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MBB: North Texas 79 Rice 59

The Mean Green moved to 6-1 in league play after beating Rice in the trappiest of trap games. They escaped Ruston with their first win there since 1952 in dramatic fashion. This game against a lowly Rice squad had the potential to be a let down. Instead, the squad had control throughout before breaking it open in the second half.

That is something that good teams do and right now NT sure looks like a good team. The things that this team struggles with were not game-changers in this one, and that is a welcome relief. Rice could not hang with NT long enough to make the late-game execution be a big deal.

North Texas hosts the dangerous UTSA Roadrunners on Thursday and UTEP on Saturday. Both have glaring flaws but also are very dangerous. UTSA’s Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace are flamethrowers while UTEP is one of the more talented teams in the league. The Miners came back from 24 down against UTSA last Wednesday and nearly repeated the feat in the return trip to San Antonio the following Saturday.

This NT team has the tools and the talent to compete and everything is clicking well enough to be very hopeful. There are plenty of things to work on, and that is exciting. This team can be even better and that is awesome.

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North Texas Loses Big to WKU, 67-51

All seasons that do not end with a trophy presentation end badly. For North Texas, who this time last year was feeling much better about itself and its program, this was a doubly bad game.

In some ways, however, it was a relief.

“We had some guys playing with some things that you wouldn’t believe. It’s inspiring, that leadership” said Zach Simmons in the post game press conference debrief.

McCasland said “we had our sights on the NCAA tournament” so this is it barring some fluke of a Selection Sunday.

North Texas basketball finishes 21-12, one win better than last season’s CBI tournament team and six losses better to boot. It most ways, it was a better year than last. Why does it feel so devastating? Well, the terrible finish to the year, after a 20-4 start, NT fell seven straight times.

Tonight, they fell to the better team. Grant McCasland blamed himself in the post game, crediting the Western Kentucky defense and their game plan to deny entry passes and make things difficult.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury said they focussed on Umoja Gibson in particular, limiting his touches and “not letting him get 7 threes tonight.”

The game plan worked for Western.

North Texas struggled in the first half. At the 7:50 mark, Roosevelt Smart had just travelled and WKU led 22-8. This was not about the effort or even the energy level. It was about talent and defense.

WKU defended everything well. They denied the ball and the next pass and the on-ball stuff that NT was killing FIU with. They denied entry passes and swing passes and NT was travelling and double-dribbling because they had to make second and third moves to create space.

Grant McCasland said “we got sped up.”

The Mean Green made a little run with a little over a minute left in the half to get something going. The crowd, ready to celebrate anything positive jumped on that and began a North/Texas chant. Simmons scored a tough bucket and then the defense forced a WKU turnover.

Rick Stansbury, WKU coach, was upset and called TO. NT couldn’t convert but that got the energy up. NT forced another stop — a shot clock violation — that got Stansbury as red as the uniforms.

“When North Texas cut it to 13 we got five straight to make it 18 and they never threatened after that” said Stansbury in the post game press conference.

It was true. Tavieon Hollingsworth was finding space in the midrange and pulling up for clutch jumpers. He had 23 on 9/15 shooting.

In the end the half ended in stark contrast to last night’s first half. Instead of Ryan Woolridge hitting a three-quarter court bucket, he was stripped of the ball as time expired. NT was down 31-16 at that point, shooting 25% in the first, turning the ball over 11 times.

WKU had shot a mediocre 38% with 6 turnovers of their own during that period.

North Texas played Western 35-36 in the second half, to little progress. The first half deficit was too much. Ryan Woolridge had 13 and Jordan Duffy had 11 to lead NT. Gibson added 7 and only went 1/7 from distance.

Zach Simmons had 8 and 13 against future NBA-er Charles Bassey, who only had 9 and 8 himself.

What It All Means

Grant McCasland was noticeably devastated after the game. The last half of the season was full of injuries and poor play. The roster is kind of a weird mix, and McCasland deserves credit for getting this short team to out-rebound and defend really well.

The offensive end has a nice one-two punch in Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons. Unfortunately, the spread attack went limp too often. DJ Draper’s 3PT % dropped to 36% from 42% while making just over half his total from last year.

Roosevelt Smart went from a 36% gunner to a 27% guy and his offensive rating went from 110 to 86.

Was it injuries? Mental focus? It is difficult to say but it is McCasland’s job to know and change it. Still, whatever quibbles the fan base has with this program are just that — quibbles — given the tremendous progress this team has made in just his two years at the helm.

It is easy to see a future where NT is one of the favored teams in Frisco, but it is a long way before NT has a program the calibre of Western Kentucky, a basketball mainstay for decades.

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Basketball Is A Zero Sum Game, But Analysis Is Not

A blowout win over Marshall, the defending champ. A three-point loss to the most talented team in the league, WKU.

