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Basketball

North Texas Basketball Is Back

The greatest North Texas basketball game I have been to was the win over Texas Tech in the Super Pit on Tuesday November 16th, 2011. The place was packed and North Texas won 92-83 in OT. Josh White had 32 points including a clutch basket down the stretch.

NT went 20-11 that season, averaged 4006 fans and fought through a mid-season slump and ultimately lost to UALR in the Sun Belt title game by one point. Since then, NT has been on a slow regression to terrible.

Enter Grant McCasland.

He has reinvigorated the program with a modern style, energy and most precious: wins. North Texas basketball is 14-1 on the season and yes, a good portion of those wins were against bad programs. There is value in preparing for league play with a rough-and-tumble non-conference schedule. There is also value in building up confidence and rhythm and hype.

North Texas needed good feelings more than it needed tough competition. The same rationale applied when the Mean Green entered the College Basketball Invitational — a throwaway postseason tournament to a good number of teams. They won that tournament, against okay competition, and built up the hype and good feelings that have carried over into this season.

Oh, and the style of play was honed in that tournament. Senior guard Michael Miller was famously coached to switch his shooting hand in the pregame shootaround and thus began a new style of play that has carried over to this season.

As we enter conference play, let us take a closer look at our Mean Green:

0 Ryan Woolridge: G 6’3″ JR

Woolridge has been an iron man in his three years at NT, playing a ton and handling the ball as the primary point guard. He is quick and can get to the basket and finish around the rim. He has extended his range to three this season but still does not shoot a ton from there even though he’s at .400 from deep this season. He is iffy from the FT line, or we would see him average something like 14-17 PPG.  In this drive-and-kick offense he is one of the guys that can get anywhere he wants.

Advanced numbers via KenPom.com

Numbers: 12.9 PPG 6.3 RPG 5.2 APG | 102.0 OffRtg 24.5 %Poss 54.6 eFG% 27.3 ARate 43.3 FTRate

2 Jorden Duffy: G 6’1″ SR 

Duffy is a scorer who can light it up from deep when he is on. In the CBI he was finally healthy and he broke out with 18 per game. He’s not been hitting them at the same rate this season, but he’s averaging 10 a game and is a solid contributor right now. He’s a streaky guy so expect him to break out during this conference season.

Numbers: 10.0 PPG 4.2 RPG 2.2 APG | 103.9 ORtg 19.1 %Poss 42.9 eFG% 34.7 FTRate

3 Roosevelt Smart: G 6’3″ JR 

Rose is listed as a guard but he plays the “three” or SF position often. In modern basketball this is not really a big deal, but this is also usually a bigger wing than the two-guard. NT is shorter across the board, so the 6’1″ Umoja Gibson will often play the two while Rose is at the 3. Smart is a shooter, plain and simple, and he can light it up. He had an injury in the offseason. He’s not quite back to the level he was at last year (110 ORtg, 19.5 per game compared to this year’s 95.7, 10 ppg) but he is working his way back into shape.

He is not driving and getting to the line as much and that is a good reason why he isn’t as efficient or effective just yet. He’ll get there.

Numbers: 10.9 PPG 2.4 RPG 1.3 APG | 95.7 ORtg 22.4 % Poss 50.0 eFG% 6 FTRate

23 Michael Miller: G 6’3″ SR

Mike Miller broke out in the CBI and he has been incredible since. He had 35 against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on 5/6 shooting from deep. He can shoot now, and has developed a nice little midrange attack using both hands. NT plays him at the 4-spot often and you can see how the four-guard lineup can be lethal with so many scorers spreading the floor. He has made 11 threes thus far this season, which was last year’s season total.

Numbers: 11.4 PPG 4.6 RPG 1.2 APG | 126.1 ORtg 20.7 %Poss 65.7 eFG% 32.5 FTRate

24 Zachary Simmons: F 6’10” SO

The key to this four-guard lineup has been Zach Simmons’ play. He has to do all the big man work since he is the lone big man. His offensive rating (131.2) is 31st in the nation among all players who have used at least 16% of their team’s possesions. That is to say he has been an efficient and productive offensive player.

