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North Texas Falls to 16-2, Loses to UTSA in SA

Sometime after the game the players leave their locker room and don athleisure wear and meander out of the locker room. The crowd of an announced 2600+ that was just loudly cheering for or against the comeback was now quiet, talking about free Whataburger.

It was a bit of a strange scene. North Texas had comeback from down as many as 9 points against a scruffy UTSA squad in the Convocation Center. North Texas held Jhivvan Jackson to 0-7 on his first attempts until he got unglued and came alive late. In fact both Jackson and Keaton Wallace were held to a combined 8-28 shooting.

The Mean Green had struggles from deep early. Umoja Gibson went 1-9 from deep, and NT went 8-29 from distance themselves.

North Texas was outplayed through the first 2/3rds of the game because of turnovers, missed shots, and fouls. It looked to us — the green side — like the refs were a little near-sighted but these are the breaks of playing in CUSA and playing on the road in general.

When the lead was big and time was short, North Texas played with aggression. Woolridge and Jordan Duffy were attacking the bucket and getting layups, and occasionally drawing fouls. The defense was holding UTSA to one shot and pushing the ball with purpose.

Oh and Roosevelt Smart starting hitting jumpers. He finished with five threes and led the balanced NT attack with 18. None were bigger than the two buckets to tie the game at 71 and the one to tie it at 74. Mixed in there were some Jhivvan Jackson layups as he got unstuck.

North Texas forced a Jackson miss but couldn’t get the ball — only the fifth offensive rebound for UTSA — and then Jackson got a miracle falling-away shot off with 3 ticks left that dropped. A full-court, Laettner shot from Zachary Simmons went wide and that was that.

NT’s comeback fell short by two.

Random Thoughts

  • The crowd was a nice shade of green. I cannot say how many exactly there were, but it was a solid crowd. At least four of the sixteen rows of section 101 were 90% NT fans. MGN brought seven people. There were green-clad fans throughout the gym.
  • North Texas plays much better when they play with purpose.
  • At least one timeout-crowd gag was a dude. The “smile-cam” saw no one smile. The PA announcer seemed pretty disappointed.
  • MGN tried the North/Texas chant twice. We had little participation that I could hear. The sound is weird in that gym so that may be just me.
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Basketball

Zachary Simmons Is Good

 

Previously, I linked to some of the good stuff Zach did against Tech. I wanted to discuss something else he did against UTEP last night. This play is not particular special in that it does not have some outstanding display of other-worldly athleticism like any Zion Williamson highlight. This is instead just good post play.

As my tweet highlights, the play has four things that are difficult for some players to master. Playing as the lone-big man is difficult and exhausting. Simmons has to battle all night and still do things that require good technique. Watch how he gets into position by setting a screen, sealing his man (who had helped on the screen by showing high) and holding him off.

Screen cap ESPN+

So much of any sport is doing the work before the play comes your way. This is good stuff. If we could get a great pas into the post he can simply turn and score. As it was, Woolridge had to toss it out a bit, but Zach still had the ball in a good spot to work on his man one-on-one.

Screen cap ESPN+

Zach then goes to work. This seems easy — I mean he is just backing down the defender, right? The answer is not really. Simmons is a right-handed player and every part of this is not necessarily natural. The balance and timing required to attack his defender from this position requires development. Finally he finishes at the rim with a nice left hook.

Screen capture | ESPN+

This again is not easy. Plenty of guys can do this in practice against ‘air’ but not against a guy trying to push you out of the paint. He gets his right shoulder into his defender, rises, leans and gets the soft, lefty finish there. It is simple, but requires so much skill and touch and hours in the lab.

All of the above skills are taught to big men throughout all the levels of basketball — well, they at least used to be — and while we all favor bigs that can screen and finish at the rim like Clint Capela, there is value in the traditional post-up play.

No, we do not want to take 35 of these a game, but it is unbelievably useful to have this in the repertoire.

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Basketball

Basketball Breakdown: Offensive Efficiency is Key

North Texas has 9 games left on its conference schedule, and everyone of them is important. Right now if you look at the standings in CUSA you see that a mammoth battle is about to ensue for that 4th seed, and a 1st round bye.

