Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Bests UTSA In Both Women’s and Men’s Basketball

In San Antonio, Jalie Mitchell’s squad cruised to a 79-55 win in a game played at 11am. In Denton, Grant McCasland’s group dominated UTSA at home while celebrating the 2009-2010 Sun Belt Champ squad led by Johnny Jones.

WBB cruised all game. UTSA cut the lead to 15 late but that was about all they could muster. Jalie said “there isn’t much to complain about.” True dat.

The men dominated throughout although Jhivvan Jackson got his team within five midway through the second half. NT responded to the run, and pulled away for a bit win. Honoring the 2010 team was a good moment and a nice link to the last time NT MBB were yearly contenders.

UTSA men is a terrible defensive team and NT took full advantage. Umoja Gibson had 27, and Javion Hamlet got 22. NT worked Jackson in the pick-and-roll early and often and made UTSA work. Jackson was able to put up some numbers but NT kept them at a distance, forcing him to get in the paint and pull up from distance with a hand in his face or from the logo.

Basketball always favors the offense, and the goal of defense is to force low-percentage shots and not necessarily prevent makes. It is a mitigation strategy. If he is going to make them from that distance that is a win for the defense. NT dominated and continues its dance around the top seed in the league. There is plenty of basketball to play so no one should get comfortable, but right now the team is playing really good basketball.

It is okay to smile.

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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.


MBB: Let’s Get Hopeful

Back in November we discussed this team and were less than enthused. Some of those concerns remain, like the fact that NT has no obvious closer or system to generate crunch-time buckets. Others have been addressed — the new guys are getting comfortable.

North Texas handled FIU handily to open conference play in Denton yesterday, and blew out FAU on this afternoon. Before that, the squad split the WKU/Marshall road trip but impressed enough to be frustrated at the WKU loss.

North Texas sits at 3-1 and KenPom has them favorites for most of the rest of the way. The team plays hard, gives good effort, and is well-coached.

Against the Herd, there was some good fortune that helped NT in the win column rather than excellent play. The good news is that NT puts itself in positions to win and be in those tough situations. The hope is that eventually the team learns and grows from being in that position so often.

Umoja Gibson is shooting 40% from three, on 101 attempts thus far and stretches the floor for the slashing of Hamlet, Bell, and opens space for Zach Simmons and Deng Geu, everyone’s favorite player.

NT is still not overly long or big, but they play tough, fight for every possession, and have shooters. It is a nice basketball team. The most exciting recent development was the play of Roosevelt Smart against FIU. Two seasons ago he was NT’s best offensive player but has lost that position these last two seasons.

North Texas will run into problems when it faces talented teams like WKU and UTEP, and will struggle against good defensive teams like ODU and Charlotte, but no one in this league is unbeatable.

Javion Hamlet and James Reese — two of those newcomers — were stars of Saturday’s win vs FAU. Last year, NT had a balanced scoring attack but was overly reliant on Ryan Woolridge getting inside the paint and Zach Simmons doing a one-man wrecking crew at center to initiate much of that action. This season the improvement of Geu and the others gives NT a little more variety in attack and Hamlet, Bell and others can all attack off the bounce or slash to get second-chance buckets.

NT played a tough schedule and competed well even if they did not put up wins. They’ve opened conference play on a great note, but they’ll face some challenges and we will see how much improvement they have made. March and the conference tournament is just two short months away and McCasland will want to build his team to play the best basketball right as the tournament starts.

That is everyone’s goal, sure, but playing good basketball in the conference season is how you make it easier on yourself in Frisco. Long term, we see the kind of program that Grant Mac wants to build in Denton. He won 20 at Arkansas State, but escaped that situation as soon as he was able. He won 20 in Denton, and followed that up with a good team with some obvious flaws.

This season is his third in Denton and we know the style he wants to play and the kind of guys he wants to coach. In short, this season can possibly result in some championship hardware and the future is bright.


NT Men’s Basketball Is Off To A Slightly Rough Start

It is almost turkey time and you will be busy travelling or hosting family, or making food or fighting people at the store on black friday.

You might have forgotten the basketball season has started already. Let us recap the season thus far and mixing in a look ahead at the schedule.

The season thus far:

North Texas beat an overmatched squad to start the season, then hung tough with #25 VCU before losing by three points. They followed that with an ugly loss at Arkansas and then lost as favorites against Eastern Michigan at home.

