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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Loses Big to WKU, 67-51

All seasons that do not end with a trophy presentation end badly. For North Texas, who this time last year was feeling much better about itself and its program, this was a doubly bad game.

In some ways, however, it was a relief.

“We had some guys playing with some things that you wouldn’t believe. It’s inspiring, that leadership” said Zach Simmons in the post game press conference debrief.

McCasland said “we had our sights on the NCAA tournament” so this is it barring some fluke of a Selection Sunday.

North Texas basketball finishes 21-12, one win better than last season’s CBI tournament team and six losses better to boot. It most ways, it was a better year than last. Why does it feel so devastating? Well, the terrible finish to the year, after a 20-4 start, NT fell seven straight times.

Tonight, they fell to the better team. Grant McCasland blamed himself in the post game, crediting the Western Kentucky defense and their game plan to deny entry passes and make things difficult.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury said they focussed on Umoja Gibson in particular, limiting his touches and “not letting him get 7 threes tonight.”

The game plan worked for Western.

North Texas struggled in the first half. At the 7:50 mark, Roosevelt Smart had just travelled and WKU led 22-8. This was not about the effort or even the energy level. It was about talent and defense.

WKU defended everything well. They denied the ball and the next pass and the on-ball stuff that NT was killing FIU with. They denied entry passes and swing passes and NT was travelling and double-dribbling because they had to make second and third moves to create space.

Grant McCasland said “we got sped up.”

The Mean Green made a little run with a little over a minute left in the half to get something going. The crowd, ready to celebrate anything positive jumped on that and began a North/Texas chant. Simmons scored a tough bucket and then the defense forced a WKU turnover.

Rick Stansbury, WKU coach, was upset and called TO. NT couldn’t convert but that got the energy up. NT forced another stop — a shot clock violation — that got Stansbury as red as the uniforms.

“When North Texas cut it to 13 we got five straight to make it 18 and they never threatened after that” said Stansbury in the post game press conference.

It was true. Tavieon Hollingsworth was finding space in the midrange and pulling up for clutch jumpers. He had 23 on 9/15 shooting.

In the end the half ended in stark contrast to last night’s first half. Instead of Ryan Woolridge hitting a three-quarter court bucket, he was stripped of the ball as time expired. NT was down 31-16 at that point, shooting 25% in the first, turning the ball over 11 times.

WKU had shot a mediocre 38% with 6 turnovers of their own during that period.

North Texas played Western 35-36 in the second half, to little progress. The first half deficit was too much. Ryan Woolridge had 13 and Jordan Duffy had 11 to lead NT. Gibson added 7 and only went 1/7 from distance.

Zach Simmons had 8 and 13 against future NBA-er Charles Bassey, who only had 9 and 8 himself.

What It All Means

Grant McCasland was noticeably devastated after the game. The last half of the season was full of injuries and poor play. The roster is kind of a weird mix, and McCasland deserves credit for getting this short team to out-rebound and defend really well.

The offensive end has a nice one-two punch in Ryan Woolridge and Zach Simmons. Unfortunately, the spread attack went limp too often. DJ Draper’s 3PT % dropped to 36% from 42% while making just over half his total from last year.

Roosevelt Smart went from a 36% gunner to a 27% guy and his offensive rating went from 110 to 86.

Was it injuries? Mental focus? It is difficult to say but it is McCasland’s job to know and change it. Still, whatever quibbles the fan base has with this program are just that — quibbles — given the tremendous progress this team has made in just his two years at the helm.

It is easy to see a future where NT is one of the favored teams in Frisco, but it is a long way before NT has a program the calibre of Western Kentucky, a basketball mainstay for decades.

Categories
Basketball

CUSA Basketball Power Rankings & Thoughts

  1. Middle Tennessee
  2. Western Kentucky
  3. Old Dominion
  4. Marshall
  5. UTSA
  6. UAB
  7. Louisiana Tech
  8. North Texas
  9. FIU
  10. FAU
  11. Southern Miss
  12. UTEP
  13. Rice
  14. Charlotte
  • Middle and WKU flexed their muscles last week.  WKU probably had the best week. The Hilltoppers absolutely demolished ODU, who was ranked number one in these rankings last week. WKU put up 88 points on ODU, and to be honest you could make a strong case that they should be number 1 this week.  Since the UTSA loss WKU has been nothing but really good. Middle tore apart UAB. The Blue Raiders showcased why they are a top 25 team. Both of these teams WKU and Middle face off in Murfreesboro this Thursday. It is absolutely must watch basketball.  In their last meeting Middle controlled the tempo and held WKU to only 62 points.  I would not be shocked at all if WKU won this game. The Hilltoppers have more weapons, but Middle is a better overall TEAM. Should be fascinating.