This was not a bad weekend even if North Texas dropped from 2nd to a tie for 3rd (really fourth given the tie-breaker against WKU). NT is still in a great spot for a top-five spot.

Next week NT travels to Florida to take on the FAU/FIU squads and that will wrap up the regular regular season.

If you forgot, or did not know that the league then goes into Bonus Play where the league is divided into three pods — 1-5, 6-10, 11-14 — and a round-robin mini-league will take place.

Right now the current top five in CUSA is like this:

1st — ODU / UTSA 9-3 — as of this writing ODU is playing MTSU
3rd — WKU / UNT 8-4
5th — Southern Miss

North Texas has lost to every one of these teams except for USM, and it required a game-winning layup from Michael Miller with seconds to go. ODU handled NT easily. UTSA required a travel+ miracle shot to win. Western just beat NT.

The league says Bonus Play scheduling will be determined based on “a preset formula” but I imagine that will be something like the seeding determining the home team. In that guesstimate, NT would (right now) play on the road at ODU, UTSA, WKU, and host Southern Miss (again).

Western

Losing to WKU was always likely. The oddsmakers gave NT a two-point favorite designation but the matchups favor WKU. The most talented team in the league had struggled early but had recently begun to figure things out. Charles Bassey is a future NBAer and against NT’s frontline, we were in store for another ODU.

NT needed shooting and instead begun the game as brick-layers. The second half saw the kind of energy and sharpshooting the will win games, but it was too little, too late. NT dropped a game in front of one of the largest crowds in a decade.

Marshall

NT jumped out to a lead and dominated the Herd from start to finish. This is the kind of thing that is hard to interpret. Marshall lost by 50 to USM the other night and that is the kind of thing that makes any win feel unimpressive.

When you read the roster, you see why you should be rewriting the media guide, though. Jon Elmore was an NCAA Tourney hero, and lead the Herd to a conference tourney title.

What Should We Think?

North Texas is in a good spot — 20 wins! — and is playing like one of the better teams in this league. The latter was expected in pre-season, and while it is frustrating to lose an opportunity game against Western, there are plenty of chance to win this league and this tournament to earn an NCAA tourney bid.

Western and ODU are the toughest matchups because of their size. On the right day, NT can overcome that with superior shooting and good pace. We saw how that would look when NT made the big comeback in the second half vs the Toppers.

As it stands, I like NT’s chances against any of the top-five on the right day. NT matches up better with UTSA, and Southern Miss but both of those games came down to the wire. Both of those teams are playing even better than they were then, also. One more week to go and we get our first taste of Bonus Play.

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North Texas Men’s Basketball Wins CBI First Round Game Over South Dakota 90-77

North Texas has one postseason win. No doubt you read Greg’s CBI First Round preview of South Dakota. So you know how difficult this game was going to be.

Then a little March Craziness. South Dakota was favored by someting like 13 points and proceeded to get run out of their own building.

Mercer beat Grand Canyon on the road and will now face North Texas in the CBI quarterfinal round. From what I can tell, NT will host the game at the Super Pit on March 19th. Beyond that and the tournament is re-bracketed afterward so there is no telling who will be on the schedule past then.

CBI Bracket can be found here.

Roosevelt Smart scored 23 points in the second half as he demoralized the Yote’s radio announcer. The man was devastated with each additional three point haymaker.

Michael Miller incredibly added 19 points on 4/5 shooting from beyond the arc. Jorden Duffy added 19. North Texas stuck with a six-man rotation of Smart, Miller, Duffy, Simmons, Woolridge, and Draper. NT shot well from the line, but the real story was how poorly South Dakota shot.

In front of what looked like a very mediocre crowd, Matt Mooney and company shot only 37% from the field including an awful 18.2% from deep. USD made a valiant attempt at a comeback but the 22 poitn deficit was too much.

Zach Simmons had seventeen rebounds and nine points. Woolridge added nine assists.

NT improved to 16-17 on the season.

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Mean Green Tough But Fall Short Twice

North Texas played a weekend combination of games that summated the team’s status in the league: good enough to run with the best but struggling enough to fall short.

The Grant McGasland era has begun and has been endlessly praised by any and all who encounter the Mean Green basketball team. The future looks bright but the present is always what counts most. The NT team had WKU and Marshall down in each game this weekend and ultimately fell short both times.

Against WKU a late rally forced OT where NT was overwhlemed — thanks, refs — and in the second game Marshall was the beneficiary of a late goal tend call that went the Herd’s way.

Here is an old maxim: Never put the game in the ref’s judgement.

Like most maxims and axioms, this is easier said than done especially when you are a youngish team trying to establish itself in the conference full of old standards.

For what fandom there is in Denton for this team, it is hard to look at a team complete so closely with the best of the league and fall short so often. The optimist’s standby is to look at this as the building block of a good program and next year as te fulfillment of all this present promise.