Standings

For the longest time I thought that the top 5 in CUSA were pretty much set, but in recent weeks Marshall and UAB have looked vulnerable. Now La Tech and UTSA are surging. UTSA just beat UAB and Marshall. North Texas is the quiet team, because no one is sure what to make of them. At one point UNT was scary, but now not so much. If you polled all those that are in the know about CUSA basketball I think you would find that most would pick UNT 5th out of the group of 5 vying for that 4th seed. I’m here to tell you that there is hope in this race. I’m here to tell you that North Texas has a chance at that 4th seed, but the hope is tied to one area. That area is offensive efficiency.


Offensive Efficiency Breakdown

First off what exactly is offensive efficiency? Raw offensive efficiency is points scored per 100 offensive possessions. So for this post that’s what we will focus on. Here is a breakdown of what North Texas has done in their wins and losses.

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First off like you expected there is a big difference. Yeah when North Texas wins they play well on offense. Look at the defensive efficiency rating now, and notice how it isn’t that much of dramatic difference like the offensive rating. When North Texas wins it is averaging 20.8 more points per 100 possessions then when they lose. Defensively it’s only 7.7 points. If you’ve watched most of the Mean Green games this year you would’ve noticed that there isn’t much difference in the quality of defense in won and lost games. Credit Coach McCasland for the most part he gets his guys to play pretty good defense in every game. Now for reference purposes NT has averaged an offensive efficiency rating of 104 and a defensive rating of 101 throughout all of their games. So what or who is exactly driving the offensive efficiency in these wins and losses?


The Three Pillars 

If I posed the question to you who you thought was the driving force in good offensive efficiency for North Texas was. I’m sure you’d answer Roosevelt Smart or Ryan Woolridge, and you know what I wouldn’t argue with you. Those guys along with AJ Lawson are very critical to the success of North Texas. They are what I call the Saviors. They can save North Texas on a bad offensive night. At least two of those 3 always have to be scoring for North Texas to have any chance. But they really aren’t the drivers of successful offensive efficiency for North Texas. Each one of those guys have had good games when North Texas had below average offensive efficiency night. Smart had 23 against La Tech when NT’s offensive efficiency rating was 90.7. Woolridge had 21 against Georgetown when NT’s offensive efficiency rating was 85.3.  My 3 guys who are the pillars to offensive success for North Texas are – Shane Temara, Zach Simmons, and Tope Arikawe. Yup those 3 big guys are the key to North Texas running down that 4th seed. Lets take a look at their numbers.

The_3_Pillars

I took 7 of the best offensive efficiency games after the Rodgers St game and 6 of the worst offensive efficiency game and ran the number of these 3 guys. Obviously a couple of things stand out. First you have the 9 points per game difference. North Texas lost 5 of those 6 bad offensive efficiency games. Their average margin of defeat in those was 7 points per game.  The second and probably most glaring is the shooting %. These guys don’t take a ton of shots per game, and most of their shots are at the rim. For them to shoot 23% at close range is pretty ugly.


Close it Out

North has as good a chance as UAB, Marshall, UTSA, and La Tech to get that 4th seed. It’s going to take a great effort to accomplish a feat that many thought was near impossible to start the season. If North Texas is going to accomplish the impossible it will always start on the defensive end, but they have to get quality games out of at least 2 of the 3 guys. Tope is starting to figure it out. Zach continues to improve. Shane is in a shooting slump. Temara hasn’t scored in double digits since the Charlotte game. We all hope he can figure it out before the gauntlet of UAB, Middle Tennessee, WKU, Marshall.

Categories
Basketball

2017-18 BBall Season: UTEP Preview

Overview

North Texas travels to El Paso for their first conference game of the Grant McCasland era. Its a huge opportunity for the Mean Green to set the tone for a solid showing in CUSA play.