  • What has happened to UAB? The Blazers should be a top challenger in CUSA, instead they are trying to figure out their offensive issues. In their last 8 games UAB is 2-6 scoring only 63.7 points a game. That’s not where UAB should be. Their offensive efficiency should be much better than it is.

  • North Texas is in an absolute free fall right now. The Mean Green have issues all across the board. First off they can’t get stops when they need them. NT just let FIU and FAU, two bad offensive teams, run right over them. Secondly and more importantly, NT is looking for some on the floor leadership. Ryan Woolridge and Roosevelt Smart are the leaders of that team. They really need to step up this week, and get things back on track.

  • What exactly is UTSA? Are they contenders or pretenders? The roadrunners from San Antonio have taken care of business in the last two weeks against the bottom half of CUSA. Then there was the 40 point drubbing ODU put on them. UTSA is still in contention for the 4th seed and a bye. They have NT and Rice. Both of those games are winnable, and should be W’s for UTSA. I wouldn’t be shocked to see UTSA get a bye.

  • Here is what the match-up’s look like if CUSA ended today.
    CUSA_Tourney
  • And here are my crazy predictions based off those match-ups.
    CUSA_Tourney_PredictionsYes I know what you are say UNT is not beating WKU. It’s hard to see that with how UNT is playing right now. Still my bold prediction is that if UNT wins their 1st game they are winning their second game no matter who they play. There are going to be upsets on day two. One of those top 4 seeds is going down. Marshall wants revenge on UTSA. UAB is in the same boat as UNT right now, struggling to stay afloat. So its hard to see them beating ODU. Its pretty crazy to believe that La Tech vs Middle would be a day 2 match-up. No one saw that coming in the preseason. If UNT can climb up to the 6 seed, and get by their first game I think its a more likely scenario of them beating ODU. If they stay at 7 they have a slim shot at WKU. NT probably has a better shot at Middle than WKU. So summarizing ODU, Marshall, and possibly UTSA if they are a 4 seed- one of those top ranked teams is going down on day two. It should really be a great tournament. Don’t expect chalk outside of WKU and Middle. There will be lots of close games, and potential upsets. Middle and WKU also might not be as safe as some think. Marshall is the one team that beat Middle, and WKU has shown it could have a bad night too. Would love to hear who your picks are right now.
Categories
Basketball

Dropping Dimes – 10 Thoughts Recapping NT vs. WKU

North Texas got “out-flexed” at home by a superior Western Kentucky team.

  1. If you would’ve told me that Smart, Woolridge, Lawson, Simmons, and Draper were all going to score double figures I would’ve guaranteed a North Texas win.  For a half of basketball North Texas could do no wrong on offense. Lawson ,and Woolridge were getting into the lane at ease. Lawson was finishing, and Woolridge was dropping dimes to Simmons. It was all going so well, but it soon feel apart. North Texas shot 60% in the first half and it dipped to 37.1% in the second half.

  2. If your a box score looker like most are you are feeling pretty upset at the fact that WKU shot 48 free throws while UNT only shot 13. If you were at the game you probably feel just as upset. Lets talk about what happened. First off WKU was already a great team at getting to the line, and UNT was a team that generally put teams on the line a lot. That played out last night. On the flip side of that WKU was a team that doesn’t foul a lot.  WKU fouls the least in CUSA. However, UNT was still a team that gets to the line quite a bit. So what happened? Well WKU was the aggressor. They had guards that North Texas couldn’t stay in front of.  On offense North Texas just wasn’t getting to the basket, and they weren’t getting the calls. Coleby was injured, but he was still a force. Watching the game it just didn’t feel like UNT put itself in position to get calls.

  3. I’m going to preach this till I’m blue in the face. This North Texas team isn’t equipped to get in a high paced shoot out type of game. They are going to win with their defense and their gritty style. Low 70’s and games in the 60’s are what we want to see  from UNT vs teams like Middle, WKU, and ODU. WKU had an offensive efficiency rating of 126. That was the second highest given up by UNT and the third highest for WKU.

  4. When WKU went on their run Smart disappeared. Smart only took 2 shots during that run. He eventually made a 3 with 9:38 left in the game. At that time WKU was already up by 12 and the Smart 3 cut it 9. Smart has to be more assertive during opponents runs.  He is the one guy that North Texas depends on to score.