The beat North Carolina A&T by 20, and head to Jamaica for the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic. There, they’ll face Rhode Island and Utah State. Both of those games will be on CBS Sports Network.

Sitting at 2-3, North Texas has simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed. You can be proud of the fight and toughness they showed against VCU but disappointed by the lack of the same vs Arkansas and EMU.

The squad is depending on a lot from new faces, but it is the usual suspects that have under-performed relative to their abilities. Roosevelt Smart is not the same player he was two seasons ago, when he was the most dangerous player on the court for the Mean Green. Zach Simmons was incredible last season but has struggled to find his form this year.

North Texas has very little size outside of Simmons and McCasland needs him to be efficient. Last year he shot 61% from 2-point range. This year, he is at just 44%.

It is early, and some of his struggles are from not having Ryan Woolridge finding him and NT not really having an identity thus far. In the VCU game, NT blew two offensive possessions late that could have tied the game, and struggled to run the offense or find their best player. That last part is the key. Who is the best player?

Umoja Gibson has been great so far, but struggles to create his own shot off the bounce. He almost exclusively shoots from distance (240+ attempts from three, 78 from two for his career). He does not get to the line or the cup like Rose did two seasons ago, nor like Woolridge did in his time here.

Javion Hamlet has played well in spots, but has not been the one-for-one replacement for Woolridge (no one was ever going to be able to do that) and there is plenty of time for him to adjust to the team.

The short version is that this team is scrappy, but will be frustrating to watch offensively unless one of these guys makes a leap. We have seen players bloom late in the season for McCasland — remember Mike Miller suddenly switching hands and becoming a ridiculous shooter? — so do not hold tight to an opinion just yet.

The tough schedule — UTA on Dec 2nd, Oklahoma on Dec 5th, Dayton on the 17th — should prepare the squad for the solid CUSA schedule. The travel in this league can be rough, and the teams good enough to beat you on any night.

North Texas’s most realistic shot of an NCAA berth is via the Frisco tournament so all the focus should be on earning a good conference seed, developing the kind of team that can play great basketball over a week’s time in March.

It would be great to see Zach get some easy buckets and that means someone is going to need to be able to attack the basket with authority. There are plenty of guys who can and the rest of this early period will be about finding the one who will.


NT Basketball: NT Nearly Upsets VCU 56-59

North Texas barely stole a game against 25th ranked VCU on the road. NT jumped out to an 8-point lead early before getting bullied by the harassing press. VCU went on a big run and led by ten at the half.

The good news was that the Mean Green stuck with it and scraped and clawed back to single digits. They even managed a brief lead late.

The game ended on a series of threes back-and-forth with NT failing to put up a shot on their final two possessions. The first could have put NT up, and the second would have tied.

It is a bitter sweet loss, as the fight and shooting impressed against a good opponent in a hostile environment. Obviously, NT wants to win these and not just come close.

There were some clear improvement areas — NT had trouble finishing inside with the physicality — but the threat of multiple shooters and the various players with ball handling ability meant NT was able to break the press late.

The Rams had a surprisingly good season last year, winning the conference regular season before bowing out of the NCAA tournament in the first round. They are ranked, well-supported and a good test for NT. We can feel good.

As we wrote recently, in this the third season of Grant McCasland’s tenure we should see more of a fully realized vision. There is no Ryan Woolridge — well here at least. He’s at Gonzaga, now — but there are some guys there.

The new names are Thomas Bell, James Reese, and Javion Hamlet and they are trying to replace Woolridge, Mike Miller and Jorden Duffy — all double figure scorers. New faces in new places is the only thing that is consistent in college basketball so we cannot complain.

Tonight, there were contributions across the board so that aspect of the McCasland Way is intact. Thomas Bell’s rebounding was really nice to see early. He helped build the first lead.

There were some shooting hiccups — James Reese went 3-12, 3-9 from deep — but the season is young and shooting and rhythm will come. It’s nice to see the grit and fight in this one.

The schedule sees NT take on one more top-25 opponent this November, so we will learn of this is something we can expect all season or a on-off performance.

So far, you can be excited about the team.


Expect Anything In Grant McCasland’s Third Year

North Texas beat up on overmatched Oklahoma Christian 79-40 in the traditional glorified scrimmage that kicks off the season. The basketball prognosticators have NT anywhere from 2nd to 8th or so, depending on your flavor of preview.

Last year NT absolutely needed Ryan Woolridge to play every minute and when he was hurt, the team struggled. Umoja Gibson filled in at point, but he is much better as a shoot-first off-guard.

