn’t scored since Mim’s (nice looking) jumper at the 6:16 mark.

Later when Trena Mims drew a foul she missed both. That’s notable because she was a perfect 9/9 against La Tech. We were expecting to see some fatigue and the first sign of tired legs was missed free throws and short layups.

After the half NT was outscored 10-4 by the four minute mark, had a banged up Brittany Smith — who was thrown into the stands — and couldn’t buy a bucket on the offensive end. Whatever drives were managed ended with hopeful shots at the rim. Tired legs, tough defense, thrown rhythm — whatever the cause, it was affecting NT.

WKU on the other end was unlocking their stars as both Browns got some inside buckets working 1v1.

Tashia Brown had 12 in the third quarter as NT layup attempts fell short time and again. That was partly due to the WKU press which forced NT’s talented guards to expend energy breaking it then try to get the cup.

NT was vulnerable to both Browns inside, as the two talented Hilltoppers who averaged a combined 39 points were showing how they managed that. An array of silky post moves and step-backs from them at 36 points at the 6 min mark of the 4th.

All that said North Texas was down just 7 after a run of three throw trips. WKU was playing better ball but was fouling way to often. Ivy Brown had four fouls and the refs originally gave her her fifth to the roaring satisfaction of the green crowd before correcting the call to Elgedaway. That ignited WKU’s crowd. Tashia Brown hit a jumper and the FT to push things to 10 again with four to play.

The NT crowd was standing on its feet, and the WKU crowd was also.

Buoyed by the beneficial call, WKU went on a run to seal the game. What was a 7 point lead with 5:00 left after two Terrell free throws became an 18 point lead with minute left.

In a span of 30 seconds WKU’s Whitney Creech faked a pass, then got a layup then hit a bucket, then stole the ball, then got a pull up jumper. That sealed it if it wasn’t already sealed. NT was done — they gave everything they had in the three games this tournament and that was just not enough to beat a team the calibre of Western.

The Western crowd gets to enjoy both championship games on Saturday. This was the group that had loud complaints about the venue and yet flourished.

Afterward Jalie Mitchell spoke about how proud she was of the team despite the loss. “I thought we showed up. We gave up some buckets that we didn’t want game plan-wise but I’m proud.”

“They hit those threes. Could have lived without those.”

“In the second half we turned it on, fought and pushed it. We didn’t finish at the rim like I thought we needed to. Had some great opportunities. Didn’t finish at the rate we needed to.  Not our night.”

Lauren Holmes called this season “a good start.”

Mitchell concurred.

“We did (make progress). Our first winning season in a while. That’s big-time. That just means we are moving in the right direction. Every year we have won more and more games — this is my third year and so to accomplish this every single player in that locker room were players we brought in and recruited and believed in. I’m proud — disappointed in the loss — but proud and things are only going up from here.”

“We are going to grow so much”

And so ends a great run for the North Texas women. The first winning season in about a decade was capped by an excellent tournament run. Few believed they had much of chance in the tournament, but Lauren Holmes said all that mattered was that they did:

“[The season] was definitely a success. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We proved to ourselves that we could get this far. Overall it is a good start for us.”

The entire team returns including current freshman Lauren Holmes. If this tournament is any indication, there will be more in store next time.

Categories
Basketball Basketball Recaps

Survive and Advance, North Texas Women Win Again

North Texas is the CUSA Tourney Cinderella squad and pulled off an upset of 3rd ranked La Tech on International Women’s Day. Combined with yesterday’s upset of 6th ranked Charlotte and you have a North Texas Women’s team primed for a showdown against WKU in prime time.

The turnout for the men against Tech last night was significant and the hope — from everyone around the program — is that the same group will turn up for that one.

In the mean time, everyone is feeling good. Jalie Mitchell:

“I’m so proud of our girls. We were resilient”

Nearly the entire green section behind the bench paused to hug and congratulate Jalie Mitchell for her success after the game. NT came out and looked hungrier than the Lady Techsters and that made all the difference. Tech got back into things with a viscous press that caused a handful of turnovers and sloppy play but NT entered the fourth quarter up 7 points and simply outlasted their way to victory.

It helped that Trena Mims was perfect from the line — 9/9 — and Teriell Bradley hit clutch jumpers to break the tough 2-3 zone late.

Tech got back into things with a full court press that collapsed into a 2-3 zone. NT had more than enough trouble with the press-breaking and then looked uncomfortable executing against the zone. Grace Goodheart had some wide open looks that didn’t drop, and everyone got a little sloppy with the ball.