  5. North Texas allowed 42 points in the paint. Not acceptable.

  6. I love that both Jorden Duffy and Draper continue to fire away. They are going to need both of those dudes scoring in Frisco. Duffy isn’t there yet mentally, but he hasn’t been afraid to continue shooting. Duffy hit a big 3, and Draper hit a couple of them last night. I continue to believe that having both Duffy and Draper playing at a high level by Frisco will make UNT the most dangerous lower seed.

  7. One thing that UNT can’t do against the best teams in CUSA is turn the ball over and take bad shots.  Those type of possessions lead to easy offense. UNT gave up too many easy possessions last night.

  8. Most of the fan base feels pretty good about where North Texas is at right now. They’ve beat UAB, lost a tough one to Middle and WKU. One of the most popular opinions is to complement the effort that Coach McCasland is getting out of this team. That’s just a testament of how bad things were under Tony Benford. For me I’ve always expected the effort from this team. It was a lot of new guys, and I knew that Coach McCasland wouldn’t accept anything less than a really competitive effort. So I won’t really ever be complementing effort. Coach McCasland is one of the highest paid coaches in the league, and with good reason. I believe he is one of the best. So what I want to see is him coaching execution. That is what I will complement this team on. One thing I do admire is not really the effort, but the ability for this UNT team to climb back in games when there looks to be no hope.  Some teams have that uncanny ability to make a few plays and buckets to climb back in games. That is this North Texas team. They are never out of it.

  9. WKU is the one team that I believe that North Texas can’t beat. I just feel like its a bad match-up. Middle is the best team, but WKU has the most talent. They can pretty much score at every position. Their athleticism stood out last night. They got stops when they needed, and got buckets when they needed.

  10. North Texas is in a position now where they are 2 games back of Marshall in the battle for the 4th seed, and a bye in Frisco. They must win on Saturday, and really NT needs to win out. Marshall has games left against ODU, UAB, and Middle so they have the tougher schedule, but UNT needs to keep the pressure on them.

Player Grades

 

Player Game Grade
Roosevelt Smart B +
Ryan Woolridge C +
AJ Lawson B +
Allante Holston C –
Zachary Simmons B +
DJ Draper B –
Khalil Fuller B
Tope Arikawe B

Players with 10 minutes + get graded.

Next up for North Texas is Marshall on Saturday, February 17th in Denton.

Categories
Basketball

MGN Basketball Breakdown: Analyzing The Gauntlet

North Texas took care of business Saturday night vs. Rice with a thrilling 74-70 victory. It wasn’t pretty, but after last season a W is a W, and the goal of this team is to keep racking up as many W’s as possible. Now North Texas moves into the toughest part of its conference schedule. UAB, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Marshall will all face North Texas in the next two weeks. We are talking about 3 top 100 teams. MTSU is quite possibly a top 50 team depending on which ranking you chose to look at. I believe its time to analyze what NT’s chances are against those teams.


UAB

Date: 2/8

Where: Away

RPI: 172

KenPom Rating: 96

Haslametric Rating: 104

Stat That Stands Out: Best 2PT shooting percentage team in CUSA play.

Match-up Nightmare: F Chris Cokley. Cokley is a PF/4 that North Texas has no answer for. The best match-up for him is probably Tope. There is no way you want to get Holston matched up with him he is too big. Simmons would also get overpowered and out maneuvered. Plus you still have C William Lee to worry about.

KenPom Prediction: UAB 74-64

Haslametric Prediction: UAB 75-64

My Thoughts: UAB just got beat up by ODU. North Texas can play a similar game to ODU, but not as well. They can draw UAB into an ugly game, but that front court of Lee and Cokley is going to be an issue. If North Texas were to pull an upset it would be, because the combination of Smart-Draper-Duffy all knock down a bunch of 3’s. UAB is susceptible in that area, and we’ve all seen that NT can get really hot from downtown.

Upset Chances: 25%


Middle Tennessee 

Date: 2/10

Where: Away

RPI: 22

KenPom Rating: 40

Haslametric Rating: 61

Stat That Stands Out: Top Defensive Efficient Team in CUSA (89.3). In their last 4 home games they are basically allowing only 79 points per 100 possessions.  In real time they are only allowing 51.7 points per game during those games.

Match-up Nightmare: F Nick King. Nick is playing his way to being CUSA’s Play of the Year. He is also a top 10 player on KenPom. He can take you inside or outside. He is probably too athletic for Simmons or Tope to guard. Holston is probably the guy who gets matched up with him.