Against Louisiana Tech Simmons was instrumental. Witness these two plays late — the patience in the post to get a layup over two guys, and the movement to make the final Tech drive difficult.

Numbers: 12.3 PPG 6.9 RPG 0.8 ASG | 131.2 ORtg 19.3 %Poss 64.6 eFG% 31.1 FTRate

The Bench


1 Umoja Gibson: G 6’1″ RFR

Umoja balled out in his first couple games last season before he was injured for the year. He has returned to the roster and filled in nicely in Smart’s absence.  He’s quick and can shoot the ball well. Right now, he is mostly a three-point shooter in this offense, taking far more threes than twos. He had an off night vs Tech, and that contributed to the Tech comeback.

On the right night he will be a game-changer.

Numbers: 12.4. PPG 2.3 RPG 1.6 APG | 95.4 ORtg 19.8 %Poss 45.6 eFG% 26.4 FTRate

10 Jamiah Simmons: F 6’4″ RSO

Simmons came along with Grant McCasland from Arkansas State. He is a burly forward that is rebounding well — his defensive rebounding rate is just about where Zach Simmons is at 17.7%.

Numbers: 4.6 PPG 4.3 RPG 0.8 APG | 101.0 ORtg 16.2 %Poss 47.9 eFG% 53.2 FTR

55 DJ Draper: G 5’10” JR

DJ is a fan favorite shooter. He has not been getting the same kind of time as he was last season, but he’ll come in and hit a three and sit down. Occasionally, he’ll make a great play that isn’t shooting and twitter will go wild. This is as it should be.

Numbers: 4.6 PPG 1.0 RPG 1.2 APG | 141.9 ORtg 8.7 %Poss 63.5 eFG% .478 3PT%

20 Tope Arikawe: F 6’8″ SR

Tope is big and powerful but does not get a ton of minutes. McCasland mostly prefers Zach for playing the big spot and four guards around him. Tope will come in and set screens and rebound. He has some touch around the basket but he is not scoring at the same rate he was last season. He’s only getting about 10% of the minutes so we won’t list numbers here.

13 Mark Tikhonenko: F 6’10” FR

Mark can shoot the ball but has not appeared in the recent games. He played well in the early season as NT was running throuhg some lineups and beating up on some minnows. Ideally he would be a stretch-four but with the four-guard lineup NT is running now, this is unnecessary.

35 Shakeem Alcindor: F 6’8″ FR

Another big-body forward who got minutes in a blowout. Good size.

The Season

North Texas has the third-best adjusted efficiency margin in the league — again, according to KenPom — at +5.39, just behind über talented Western Kentucky at +6.38 and defensive monster Old Dominion at +8.73.. Things will settle into a different rhythm once everyone is deeper into league play. Right now NT’s league-only offensive rating is 126 — number one in the conference — and that is heavily influenced by destroying the worst team defense in Rice on the road.

North Texas was expected to finish somewhere behind Western, Marshall, ODU, and maybe Tech. Thus far, the advanced numbers from the non-conference season and the first week of league play have bore that out.

The Mean Green are playing like a good team, with a balanced scoring attack reliant on spreading the floor and controlling the tempo. FIU (leads the nation!), Marshall, and UTSA play at a super-high pace, while NT plays fairly deliberately.

When NT is hitting threes, they are nigh-unstoppable, as most teams are. Usually, one or two of NT’s primary scorers are on, while the other is struggling a bit. This is fairly common in the game. The metronomes are Zach Simmons and Ryan Woolridge. While some of the other guys can get to the rim, Simmons and Woolridge are the two that can get inside and make things happen with consistency.

NT will face a few challenges in this league campaign. Louisiana Tech is talented — we all saw how DaQuan Bracey broke down the NT defense. Western Kentucky has 5-star freshman 6’11” Charles Bassey, 245 lbs, and dominant.

ODU is physically imposing and has two talented senior players in Ahmad Caver and BJ Stith. Marshall has Jon Elmore and CJ Burks, two of the best players in the league but has not been as efficient on either end without the departed Ajdin Penava.