NT started hot but cooled after injuries took the depth and required a change of pace. Even though the team beat FIU in the first round of the league tournament in Frisco, they limped to a loss vs WKU. The day after exiting the tournament, Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons looked like walking wounded as they returned to pick up their stuff, limping in and out of the Star in Frisco.

North Texas head coach Grant McCasland has back-to-back 20-win seasons under his belt. His first was bolstered by a pay-for-participation postseason tournament and his second saw a dramatic dip in form.

Whatever criticisms you have of his style, he is winning in Denton, and that was not the case under his predecessor. This season we will likely get the full McCasland basketball theory. He had the one season at Arkansas St and the two here in Denton. Now, with a third year in the program the foundation is laid. It is time to build.

NT wants to drive and kick and have shooters everywhere. Last season, the offense struggled when Roosevelt Smart had a season-long dip in form, but got good moments from Umoja Gibson and Jorden Duffy. Gone is point-guard extraordinaire Ryan Woolridge, but in are a couple of guys with some talent and the ability to shoot.

Javion Hamlet is the new lead guard with Gibson playing his preferred off-guard spot. Rose is at the third guard spot, and hopefully is back to the version of himself that was a problem for defenses across the league.

NT has a lot of length on the depth chart, but the starting lineup is guard-based and will need the shooting and attacking off the dribble to make the offense hum.

James Reese is a shooter with the same measurables. Larry Wise and Abdul Mohamed have been on the team but redshirted. The thinking is that the renewed depth will give North Texas the resiliency to play at the pace they want instead of mitigating because of injury.

The problem with playing such a high-variance style is that some nights everything looks bad. Relying so much on drive-and-kick means the team has a tendency to stagnate, especially against the more disciplined and defensively talented teams in this or other leagues. Drive-and-kick means that you A) can drive and B) the kick options are open if and when the defense collapses to rotate.

Teams with great interior presence will simply let the big man clean up the mess. WKU made it hard for NT to finish inside with either Zach Simmons, who had an incredible year last season, or anyone else.

The schedule is much tougher this season so we will not see a sterling start — but the team may be better for it. Playing a softie schedule can make it difficult to prepare for challenges in conference play. NT did not even get the supposed benefit from it: staying injury free.

WKU is the more talented team and UTEP is rebuilt and renewed. UTSA has the shooters but North Texas has some good players and a coach with lots of respect among those who follow the game. Expect to be entertained.


Exit Interview: 2019 Basketball Team

No one wanted to go out and say “Injuries are why we struggled late, and ultimately why this team underperformed” as no one wanted to “make excuses” but still, the injuries were mentioned and well, that was the real reason.

After the tournament was over for NT, Zach Simmons and Ryan Woolridge could be seen limping on Friday. It was not the usual post-game soreness, but actual pain.

Not many teams at this level can overcome that kind of thing. We knew this team was over-reliant on Woolridge’s contributions, playing him huge minutes often last and this year.

If he went down or out, NT was going to be in a bad spot. That is not surprising or even something to blame the staff or the program for. It is the nature of the game. The roster is only so big, and recruiting limitations mean you cannot simply pick up whomever you want to rebuild your roster overnight.

McCasland said his goal was to get to the NCAA tournament, and given the scheduling, that road was always going to be through the league tournament. To do that successfully, the team needed to earn a second-day spot via bye through earning a top-4 seed.

That mission failed, as NT’s late-season collapse kept it out of the top pod, ensuring the best seed it could get would be the 5th spot. They fell all the way to 10th, after a disastrous pod play schedule in which no one could shoot or defend, or take care of the ball. This is where injuries took their toll and NT limped into the league tournament with seven-straight losses.

The win over FIU was dramatic, cathartic, and well, fun. North Texas blew out the team that had handed a big loss to NT in Miami just the week prior. Revenge gotten, NT went into the quarterfinal round vs WKU with some hope, but nothing serious.

They were blown out handily, and that is forgivable. NT had to play perfectly against the league’s most talented team and the most disappointing part was that they did not even muster much of a fight.

Asked if we could expect some CBI or anything, Grant said “we set our sights on the NCAA Tournament” which is an elaborate way of saying “no.”

The CBI and CIT tournaments are pay-to-play ideal for giving, say, Marshall another set of games to basically send out Jon Elmore with another tournament. North Texas used the opportunity last season to continue to build the program under McCasland and experiment with the set of guys that would play the most this season.