KenPom Prediction: MTSU  72-58

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 73-56

My Thoughts: MTSU is playing extremely good basketball right now. Its hard to see anyway that NT could go into their home and pull off the upset. The Blue Raiders are just too good defensively to allow that to happen. Their one loss in CUSA was to Marshall who hit 10 3’s. That game was also at Marshall. Much like the UAB game, NT would have to hope that Smart-Duffy-Draper are all lighting it up. Plus NT would need a great defensive effort.

Upset Chances: 2%


Western Kentucky

Date: 2/15

Where: Home

RPI: 50

KenPom Rating: 55

Haslametric Rating: 70

Stat That Stands Out: In conference play 22.9% of WKU’s points come from free throws, tops in CUSA. North Texas is allowing its opponents to get 22.2% of their points from the free throw line that the worst in the conference.

Match-up Nightmare: F Justin Johnson. This dude reminds me of a better Shane Temara. He can also play both inside or outside. He is shooting over 40% from the 3pt line. In his long career against UNT Johnson has averaged 11.5 points and 7 boards, but in his last two outings he has averaged a double double 14.5 points 10 boards.

KenPom Prediction: WKU  73-66

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 73-63

My Thoughts: Western Kentucky probably has the best collection of talent in CUSA. They’ve lost two games in CUSA play. They lost at home to MTSU, a game in which they probably felt like they could’ve won. The loss at UTSA, WKU just didn’t shoot the ball well at all. It was their worst offensive output of the season. Hard to believe when we are talking about a team that has played Villanova and Purdue. Oh yeah they also beat Purdue. If you dont know Purdue is one of the 3 best teams in the country.  If North Texas were to pull of the upset it would be because of their defense. It would also be one of those wacky Thursday night CUSA upsets. Anything can happen at the Super Pit right? Only if you show up.

Upset Chances: 15%


Marshall

Date: 2/17

Where: Home

RPI: 114

KenPom Rating: 133

Haslametric Rating: 140

Stat That Stands Out: In conference play 39.7% of Marshall’s points come from 3’s, tops in CUSA. North Texas has the 3rd best 3pt defense in CUSA.

Match-up Nightmare: G CJ Burks. Burks has been playing all over the floor for Marshall the past 5 games. He has played some 4, 3, and 2. Smart may get the call to guard him early on, but my fear is that Draper will get matched up with him. Burks would dominate that match-up. He can get whatever shot he wants.

KenPom Prediction: Marshall  78-77

Haslametric Prediction: MTSU 77-75

My Thoughts: I really like NT’s chances at beating Marshall.  I think they match up best with them out of all these teams. Marshall rely’s heavily on their 3 pt offense, and well NT is pretty good at defending the 3 pt line. Plus its a Saturday game so there should be a pretty good crowd at the Super Pit. One area that could concern me in this game is if Marshall starts to attack the basket more than shooting 3’s. Don’t want to put the best free throw shooting team in CUSA on the line.

Upset Chances: 60%


Final Thoughts

If North Texas goes through this stretch and comes out 1-3 I would feel good. To stay in the hunt for the 4th seed they really need to go 2-2. They would need to beat UAB and Marshall. Tough task as I highlighted above. If North Texas beats Middle or WKU then you have my permission to streak through the streets. If North Texas goes undefeated in this stretch then by all means please party like we won the Super Bowl.

Look its as tough a stretch as North Texas has played all year the only comparable stretch was OU-UTA-Indiana St, but even that might not be as tough. For the record I think each one of these teams could win a game in March. They all have a characteristics of mid majors that you don’t want to see in March.

We are about to find out if this North Texas team is a contender or a pretender for the Conference crown in Frisco. There is no shame in losing to all these teams, but NT is paying Coach McCasland like a guy who should win these games.

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CUSA Stuff Football

2017 #CUSAKickoff

Well it happened. We did not expect much excitement from a conference desperate for media partners, attention, and recognition. The biggest stories were Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis, and who deserves the most respect.

The league has its share of personalities — ODU head coach Bobby Wilder is fun, WKU’s Mike Sanford is young and also a friend of Wilder, Lou Holtz is free with opinions, and Butch Davis also. Lane Kiffin is controversial but not exciting and not much of a storyteller. Every one else had a look of resignation — they are required to do these things but would much rather do anything else.

If you have ever had to do anything for work that was clearly your least favorite you know the feeling as well. So it goes.

The media contingent was sparse compared to the bigger conferences, but each region had at least one beat guy there. Best represented? The East had at least three regional guys in attendance. Louisiana Tech was probably the most covered by beat writer. My unofficial, casual count was two beat writers and one radio show.