Tech’s Alexus Malone was incredible, putting up 27 points and 6 assists. She forced NT’s Deja Terrell and Micayla Malone to foul out with her bullying inside. When NT would double, she found Reauna Cleaver for a slicing bucket. Tech fought back throughout the third and early fourth quarters to trim the lead to only 4 points. NT managed to free throw their way out and survive the comeback.

Observations:

Craig Robertson was in the court-side seats. Various media sideline reporter types came up to him for interviews. During one request, he had to interrupt a few times to cheer on NT — including Bradley’s breakaway bucket in the first half.

Everyone is over the venue. It has been well-established that the Star is quirky but interesting and does not distract from the overall experience much beyond what any non-traditional venue does. The confines of the court are the same and to the players, nothing has really changed.

In talking to assorted fans — locals, NT alumni, visitors, band members — the consensus is that the venue is cool, everyone is enjoying it, and it kind of feels like a festival or convention. It is much better than having multiple venues for the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The refs had to do a little chastising — they said something to Lauren Holmes but she denied anything. NT was on a roll, hitting everything. Everyone had scored that had played at that point. Tech tried something like a press which forced NT to run more.

NT came out ready to play — I think it had to do with playing a tough game just yesterday. Had the mindset already. Took Tech a quarter to adjust

Mims has such a pretty shot.

Bradley has had some clutch buckets out here late despite not shooting well overall.

Malone from Tech is a handful. She can shoot the three but was killing NT inside. When they double, she finds Cleaver for a cut and a bucket. The press was really throwing NT, who had the offense cooking. It made everyone uncomfortable. It forces NT to scramble, then the 2/3 matchup zone requires patience that is throwing NT off.

It was not quite a Roaring Comeback from Tech, but it is a testament to how good they are.

NT played a tough Charlotte yesterday and that helped them get their mind right. Tech took a while to adjust but they are showing why they were 3rd in the league.

Bradley sized up Malone 2:28, went baseline and got the benefit of the ref’s call. It isn’t a basket but it keeps the ball in NT’s hands and allows everyone time to think. That was how NT survived. The offense looks creaky at times and the time-wasting was helpful.

Categories
Basketball Basketball Recaps

The End: North Texas Loses 68-62 to La Tech in the 2018 CUSA Tourney

The feeling around the men’s game was different. It was more intense. Not only were there more people, there chatter around the Star was getting more excited. The NT fans in attendance starting filling in while Southern Miss and FIU were finishing up their tussle.

The sparse crowds from earlier in the day were gone on the near side of the Ford Center. Tech fans gathered in the corner behind the Tech bench. NT was the 7th seed and the nominal home team but is also co-hosting the tournament so a great turn out was expected.

Mean Joe Green sat courtside along with Tony Dorsett. This was the main event of the evening.

The players were ready for it also. The two squads are known for their physical, tough play and in the first five minutes or so at least three or four players hit the deck hard on charges, fouls, or no-calls. The CUSA refs, a running joke among twiteratti, let them play ball.

NT survived an early onslaught through some drives and some fortunate threes from Smart and Draper.

La Tech countered with some DeQuan Bracey buckets gotten via flying through the lane. There is nothing more demoralizing than grinding for 30 seconds — or more, in the case of a team getting ORebs — and then seeing the other squad get an easy bucket.

The two teams traded runs and ugly scoring droughts that were filled with turnovers and failed forays into the lane. The short summary is that Tech was better at the runs than NT because they were also better at hitting free throws and threes.

NT’s Roosevelt Smart went 2-9 from deep, missing some open looks and hitting two heavily contested threes. He took shots he normally makes, but the ball was not dropping this time. He finished tied for the team lead in scoring but suffered some long droughts in the second half.

Early, the ball was rolling Tech’s way and not in the Mean Green favor. Drive to the hoop were nearly successful and then Tech finally broke through with a run off some misses and turnovers.

After the break, NT got close again, but the runs were just one or two points shy of Tech’s own.

The struggles and the circumstance meant that every bucket seemed enormous for both teams. A rush of relief instead of joy came from the crowd with each basket. The pro-NT crowd tried some heckling and some catchphrases:

“Welcome to the Nest!”
“You’re in the Nest”!

Derric Jean responded to this with a back-hurting pull up three.

Daquon Bracey fouled out, seemingly giving NT a break, but Tech got good minutes from Exavian Christon, Jacolby Pemberton — Christon forced a Smart turnover along the baseline that was huge — in a tough game where everything was difficult. Coach Eric Konkol said as much during the post game presser.

Ryan Woolridge put NT on his back late and got to the bucket at will. At one point in the desperation that came later he got six straight on layups in the final minute. That boosted NT’s points-in-the-paint stats and make the entire box score slanted away from the truth.