As it was, it all went well. From the CBI opener to the WKU game in February, NT only lost 5 games. They went 21-12 this season, completing back-to-back 20-win seasons since the Johnny Jones era. Realistically, this program was going to give a nice conference tournament run but come up short to the ODUs and WKUs of this league.

That is basically what happened. NT finished with one more win than 17/18 and six fewer losses. Home attendance was up, and they won a league tournament game. All told, we had improvement across the board.

So why the lingering anxiety across the internet fan base? Well, some of that is just typical North Texas angst. The rest is because there was plenty to be concerned about watching this team play. The team defended well — they ended as the number one defense in efficiency according to — but suddenly could not score worth a damn.

The early season success was predicated on four guards around Zach Simmons. Theoretically the small ball would be vulnerable to size in rebounding and defense, but the hustle and athleticism helped NT lead in those categories even against some of the bigger and better teams in this league.

The advantage to playing small-spread ball is shooting and quickness. Unfortunately North Texas’ two best shooters from last season — Roosevelt Smart and DJ Draper — regressed significantly. Smart went from being a threat to being a bad shooter. Incredibly his 3pt percentage dropped from 37% last year to 27% this season. His offensive rating dropped to 86.9 from 110.7.

Anecdotal evidence: he hit 20 points just twice — 20 exactly twice — this season. Compare that to the number of times he went for 30+ last season: 4 times, including a 42-point explosion vs Rice.

DJ Draper dropped from being a sharp-shooter who could change the game to just another guy shooting in the 30% range. He finished the year shooting 37% from distance, making only 16 in conference play compared to his 36 last season. He shot 42% last year.

The whole season is not on those guys in particular, but they had big drops in efficiency. Jorden Duffy dropped a bit also, mostly on this missing more threes than last year (six fewer on ten more attempts).

North Texas has five guys that take greater than 20% of shots for this team. Only one of them is 100+ in offensive rating: Michael Miller. He’s graduated now.

Going Forward

NT needs more height, some dynamism, and someone else that can be a threat to attack the basket aside from Ryan Woolridge, and Zach Simmons. Also, it needs more from the man they call Rose. He has had a tough year mentally, emotionally, and physically.

If he can get back to being the guy we saw last season, NT will be loads better.

Jalen Jackson, the commit from Wager in San Antonio, is a point guard with good athleticism and a nice handle. Watching the tournament and seeing Ahmad Caver, Zack Bryant, Tyree Griffin, Tavieon Hollingsworth and DaQuan Bracey handle the ball really highlights and issue NT had when Ryan Woolridge was hurt.

Jackson addresses that backup PG need. NT can get away with more small ball if the guys that sat can light it up from distance. Umoja Gibson can thrive when he doesn’t have to create for himself and can simply catch and shoot.

Wish List:

  1. Backup Big
  2. Go-to scorer — either Rose of 17/18 returns or a guy to push him for minutes
  3. Another ball-handler

This program had a good season despite the poor finish. Grant McCasland completed his first 2nd year at a D-I school. He previously took Arkansas State to a 20-win season and NT to the CBI title last year.

This league is wide-open. NT went from a laughing stock to top-five for a good portion of this season in just two years.

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North Texas Dominates FIU 71 – 57, Moves on To Play WKU in CUSA Tournament

Zach Simmons dominated.

The big NT center said this week “they won’t beat us three times.” It seemed like the kind of thing teams say to motivate themselves, but it was really just prophecy, apprently. Simmons dominated from the jump, getting buckets and finishing around the rim — not missing a shot all night.

FIU had nothing for that, and well, nothing for the aggression shown on the offensive end by all of NT’s starting five.

Whatever ills befall NT in Florida do not happen on the trip from Denton to Frisco. NT capped off a fortunate first half with a 3/4 court heave from point guard Ryan Woolridge.

Simmons had 17 in the first half and only needed the 2 in the second. FIU went on a run but played North Texas evenly the rest of the way. It was 28-all at the 4-minute mark of the second half.

FIU pressed throughout, but frustration was obviously taking its toll. Devon Andrews missed an open three and shook his head in annoyance. Brian Beard Jr. and Willy Nunez Jr. argued about a bad pass that went out of bounds.

Meanwhile, the NT bench was ecstatic, seemingly releasing pent up frustration of the last 7 games: all losses.

NT moves on.

Umoja Gibson tied the tournament record for third place with 7-threes made in a game. He went 7/15 for 21 points and had 4 assists. Michael Miller had huge, timely buckets to end runs or break slumps with his drives to the bucket.

