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Basketball

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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Basketball Basketball Recaps

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.

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MGN Podcast

121: Hoopin is a Habit

Adam and Greg discuss the league’s best recruiting class.

We are also in the iTunes store.

You can contact the podcast at podcast@meangreennation.com.

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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Men’s Basketball Falls to Oklahoma 73-57

Mean Green basketball was 8-0 coming into this game and had a big regionally televised game against Oklahoma on the road tonight. NT had every reason to figure it could compete reasonably well in this one.

Last year, NT went to Norman and only lost by ten to a Trae Young-led Sooner squad. It could be argued that if were not for the future-NBA first round pick NT would have triumphed then.

Tonight, NT did not play nearly as well. NT shot 29% in the first half … and the second. Meanwhile, Oklahoma figured out how to shoot in the second half.

NT was down just two at the end of the first half thanks to the shooting of Roosevelt Smart — he had 11 in the first — and then sort of fell apart in the final seven minutes.

Why Did They Lose?

Poor shooting.

Oklahoma is better than the teams North Texas beat up on to this point. There is a little debate among the Mean Green fans about this — we knew they had not played anyone of note just yet but there is some value in doing this. It allows you to get a nice run out and work on some things with a little bit of a safety net.

Whatever the situation, the Sooners were more athletic, and more skilled than the previous competition and it sure seemed like that caused some of the early turnovers. North Texas had to go to their second and third options on offense and did not make those decisions quickly enough.

As they settled into things (both teams) stopped turning the ball over a ton, and NT started playing NT basketball, hitting shots, getting to the rim and pushing the pace.

In the second half, the Mean Green fell into the same traps, but couldn’t defend Oklahoma as well. Zach Simmons dunked and put NT up by two briefly (for :13) before Oklahoma went on a run.

What Does It Mean?

In the long run? Not much. This is mostly a learning experience. NT could have used the hype of a win in Norman but the path to any kind of notoriety for this team was always going to come via the CUSA Tournament and a possible NCAA bid through that path.

The non-conference schedule is weak, but again the CUSA Bonus Play rounds will attempt to fix that if NT can win early in league play.

Who Played Well?

Roosevelt Smart came back from injury and put in 13, but did not shoot well overall. He is working his way back into the groove. Zach Simmons did not score as well, but rebounded well. Ryan Woolridge played really well in certain aspects, but was a little loose with the ball as he tried to make things happen late. He finished with 17.

Next Up

Indiana State on the road and UT Arlington at the Super Pit.

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Basketball

Thoughts on the A.J. Lawson Departure

Sophomore Forward A.J. Lawson Will Transfer From the UNT Mens Basketball Program.

AJ is a scorer and his style and game just didn’t fit with what North Texas was trying to move to.  Lawson saw his playing time, and shot opportunities go down during the CBI run. If you look back during the season Lawson was a key piece to UNT winning games. Lawson was used on 24% of the possessions and took 23.1% of the shots when on the floor. His usage was second on the team to Roosevelt Smart.  During the CBI Tournament Lawson only averaged 13.5 mins per game. Compare that to the 26.4 mins per game he was averaging during CUSA play.  Lawson did play key minutes in the final game of the CBI Championship Series. UNT wouldn’t have won that game without him.UNT is going to miss his toughness and defense, no doubt. Lawson’s offense was hampered by the wrist injury during the season. He never had the mid range or long range shot that made defenses worry. Lawson did have the ability to get to the rim. There were times during game when Lawson took questionable shots both inside paint and beyond the arc.

I think the departure is good for both parties. Lawson needs a fresh start and an offseason to get healthy.  UNT needed the extra scholarship to upgrade their athleticism on the wings.  North Texas wants to feature a 4 guard lineup, and they need more athletic 6-6, 6-7, dudes who can play 1-4. Guys that can shoot outside, and defend every position. Lawson was a 4 who didn’t really threaten defenses from the outside.  Look what happened when Miller was inserted into the lineup and made outside shots at the 4 spot. It took a lot of pressure off Ryan Woolridge and opened the offense up.

If you are a UNT fan you have wish AJ the best. He stuck it out this season when he could’ve packed it in after the injury. Hell AJ probably could’ve transferred before the season if he wanted too. I know I have a ton of respect for him as a player and a person. I hope he lands at a good situation, and has plenty of success.

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Basketball

North Texas vs Jacksonville St Tonight in CBI Semifinal

Forgive this blog if in this surreal moment in NT basketball history, it is unable to plan a sufficiently good amount of blog posts and podcast producing in the face of an odd work-life schedule.

Yes, North Texas basketball is in a semifinal tonight, on a strange run in something like the back alleyways of college basketball’s postseason. The NCAA Tournament is brighter than the sun, and the NIT gets ESPN coverage but these smaller two tournaments have been streamed.

NT’s first round game was on Yotes Vision while the last two will have been on ESPN3. Having grown up when streaming was a dream, I am thankful for the ability to see my favorite team however I can. Still, the regulation to streaming when the other tournaments are on linear television is a step down. The shakiness of an internet connection can ruin the communal viewing experience that never happens on cable television.

There is hope, however small. If North Texas wins tonight the finals are on ESPNU.