Woolridge had 14 at that point — tying him with Smart. He had 6 at half and Smart 11. Both finished with 20.

“Welcome to the Nest!”
“You’re in the Nest”!

Jean hit a huge three right after this at the five minute mark. This, of course, after missing a free throw on the previous possession.

Two plays late helped Tech break out of a jam. The first came when NT was down 4 in the fourth minute. Amorie Archibald got two rebounds before getting the ball out to Boyins who drew a foul and hit two free throws , pushing the lead to five.

The next came on the ensuing posession when DJ Draper slipped on a close out, allowing Archibald to shoot and hit a wide open three. Tech was up eight points in a game wherein points were scarce.

NT would pull within four later, but that run gave Tech just enough distance to rely on their superior free throw shooting to win the game.

Takeways

While NT was not expected to make anything like a deep run in this tournament, there was a good chance to win their first matchup.

Aside from the miner glitches that come with installing a new basketball setup in a new location, the overall impression of the Star is positive. The fans, students, band, and media all enjoyed at least some aspect of the configuration.

I talked with a band member and asked about the experience. He mentioned that the sound curtain was similar to the ones used in drum corps. We should have never worried.

Most observers are present to see their favorite team with little interest in moving frequently to see any other game. Those who were could stream the other game — I did this on occasion — or just take in both games from the right vantage in the regular general admission.

There is little to no carryover from the other game. When the action is any kind of intense, any other noises are ignored and everyone focuses on the action.

In losing, NT strips away a sizable attendance.

Categories
Basketball Basketball Recaps

First Impressions of the Star, NT Women Upset Charlotte

Throughout the League Tournament we will be posting regularly about the experience. They will sometimes be straight recaps and other times — like this one — an assortment of impressions along with game thoughts.

The issue we have here is that you can see into the infiinte void of the arena. Sure, the goals are ten feet away from the floor just like at home, but the issue here is that the sense of unfamiliarity permeates the entire city.

The Rally House near the Dr. Pepper Arena had no Mean Green gear in stock at the beginiing of the day but had asomeone amassing the assorted inventory from the Metroplex to deliver to Frisco before game time.

Which game time? Well presumably the men’s time but there was no telling.

North Texas Women struggled but they are the 11th seed and so that is hard to attribute to the arena.

The assembled media were settling into their gigs well, writing up stories and tweeting. Entering the Media Entrence I had to direct a wayward family that was looking for the main public entrance. It is all new, and after a few years — presumably this is going to be the norm? — everyone will know what to do.

The NT band was chanting what was presumably funny and clever things during a break but no one could make it out this side of the court, given the echo. They sounded 100 yards away instead of the 100 feet.

NT found a shot and was able to make some buckets late.


Terriell Bradley is a baller


Early in the 4th quarter there was a problem with the clock that took some time to fix. Norm the 49er Mascot and Scrappy battle danced for a bit. Cheerleaders did flips. Everyone kind of killed time for a bit. The game was tense for a while there but the stoppage kind of killed momentum.

Terriell Bradley had an open wing three that hit the backboard before any rim and only the side of the rim at that. She was facing the empty corner. Was that the break or the arena?

A fun new thing? Lauren Holmes left the court and exited the baseline side and ran along the back of the scorer’s table to get to the bench. Non-elevated courts are the way to do things.


In the final stretch both teams missed wide open looks from deep and there was one air-balled free threw from Charlotte’s Dara Pearson.

The thing about shooting is that it is all muscle memory and later when Laia Raventos and Grace Goodheart had hands in their face, they each cashed threes easily. That’s the way it goes.

North Texas had free throw woes, but that is still more normal than anything. Brittany Smith and Terriell Bradley missed the front ends of their visits to the line. When Charlotte’s desperation three went in — there is again an example of the benefits of doing and not thinking too much — the game got closer. NT found themselves up only three with 10.5 left and on defense.

Amaya Ransom took a fading three from the left corner, was bumped enough that I would call a foul, and the ball fell short of the rim. There was a battle for the rebound and North Texas won that and the game.

Laia Raventos said dejectedly to the ref “That was a foul.”

North Texas celebrated, Charlotte walked off.

The morning session was done.


The first impressions of the place have been a mix of shock and early thoughts based on twitter pictures. The reality is that the Star complex is nice and brand-spaking-new and the Ford Center is a decent place to have a league tournament. When the well-supported programs are playing and everything is intense, you can forget the strangeness of it and get into the game. That is, of course, the idea.

By the final day every player will have adjusted to the strange sight lines and the oddness of the entire set up and we will all be back to watching the games.

Let us basketball.