On one possession, Ryan Woolridge danced with the ball, drove and kicked it to Umoja Gibson, who attacked on the pump fake. He then passed to Miller who attacked on the catch and scored in traffic.

It was the kind of offense that this team has been sorely lacking. The 71 points were the most scored against any team not named Marshall since Feb 2nd vs Charlotte.

It was certainly more than NT managed against FIU in two games — 59 and 58 in two losses in the last month in Miami.

For FIU, it was all too little too late. Brian Beard Jr., the dynamic point guard, was aggressive and attacking all night but could not get anything to fall. The Panthers outscored NT in the 2nd half by three but that was not nearly enough to overcome a woeful first half.

North Texas is moving on to take on a rested WKU. The scouts and WKU team officials watching the game could be heard cheering on the relentless FIU press, “keep pressing, ha.” The energy expended by the NT squad late to beat the press and keep the game will take a toll.

For now, no one cares. NT is a winner for the first time since February 7th against Marshall. It is good to be green tonight.


North Texas Is Not The Best Basketball Team In CUSA

Was that headline controversial?

It should not be. NT has a good basketball team, but no one who follows this league closely thought that NT had the best squad. WKU is über-talented, ODU is well-coached and physically imposing, and Marshall are the reigning tourney champs.

NT dropped a big road game in Norfolk tonight, and it was not surprising. That, probably, was disappointing to many who wanted some magic from this team.

North Texas has been punching above its weight — almost literally — since the opening tip of the CBI tournament last spring. The four-guard lineup relies on extreme hustle — they are one of the shortest teams in the nation yet out-rebound nearly every opponent — and shooting.

The rebounding is still there, but the shooting has not been. The Mean Green are shooting an awful 30% from distance in conference play, putting them in 14th place.

Roosevelt Smart has only one 20-point game thus far this season. He had two 30-point games in March alone last season. He has struggled with his shot, which is the basis for his entire game. Tonight, he went 1-8 from distance and only took one 2pt attempt, as ODU dominated from end-to-end.

NT is capable of beating an ODU or any team if they can shoot. If not, well, then it is nothing like a surprise. The entire game is determined by counting which team can make more/more valuable shots, after all. Because this team puts a premium on taking and making open threes it is especially difficult to beat a team like ODU when they are not dropping.

The Monarchs have one of the biggest squads in the nation, and they are built to take away everything inside, forcing you to beat them from distance. They challenge everything and put a physical beating on everyone.

NT has been able to get wins through remarkable play from Zachary Simmons — NT’s lone big man. The Monarchs’s physicality got NT in foul trouble and all put together it was a tough night.

NT is still one of the top-five in the conference and there is a long way to go. We shouldn’t make any grand proclamations just yet — for any squad in this league. We can acknowledge that NT is in a month-long slump, however.

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North Texas wins 76-75, Come Back From Down 16

Sometime during the initial five minutes of the game, I tweeted that North Texas could blow this thing open if they continued their way of playing. That did not happen.

I also wrote that any lead in this league is unsafe. This proved true. North Texas could not shoot at all through most of the game. They shot a miserable 35% from the floor to the point where they found themselves down 16 to Rice when Josh Parrish made a layup to make things 68-52 with 7:06 left.

From then on North Texas’ full-court press produced results and ultimately won the game for the Mean Green. Rice scored only seven more points in the final 7:06 while NT roared back thanks to timely steals, some late free throws, and layups.

The hero, if one can be found in a total team comeback, was Mike Miller. He scored 7 points down the stretch and played some good defense that included a clutch block in the final stretch.

Jordan Duffy, however, was the man who started things off with a big five points — a three pointer followed up by a layup + a FT attempt (missed).

The comeback was not without the benefit of fortune. Rice turned the ball over, made some bad decisions, and the refereeing went North Texas’ way in a number of possessions late. This, of course, is common when one team is the aggressor.

NT came into this one being the better team, but without having played particularly well for long stretches of the last few games. They had to mount a comeback before losing late to UTSA. They had to rally from a larger margin in this one.

Leading Scorers

  • Woolridge – 14 ponts 8 rebounds 4 assists
  • Duffy – 19 points 4 reb
  • Gibson – 15 points 2 assists

What It Means

North Texas is 17-2 and 5-1 on the season in conference play, which temporarily puts the Mean Green on top of the standings. Marshall and UTSA are currently playing.