The non-conference schedule was soft, so even a 1-loss season mixed with a conference tournament exit will not guarantee an NCAA bid. NT needs to win the tournament, and so this league season is about getting a good placement there. In a single-elimination tournament, any squad can get hot and upset someone. We saw Southern Miss eliminate Middle last season.

Whatever happens, this should be a fun season. North Texas basketball is back.

Schedule

The league schedule is Thurs/Saturday in league play. After February 16, the league switches to pod play. NT will be grouped according to their finish to have an 18-game schedule. More information can be found here.

January

  • Saturday Jan 5 – Southern Miss
  • Thursday Jan 10 – @ UTEP
  • Saturday Jan 12 – @ UTSA
  • Saturday Jan 19 – Rice
  • Thursday Jan 24 – UAB
  • Saturday Jan 26 – MTSU
  • Thursday Jan 31 – @ ODU

Feb

  • Sat Feb 2 – @ Charlotte
  • Thu Feb 7 – Marshall
  • Sat Feb 9 – WKU
  • Thu Feb 14 – @ FAU
  • Sat Feb 16 – @ FIU

Kenpom has NT winning all of these with the exception of the ODU game.

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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Dominates JSU 90 – 68, Into CBI Final

Once upon a time, North Texas Basketball seemed like it was going to be really good. NT had a future NBA player and a handful of really good recruits. Then it all disappeared and for the last five years fans who remember that time have filled the ears of anyone who would listen of stories of that time.

Seeing this NT basketball team dominate a team so completely in a postseason game in front of a fun crowd is almost like a dream. It is something like an oasis. The Mean Green have thoroughly dominated three good, solid college basketball teams in this postseason tournament on the way to the CBI Final. I never knew I would care so deeply about a tournament that I so recently learned about but so it is.

This is the second straight game NT has won at home after scoring 90 points. Even though they scored fewer points than on Monday, the shooting was even better. NT shot a blistering 62% from the field and 70% from three on 14/20 shooting. CBI records are and were falling every time NT has stepped on the floor this March.

Roosevelt Smart was your leading scorer with a mere 20 in an efficient night — shooting 6/12 shooting. Jorden Duffy hit all five of his three balls on the way to 19 points. This of course after the two combined for 62 points on Monday. If they were asked to score more, they could have and likely would have. Instead the rest of the roster contributed buckets upon buckets. DJ Draper was left alone to hit 4/5 from three also.

This game was never in doubt as (for real this time) North Texas led from tip to buzzer. Duffy hit the first bucket of the game and NT never looked back. The Mean Green led by five at the 16:57 mark and never looked back. The Gamecocks never got closer than that the rest of the way. By halftime the lead was 28.

What do we make of this incredible series of games? NT has famously (now) gone to an all-guard lineup and the change has been dramatic. Spacing in basketball — pro and college — has always been the name of the game, and this era even more so. With Mike Miller shooting with his right hand now — that story is so crazy — NT has three shooters, a ball handler, and a big man that can finish on the court. Add to this combination an increase in tempo and a solid, active defense, and the result is a team that cannot be stopped by the CBI field.

North Texas has a nice little break before the Monday CBI Final Game 1 (yes, this is a strange tournament). For a sneak peak at the possible competition watch Campbell at San Francisco tomorrow on ESPN3 at 9 CDT.

Much has been made of the fact that Nevada and Loyola Chicago the 2016 and 2015 champs, respectively, are facing off in this year’s Sweet 16. If this tournament is any indication of the progress we can expect North Texas to make next year, then Wren Baker will have an easy time selling season tickets.

Grant McCasland is two wins away from 20 on the season. This is really happening. GMG

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Basketball

2018 CBI Tournament: NT vs Jacksonville St

Overview

North Texas looks to continue its CBI run against a very physical defensive Jacksonville St team .