Speaking of chances to win, North Texas is playing at an extremely high level that renders the regular season something like useless as a prediction tool. Regardless, in lieu of the proper preview you deserve, know that Jackson St is ranked 130 in Kenpom while NT is 161. Louisiana Tech is ranked 149 in case you want a frame of reference.

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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Dominates Mercer in CBI Quarterfinal 96 – 67, Advance To Semifinal on Wednesday Night

Who knew North Texas was destined to dominiate in the College Basketbal Invitational? I gather that no one thought this nor knew that this particular tournament existed. Here we are now and the Mean Green are giving little glimpses into what Grant McCasland had cooking up in his head.

At Baylor Scott Drew was known for adapting his playing style to the talent of the team on his roster. This may seem like extreme common sense but it is not that common. Grant McCasland has had only two D1 level squads that we can judge and in both situations he was adapting to the roster of a program he inherited.

The above is a long way of saying we did not know exacly what to expect from coach Mac. After the disaster before him, anything resembling a coherent program was going to be fine with most observers.

The early roster makeup and early games looked like North Texas was going to push the pace and be something like the team we have seen in this CBI. Because of injury — Umoja Gibson and Jorden Duffy — NT has played a slower, more deliberate pace that ranked as one of the slowest in the league.

Against South Dakota and tonight against Mercer, the Mean Green have been attacking with pace, using a smaller, quicker lineup with shooters.

Duffy has been the guy we thought he would be along side Rose Smart. He had 19 against USD while Rose had 34. Tonight, they put on show. There was little-to-no drama about the outcome after a point but there was drama around which NT player would be the leading scorer.

In the end, they both had 31 points. Duffy did it from deep, knocking down 6/10 from beyond the arc to go along with his four assists and two steals. Rose Smart went 8/20 including 4/13 from deep, but added eleven boards and went 11/12 from the stripe.

North Texas shot 55% for the game and held Mercer to 35% from the floor including an abysmal 5/26 (19%) from three, where they live and die.

This sleek NT starting five — Woolridge, Duffy, Smart, Miller, and Simmons — came out ready to attack. Tope Arikawe split the minutes at the five spot pretty evenly with Simmons and was a +23 in that time.

The win has put NT in position to host the semifinal round of the CBI on Wednesday night. The crowd was good and rowdy, filling long time fans with nostalgia for the late Johnny Jones era when good basketball at the Pit was a given, and post season fun was expected.

The Denton crowd has a chance to repeat the performance and so does North Texas. The CBI Tournament final is an unusual set up wherein the two entrants play a three-game series to determine the champion. Depending on the situation, North Texas has a chance to host as many as three more games in this event.

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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.

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Basketball Basketball Recaps

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 Basketball Recaps

Tough Losses and Encouraging Signs

We all hoped that Grant McGasland would bring some of the magic that saw Arkansas State get to 20 wins last year. At the very least we hoped for a team that would be competitive and exciting. Halfway through the game on Saturday against Middle Tennessee, the league’s number one team and likely Tournament entrant no matter the outcome of the league postseason, I realized that North Texas was giving the Blue Raiders everything they could handle and making them work hard for it at home.

It’s happening.

The hey day of NT basketball ended just short of a decade ago when Johnny Jones left for his dream job at LSU. He left the foundation of a good program, with good players on the roster and good players coming in. When McGasland arrived in Denton all that good was gone and the stuff of whispers. The Super Pit was a shell of it’s former self and by the end of Tony Benford’s time everyone who cared wanted something approaching respectability on the court.

This season has not been perfect but it feels miles different from the previous incarnations. The team competes, and looks competent. While every team — even poor ones — have plans, they do not always look like it when on the court. Sometimes that is because it is a bad plan, sometimes it is execution, often the plan is disregarded by the players on the court because they do not believe in it. We saw some version of these in previous years and the 2017-2018 version of MBB looks like they do, in fact, have a plan and are trying to execute it with conviction every night.

Amazing.

That is good coaching. Outside of sports, this dynamic happens every day. A new manager with impeccable credentials comes in and fails to inspire their charges or motivate them or communicate the plan in a way that allows everyone to execute it effectively. A different manager comes in with the same or lesser credentials and his team clicks and everyone get it. So it is with basketball. Being a good coach is not always about how much knowledge or experience a person has, but how well they can communicate that idea and inspire the team to follow it with conviction, consistently.

For the long time sufferers, it is refreshing to see a good team in Denton again. While it is tempting to look ahead, or feel like the suffering of the last half-decade mean a quicker run to the top is deserved that would be incorrect. Nothing is deserved. Middle Tennessee is clearly the better team on a night-to-night basis and can conjure up multiple ways to win a game. They have won games in tougher settings than at home against a scrappy little mid-table team before and will do so again. Kermit Davis is the more experienced coach. Still, we can see the outlines of a program that can eventually compete with the likes of MTSU and the top of CUSA. While the league very well may be able to manufacture two bids, there is a lot of parity the rest of the way.

So while the team lost for some of the same reasons that look so simple to correct — free throws, turnovers — the time and effort to fix those issues is a lot more significant than is commonly perceived.

Basketball is a funny game and while it generally favors the better team over time, anything can and does happen on a given night. The Mean Green are very early in the turnaround. The last game was encouraging and provides the slightest bit of fantasy fodder when thinking about this year’s league tournament, but the reality is that NT is still a work very much in progress.