Mean Green Women Take On WKU Tonight

You are forgiven if you do not know too much about the NT women’s basketball team. For the least decade or more, the women’s team has been poor. Jalie Mitchell has changed all that and this team here, while flawed — 11th seed! — is fun and has the pieces.

The guard play is good and tough. Brittany Smith and Trena Mims can handle the rock and get to the cup and finish even with tougher, taller women bumping them. Grace Goodheart is a shooter but can put the ball on the floor and pull up for midrange buckets.

Micayla Buckner, ‘the rock’ as Jalie Mitchell called her, can bang inside and finish around the rim. She also did as good a job on Tech’s Alexus Malone as possible, making things tough for the Lady Techster.

Of course, Terriell Bradley can light it up from anywhere.

Western is super tough. These two met in Denton and saw WKU win by 14 going away. Ivy Brown is averaging 16 a game and had a great one in the blowout against UTSA.

NT is the miracle team of the tournament right now, and a good portion of that has been the support of the crowd. The wisdom of choosing the Ford Center as the tournament location was questioned by most Eastern teams, but the value in having both the men’s and women’s tournaments in the same venue has been tremendous.

Tonight, the script flips, and the women get to play in prime time after having to endure 11am tips the last couple of days. North Texas has benefitted from playing at the more ideal 2pm slot, but will have to adjust to the late start but will likely find that ideal.

Mitchell expected her girls might have had tired legs in the Tech game, but they came out with energy and passion. Having one of the largest crowds they have seen all season might give them more of the same.

We will not kid you and pretend to know much about WKU’s squad, but know this: They are good, they have good players, and are very deserving of the second seed they occupy at the moment.

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North Texas Basketball Is Fun

Basketball had a hell of a night. Both the Men’s and Women’s programs put on a show on the road.

Grant McGasland’s crew of scrappy Mean Greeners went to Birmingham and out-hustled, out-played, and out-basketball-ed the preseason conference favorite Blazers.

UAB has not been the team everyone predicted but they still remain good and most league observers expected UAB to win this one handily. North Texas has given little reason to scare anyone, with some clear holes in the attack and some poor awareness leading to some close home losses. Still, NT is scrappy and should not be overlooked. Perhaps UAB was doing the latter and forgetting that NT has some really good players who hustle.

McGasland tweeted that he wanted Roosevelt Smart, shooter extraordinaire, to hustle more and early in the game he did just that, diving on the floor for a loose ball that led to a DJ Draper three — one of his four in the game. NT has just the right about of shooting and the right amount of athleticism to give any team in this league a game if everyone is hustling. Right now North Texas is hitting something akin to a stride winning four straight.

This stretch of games is the toughest on the schedule with UAB, MTSU, WKU, and Marshall all lined up. Having dispatched with UAB on the road NT will face clear conference leader Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro this Saturday at five in the afternoon.

To say that it is a huge game is an understatement. NT can make a statement that would resonate beyond just the little pond that is CUSA. Middle is not only one of the better teams in the league, but in the nation. A win would signal that NT is maybe not back but not the sad sack program that it was the last five years.

Even with a loss, NT has a real shot to finish the league in the top-four, giving the program a fighting chance to make some noise in the league tournament in Frisco March 7-10. Without the first round bye, the team faces a daunting task if it wants to advance. A bye could make all the difference. Right now, Marshall and NT are in a tie for the fourth spot and the Herd have a much easier slate ahead of them before the 2/17 matchup in Denton.

Hooping in Florida

Meanwhile, Jalie Mitchell is still rebuilding the women’s program. After something like a promising start the NT squad lost five straight including a terrible loss in San Antonio to the very bad Roadrunners in which the Mean Green missed damned near everything.

This road trip began with the complete opposite of a performance. Mitchell and company took that loss hard but returned with a great week of practice and a show in Miami. Terriell Bradley went off for 32 points on nine three pointers. That’s a program record. FIU was complete dominated on their home (ugly) floor 92-46. NT held FIU to a terrible 14/53 shooting (28.3%) while they shot 28/70 (54.3%).

After the loss to UTSA, NT was teetering on the edge of not making the league tournament but now is tied for 9th with FU and ODU. The win over FIU helps any potential tie-breaking scenario down the road. NT was handled easily by WKU and UAB — two of the league’s better teams — but played Rice close — the third ranked team. The rest of the league is not separated by much and a league tournament is always about hitting stride at the right time. If Terriell Bradley can shoot like she did the other night, anything is possible.

There are good times happening at the Super Pit

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NT Women’s Basketball Drops Road Game to UTSA

Two of the worst teams in the league took the court to essentially determine the final slot in the conference tournament on Friday.

UTSA used a 22-8 third quarter spurred by a 11-0 run to start the half to pull away from North Texas. Jalie Mitchell’s crew were an awful 15.8% from the field in the third period including 0-2 from deep and 2-4 from the line.

NT never got comfortable on offense all game. Early, there were a lot of missed bunnies as Micayla Buckner got her shots off inside but couldn’t convert consistently.

The players looked confused nearly every time down the floor as they looked to the sideline for instruction on where to go in each and every set. Brittany Smith spent good portion of each posession trying to get everyone set and organized.

This was very concerning as it contributed to NT’s poor shooting. There was no luck and NT weren’t helping themselves by running a crisp offense.