  • Wednesday, March 21 2018
  • 7:00 p.m. CT
  • The Super Pit , Denton, TX
  • TV:  ESPN 3
  • Radio: MGRN – 88.1 KNTU-FM
  • Line: EVEN

What You Need to Know About Jacksonville St

Record: 23-12 (11-7 Ohio Valley)

Coach: Ray Harper 2nd season at JSU (43-27)

Last Game:  W Central Arkansas 80-59

Scoring Margin: 6.9

Ohio Valley Scoring Margin: 2.7


 Projected Starting Lineups

North Texas (CBI AVG)

Player Position Stat
Ryan Woolridge 6-3 G 10 A/pg
Jorden Duffy 6-1 G 25 PT/pg
Roosevelt Smart 6-3 G 32.5 PT/pg
Michael Miller 6-3 G 12.5 PT/pg
Zach Simmons 6-9 F 11 REB/pg

 

Jacksonville St (CBI AVG)

Player Position Stat
Jamall Gregory 6-3 G 6 PT/pg
Malcolm Drumwright 6-2 G 18.5 PT/pg
Marlon Hunter 6-3 G 10.5 PT/pg
Christian Cunningham 6-7 F 3.5 PT/pg
Norbertas Giga 7-0 C 9 REB/pg

Scouting Report

Jacksonville St

  • Defense – Primary is Man, but they will mix in zone.
  • Best Offensive Weapon – Jason Burnell
  • Best Shooter – Jason Burnell
  • Best Defender – Jason Burnell
  • Rim Protecter – Yes, Norbetas Giga
  • Primary Offensive Scoring Way – Mid Range Shots
  • Secondary Offensive Scoring Way – Second Chances/Offensive Rebound. One of the best in the country at getting put back points.
  • Offensive Weakness – Not a good outside shooting team.
  • Defensive Weakness – They dont have a lot of weak areas on defense.  If you can hit 3’s and mid range jumpers then you can score on them.
  • Defensive Strengths – Rim Protection, they dont allow their opponents to score much in the paint. They also dont allow their opponent to get up a lot of shots.

 


Go To Guys

 

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Player Match-ups

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Gregory is considered the best athlete on the JSU team, so this should be a fun match-up to watch. Gregory does most of his damage getting to the rim, but he can step out and hit a 3 if he is left open. Ryan has been dynamic in the CBI. With more shooting surrounding him, its allowed him to play free.

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Hunter played under Harper at WKU, and then transferred to Odessa College. Harper is a really good defender that should get the assignment of trying to shutdown Smart. On offense Hunter is more of a mid range and get to the basket guy.  85% of Hunter’s shots came inside the arch. If you’re a North Texas fan, you already know how dynamic Smart is.  Hunter isn’t the type of guy that gives Smart issues on the offensive end, so Smart should get his share of open looks again.

 

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Malcolm Drumwright is really solid player. He led JSU in points per game, and assists. He will be a tough guard for Duffy. Duffy has been nothing short of sensational during the CBI. He’s left many UNT fans exciting for next year, and wondering what if for the past year. Duffy will be able to get open looks against Drumwright when UNT has the ball, but Drumwright is the higher caliber player.

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Cunningham is a good low post scorer and defender. His size and strength maybe an issue for the smaller defender Miller. Cunningham is the top rebounder for JSU.  If Miller can step out and hit a few 3’s again, he will do his part in pulling Cunningham away from the basket. This match-up is the most intriguing, because of their differing style of play.  Miller is also going to see a lot of Burnell.

 

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Giga is one of those European players who can pass, dribble, and shoot.  He’s not a great shooter, but more of a capable shooter.  Giga has had somewhat of a disappointing year. JSU was expecting him to be more dominate. Simmons has continued to improve throughout the season.  Simmons has grown into a solid big. He can score around the rim with both hands. Giga gets the overall nod here, because he can do a little bit more. Simmons will still get his in this game, because Woolridge will break down the JSU defense.

 

Other Contributors 

JSU – Jason Burnell

Burnell is a basically the 6th starter for this JSU team. He will play the 4 for JSU when he is on the floor, but he is more of a guard. Wont’t take a lot of 3’s, but is capable of knocking them down. Burnell can really score from anywhere on the court. Burnell was a JUCO star, who struggled to find his way at Georgia Southern. Under Harper at JSU he has really taken off.

JSU – Jacara Cross

Big dude, looks like a football player. Doesnt get a lot of minutes, but he does contribute when he plays.  Against Central Arkansas he had 13 pts and 13 boards.