  • Thursday, Dec 28 2017
  • 8:00 p.m. CT
  • Don Haskins Center , EL Paso TX
  • TV:  CUSA TV
  • Radio: MGRN – 88.1 KNTU-FM

What You Need to Know About UTEP

Record: 5-7

Coach: Phil Johnson (1st season at UTEP, Previously at San Jose St from 2002-05 )

Last Game: North Dakota St L 63-51


Game Plan

Attacking UTEP

Last time on the floor North Texas struggled to find good looks against a long athletic Georgetown team. The two best shooters for North Texas went 2-18 from beyond the 3pt line. Tonight Jorden Duffy and Roosevelt Smart have to come up with better efforts if the Mean Green are going to have chance at the W. Both Smart and Duffy should fare better tonight against easier competition.  Duffy was a little rusty after missing a few games with a knee injury. Smart struggled with the Hoyas length.

Woolridge was the best player last time out for North Texas. He will need to be on top of his game again tonight. He will most likely be matched up with FR Kobe Magee. Magee isn’t the type of defender who should be able to shut down Woolridge. If you’ve watched any of North Texas this year, you know that even when defenders play off of Woolridge they still struggle to stay in front of him. Ryan should have a big game tonight.

Perhaps the most interesting match-up tonight will be Lawson vs. Frazier. Both are similar slashing type players. Frazier is probably the better shooter. Lawson is the better finisher at the rim. If Lawson remains in attack mode, he may get Frazier in foul trouble.

Temara and Simmons have been a solid front court for North Texas.  The FR Simmons has had his ups and downs. Simmons looked like he was really turning a corner after the McNeese St game, but he has had some off games. UTEP isn’t a good rebounding team, so Simmons is due for a nice game. Temara did his best to keep North Texas close against Georgetown.  The SR F hit 4 3’s and hauled in 12 boards. That was a great effort against one of the best front courts North Texas has played.

Defending UTEP

UTEP has had an up and down year. The Miners only won one of their first 7 games, and they lost their coach to retirement. Then after losing 6 in a row UTEP came up with 4 straight victories. Its hard to get a read on exactly where this UTEP team is. I’m still a believer that the Miners are a dangerous middle tier CUSA team. UTEP has enough weapons to challenge the elite CUSA teams on any night.

The Miners are led by some familiar faces. Guard Omega Harris is back and is a threat to score from everywhere on the floor.  Former North Texas guard Keith Frazier is having the kind of year that many Mean Green fans were hoping he’d have for them last year.  Frazier is been the best scorer for the Miners this season. He’s scored in double digits 4 out of the last 5 games. Frazier has also been strong on the defensive boards. During that 5 game stretch he’s averaged 7 defensive boards a game.

Other guys to look out for are JR forward Paul Thomas. Thomas is a threat to get a double double. FR G Kobe Magee was a really good scorer in high school. He hasn’t put up a lot of points yet, but he’s been a nice contributor. Another FR Tirus Smith has also been a solid freshman contributor.  He’s been one of the better rebounders for UTEP.

 


Projected Starting Lineups

North Texas

Player Position Stat
Ryan Woolridge 6-3 G 4.9 A/pg
Roosevelt Smart 6-3 G 17.6 PT/pg
A.J. Lawson 6-5 G 10.8 PT/pg
Zachary Simmons 6-9 F 5 PT/pg
Shane Temara 6-9 F 6.8 REB/pg

 

UTEP

Player Position Stat
Kobe Magee 6-1 G  1.4 A/pg
Keith Frazier  6-5 G 14.6 PT/pg
Omega Harris 6-8 G 12.6 PT/pg
Paul Thomas 6-7 F 8.7 PT/pg
Tirus Smith 6-9 F 5.6 PT/pg

Go To Guys

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Copy_of_Eureka_College_Go_to_Guy_2


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3 Points

  1. Get Smart some easy looks early. He needs to bounce back after 1-13 from 3pt range against GTown.
  2. Dominate the glass.
  3. Keep the bigs out of foul trouble.

Inside the Advanced Stat Match-up

 

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Prediction

Even though North Texas has had their troubles out west in El Paso, I still like their chances tonight.  That’s why I’m going to pick North Texas to win.  I believe that the Mean Green will shut down UTEP with their first shot defense and will own the boards.

My Pick:  North Texas by 7