UTSA has the worst defense in the league and NT shot awfully. The referees were calling it very tight, and North Texas never looked comfortable with the pace of the game. UTSA shot 33 freebies an dmade 22 of them (66%) but NT shot a respectable 26 of their own and made only 13 (50%).

This was a missed opportunity to get a win against one of the worst teams in the league. Still, even though Rice is at the top of the standings NT lost by only one to the Owls in Denton.

NT has to figure out the offense before then. At this point in the season the level of execution has to be higher.

Next up NT plays FIU in Florida.


2017 Coaches Caravan: San Antonio

I said I would be there and I kept my word. I felt like I was looking super fly but I will reserve final judgement until I see the official photos.

The other stops in the caravan were more well-attended than this one, and it seems the information passed along was robust and straight-forward. All the coaches were really pleasant and fun to talk with but they looked like I do at work happy hours — happy to have a drink in my hand but counting the seconds until it is time to go home.

I made a few jokes about this. A couple laughed politely.

While I think there is value to using the opportunity to glean further information about the depth chart, the connections that were strengthened were the most important. To wit, afterward my wife understood what I mean when I said it was ‘cool because you just get to chat with the coaches’. When we RSVP’d she said ‘I do not see how that would be cool at all.’

“I want to root for all of them now that I know them. It is silly” — My wife. Yes, the rationale behind your work team building exercises, happy hours, and socials is to use your natural desire to build human connections for the benefit of the organization. Now that you have met Grant McCasland and shared a laugh or two, you are going to support the program differently. Maybe that means more patience. Maybe that means a bigger check.

If all that reads as cynical, I do not mean it to be. NT is in a good place considering the recent past, but it is more pointed in the right direction, but not necessarily trucking with full momentum. Athletic Director Wren Baker and staff have laid the groundwork — the reorganization, the new organizational controls, setting baselines — but the actual change implementation is still ongoing.

Things like this are designed as opportunities to sell that vision and raise cash toward that end. But they also serve as the kinds of relationship-building that is required. Sure, it makes it easier to ask a guy for cash after you bought him a beer, but buying a beer and talking with him goes is just being a good friend also.

In some future iteration of North Texas Athletics that has reached the success on the field that we all imagine, these kinds of things will be relicts of the distant past. I cannot imagine a Nicky Saban out here glad-handing with randoms that did not fork over five figures for the privilege.

While I look forward to progress, it is nice to enjoy the view along the ride.


Basketball Updates

In case you have been spending time golfing thinking very hard about the future of your family and business, meeting with the very best people and so on, let me catch you up on some things.

North Texas men’s basketball officially parted ways with Tony Benford. What is news is not that it happened — it was a long time coming — but in the manner it did. Athletic Director Wren Baker has been sending email to the Mean Green Club members before releasing the press notes. This is a nice touch. What is more is that he is not simply rehashing the points made in the release. If anything, it is a sign of a difference in tone.

Things are mighty different than they were under Ricky V, Sushi Baron.

March 5th:

We will move expeditiously to find new leadership for your men’s basketball program.

March 13th:

I am writing today to inform you that we have found the next head coach for your Mean Green men’s basketball program. It is with great excitement that I announce that Coach Grant McCasland will be the 18th Head Men’s Basketball Coach in our history. As you are a loyal supporter of the program, I wanted to share this information with you first.

Women’s Basketball

While the men’s program was sorting itself out, the women’s team fell in the conference quarterfinals to WKU 78-51. Jalie Mitchell ends her second season at 12-19 (8-10) after finishing her first 11-19 (5-13). She is two wins ahead of Shanice Stephen’s two year pace (20 wins), even with Mike Peterson (23) after two years. Karen Aston famously has the best record of the last decade at NT, when she finished 15-16 before leaving (with Jalie Mitchell) to Texas.

The conference records have improved, but NT is still a bit off the conference pace but Mitchell looks like she has a handle on things.

Grant McCasland

Monday North Texas hired former Arkansas State Head Coach Grant McCasland. He had coached only one year in Jonesboro, taking the Red Wolves to a 20-win season. His buyout of a half-million will be paid and Wren said this:

“If you want a sitting [NCAA] Division I coach, there is going to be a buyout,” Baker said. “We are prepared to do what we need to do there. The biggest cost is not having a winning program.”

That is good stuff. The key factors here:

  • He is from Irving, has family here including a father needing care
  • He is close with Wren Baker
  • He has won, been part of programs that have won. Career record of 219-56
  • He is getting something like 600K base salary to coach here.

Arkansas State has become the nation’s internship program, losing three football coaches from 2011-2013 after just one year. I am chuckling out loud. For what it is worth, McCasland’s old boss tried to save face.

Do you feel something aking to hope now? I cannot tell you what is required to produce winning basketball programs, but Tony Benford did not have it. Grant McCasland seems like he does.

The talent on the roster — Woolridge, Lawson, maybe Combs? — is decent, but I have no idea if McCasland sees it the same way. For what it is worth, we should mention that the 20-win Red Wolves were dropped in OT by the ULM Warhawks in the Sun Belt tournament. The other guy we were eyeing — UTA’s Scott Cross was bounced by Texas State. This is a funny game.

Edit: This previously had a typo where I referred to UTA’s coach as Ray Harper instead of Scott Cross. My bad. Thanks for the catch!