UNT – DJ Draper

Draper is a 3 pt sniper, who has seen his role diminish some with Duffy getting healthy. Draper is a solid bench contributor. He is a sneaky good defender, and as mentioned already he can knock down the open 3. Draper has struggled in the CBI going 0-6 from behind the arch.

 

UNT – Tope Arikawe

Tope is a high energy forward. He gets himself into trouble with his aggressiveness at time. Tope does a solid job with his post defense and rebounding ability. Tope didnt play against South Dakota, but had 7 boards and 6 assists against Mercer. Tope will need to provide solid minutes tonight vs the JSU front court.


 

Inside the Advanced Stat Match-up

 

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3 Points

  1. 3 Point Shooting – North Texas has been on fire from downtown in the CBI. That will need to continue tonight, if UNT wants to win. JSU is too good of a defensive team, when it comes to protecting the paint
  2. Second Chance Points – 32 second chance points for JSU during the CBI. JSU is one of the best second chance scoring teams in the country. North Texas has to do a great job of team rebounding, and blocking out.
  3. Attack – North Texas has thrived off of early runs in the past 2 games. The Mean Green will need to do that again tonight. Use the energy created, by what should be a great atmosphere, to bury JSU early.

Prediction

The way North Texas is playing right now you have to pick the Mean Green. They don’t have to go inside to score, they can get open looks by spacing the floor with shooters around Woolridge. That makes UNT a very hard team to guard. Jacksonville St is a little bit better of a defensive team then South Dakota was. They certainly are much more physical. If you’re a North Texas fan the one thing that has to concern you the most tonight is the front court of Burnell, Giga, and Cunningham. Their physical play could put the slim NT front court in foul trouble. Those guys could also do damage on the boards and second chance points.

I like North Texas to win this game and move onto the CBI Finals. Too much mojo, and firepower for JSU to overcome tonight.

My Pick:  North Texas by 5

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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

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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Basketball Basketball Recaps

Another Moral Victory: North Texas 60 – ODU 63

A week after feeling good about two straight road wins North Texas finds itself having just lost two straight home games.

Tonight’s matchup with Old Dominion was always going to be tough considering the quality of the opponent. The effort was there. Both teams missed shots and it went mostly according to expectation.

The Monarchs are a good defensive team and made NT struggle for points for long stretches. Ryan Woolridge did his part to make things happen — and he did so spectacularly at times — but in the end the height and length was too much to overcome.

ODU’s Trey Porter dominated inside with 23 and 11, feasting on lobs into the paint and quality post moves. B.J Stith struggled from the field but managed 12 points on 10/10 from the line.

Roosevelt Smart struggled to get his shot off but managed 14 on 3/12 shooting of which 10 attempts came from beyond the arc (3 made). In the end it was Ryan Woolridge and Jorden Duffy who sparked the comeback with huge buckets. Ryan Woolridge even joined in from deep, but his two highlight plays were a steal and a tomahawk and a falling-away shot in the lane.

Down 59-55 with just over a minute left. NT forced a miss and then got into their offense. Woolridge ran a two-man game with Zach Simmons and attacked the lane while Simmons rolled. This was an action designed to spring Duffy in the corner who flashed to the free throw line extended and drained the catch-and-shoot three.

Up just one, ODU went to Porter for a post score that put them up three. NT then got a foul called that sent Woolridge to the line. Looking for a three point attempt, the Mean Green were stifled by the tough Monarch defense. The length made it difficult across the board.

Ryan made both but NT was down 1 with 14 seconds left.

ODU inbounded to Porter down the floor but while attempting to avoid being fouled he travelled with a little bunny hop. NT had the ball down just one.

Then Ryan Woolridge tried too much. He shuffled his feet ever so slightly and was called for traveling. BJ Stith made two free throws and then Woolridge missed a heave from half-court.

That was all she wrote.

What It Means

North Texas has played four games that were incredibly close and could have gone either way. They are not indicative of anything more than a team that battles hard and makes mistakes. There are mistakes to clean up and that will come in time, but right now everyone can be proud of the effort they are putting in.

Next Up

Visiting Rice on the 13th and the at La Tech on the 18th.