Still, the opportunity at hand is the most important one. Bird in the hand and all that. From all accounts the members of the current program do not take these games lightly and that is great news as no fan wants to feel like they care more than the team.

North Texas is all but assured a first round entry into the league tournament which is not ideal, but better than the alternative. Winning in Frisco was always going to be a tall order but the chances are much better with a first round bye. Still, all anyone can ask for is an opportunity.

Speaking of opportunity, this is how the game turned late: North Texas’ Ryan Woolridge, he of the frequent slices to the basket, was nearly stripped but managed to put up a double-clutch floater on the team’s final real chance to win things.

Marshall’s CJ Burks, he of the big scoring numbers, managed damned near a layup.

All you can ask for is an opportunity but if you can get a great one, you take it.

Marshall 74, NT 72.

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Basketball

Dropping Dimes – 10 Thoughts Recapping NT vs. Nebraska

North Texas lost 86-67 on the road last night to Nebraska.

  1. Nebraska started the game on a 25-2 run,  North Texas could never get settled in and couldn’t get any easy looks at the basket early.
  2. Points off of turnovers was the second biggest disparity in the box score. Nebraska had 30 and North Texas had 8. Quite honestly that’s what led to such a big run early on for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were locked in defensively and made life difficult for the UNT guards. Turnovers and bad shots led to easy buckets for Nebraska.
  3. The biggest disparity in the box score was the free throw attempts. Nebraska had 47 and UNT only had 18. It may seem like North Texas was just relying on the outside shot and wasn’t being aggressive, but that’s not the case. UNT was aggressive, its just that Nebraska got the majority of the calls. As I highlighted in the preview for this game I was concerned with NT’s aggressive defensive nature on the perimeter. It was an issue. The refs called the game very close. Nothing you can really do about it, its going to happen.
  4. Regardless of the score or the homer refs, this Mean Green basketball team battled. The effort was clearly there, it was the execution that was lacking. Perhaps going from facing a D3 school to a high major school was the issue. I tend to lean towards believing that these guys aren’t quite comfortable playing with each other yet.
  5. Anytime you run a version of the motion offense it takes time for players to gel. Its a feel thing. For bigger schools that can recruit elite talent it may not matter, because they have the talent to create when things bog down. Think Kentucky. For North Texas its an issue, there are no elite players. All 5 guys have to be moving, working together, and have an idea of what each other is thinking for this offense to look good.
  6. The other way for this offense to look good is defense through offense. North Texas was never able to get turnovers, or get easy looks from fast break points. Credit Nebraska for not turning the ball over and for getting back on defense. North Texas only forced 12 turnovers and only had 2 fast break points.
  7. I will continue to say this Ryan Woolridge is the heart beat of this team. They go as he goes. Woolridge struggled early, so North Texas struggled. When he settled down, then North Texas started to play well and played Nebraska even. 
  8. As bad as the first half was North Texas actually outscored Nebraska in the 2nd half 37-34.  You could even go back to the under 8 timeout in the first half. From that moment on North Texas outscored Nebraska 59-56. So yes even though it was a blowout, North Texas was capable of winning against the Cornhuskers.
  9. I wish North Texas would’ve went to the zone defense earlier in the game to slow down the Nebraska run. I know its not McCasland’s style, but they needed to force Nebraska to shoot more from outside.
  10. The player of the game was Shane Temara. He came up with a double double. 16 points and 11 rebounds. He had a pretty solid game against the big front line of Nebraska.

    In the Bonus – AJ Lawson is off to a really slow start for North Texas. He is capable of more. North Texas needs more. Its understandable for him to not get double digits against a tall, long front line like Nebraska’s, but he still needs to be a factor on the boards.  Only 1 defensive rebound isn’t going to get it done.

Roosevelt Smart struggled mightily in this game. Nebraska put size on him, and he had trouble creating his own shot. In CUSA play he wont be facing a lot of 6-6 guards, so there is that. Still though North Texas can’t afford him to go so cold. If your struggling getting open looks, try to get to the foul line. I’m betting on Smart bouncing back against Bethune, but they are most likely going to put a big guy on him as well.

If Umoja Gibson is out for a significant period of time that will be a big blow to the UNT back court. Gibson is the secondary ball handler and one of the primary scoring threats. I know all of Mean Green Nation wishes him a speedy recovery.

 

Player Grades

 

Player Game Grade
Shane Temara A-
Roosevelt Smart D –
Ryan Woolridge C-
Umoja Gibson C-
AJ Lawson D-
DJ Draper B+
Allante Holston C+
Jorden Duffy D
Zachary Simmons B
Tope Arikawe D –

Players with 10 minutes + get graded.

Next up for North Texas is Bethune Cookman on Thursday in Denton.