Reddit’s r/CFB sent a couple of people and there were a couple of independent blogger/podcaster types including yours truly. MGN was the only team-centric site with a guy there.

What, exactly, does that mean? Well Media Days were originally conceived as a way to make it convenient for reporters to cover. The idea was mutually beneficial — everyone in one place and a group that needed coverage getting it. Thanks to the internet, there is less need for any of this. Not only are publications shuttering or cutting back on funds — meaning smaller travel budgets for beats — but it is easier to broadcast coverage. CUSA broadcast interviews with each coach and player delegation live on Facebook.

Why travel to Irving when you can simply report on the Thulin conversation?

Well, because the best stuff comes from sitting two feet in front of your subjects. The Newstar’s Cory Diaz did his job with an iPhone and a laptop. It seems an enterprising publication could shell out a few bucks to an independent journalist to walk around and record some video for cheap.

Of course, that presumes that even such a small amount would be worth it. The bigger, more professional outfits had expensive video cameras and grabbed what they needed quickly and efficiently. The media rights partners had special rooms where they could do their interviews.

Depending on your natural tendencies this entire exercise was useful. If you lean toward hot-take drivel, you probably could do with a couple of days where everyone seems more like a real person. If you lean toward insider, secrets-revealed stuff, this was not going to unveil anything beyond the rehearsed answers.

As an aside, it was impressive hearing Sean Kugler and Doc Holliday repeat memorized talking points so effortlessly and seamlessly into any question.

I went in expecting nothing and ready for anything. I had enough gear to do a live stream of audio and/or video but was mostly planning on sitting and getting quotes for posts. And so I did.

The problem with the set up is that NT was in and out fairly quickly. The rest of the time was for the rest of the conference.

I wrote a few posts for fellow blogs. Here are the ones published thus far:

There is an FAU one coming out soon.

Others

Marshall: I asked Doc Holiday and the players about what exactly brought about that 3-9 season. Doc: “Well, we didn’t coach them up well enough.” Ryan Yurachek: “Dunno, I mean I hate to put it all on one game or one play but we were never the same after Litton was sacked [ on the scoop and score against Akron]”.

UTEP: I asked Sean Kugler about losing Aaron Jones and the future of the offense. “It’s a collective. We feel good about the offensive line.” He also feels good about Metz and seamlessly rattled off stats with him at the helm. I heard him repeat this line elsewhere. I also asked about building rivalries and a coach’s responsibility toward contributing toward that. “I can see it with all the Texas schools. It happens naturally and with good games. Like the UTSA win last year. They’ll want to get back at us after that.”

UAB: Shaq Jones is huge in person, and really focused on picking up where UAB left off. What does UAB football look like? “Aggressive, tough, dominant.”

We’ll have more on the podcast this Sunday.

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CUSA Stuff Football

CUSA Bowl Season: WKU

After Saturday’s split performance WKU put CUSA ahead 2-1 this bowl season after destroying Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl.

  • ESPN Highlights
  • Anthony Wales ran 35 times for 240 yards and three scores. WKU continued their run of offensive dominance in 2016, racking up their seventh game with 50+ points, 11th with 40+ including 10( !!! )  in a row, and racked up 598 yards in this game. They are good, and this was why when NT was dominated 45-7, it was difficult to be upset. As the reigning back-to-back CUSA champion, their performance had an even greater significance. If CUSA is to be taken seriously, the best teams need to play like it. Memphis lost their QB and coach after last season’s top 25 run, but did have a good 8-5 year and beat upset Houston. WKU did the conference some good tonight.

Previously:

Next Up:

  • ODU v EMU in the Bahamas Bowl and La Tech vs Navy in the Armed Forces bowl, Friday December 23.
  • MTSU v Hawai’i in the Hawai’i Bowl, Saturday December 24.
  • North Texas vs Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Tuesday December 27.
Categories
CUSA Stuff Football

CUSA Bowl Season: UTSA and Southern Miss

Earlier this month we looked at the CUSA bowl game schedule and made the point that if we want good things for NT, we should want good things for the Conference. To that end, we are rooting for all CUSA teams this bowl season. If for some reason you have lots of sports hate for a particular team and that cannot be put aside for mere conference greater good, that is understandable and forgivable. I am referring to UTSA, and the good number of NT fans that were rooting for New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl.

The Conference can have success with one loss.

Saturday Bowl Recap, CUSA division:

New Mexico Bowl: UTSA 20 New Mexico 23

  • ESPN Highlights
  • Various reports indicate UTSA brought a nice contingent. This is good, as it bolsters the reputation of the conference as a Good Traveling Partner. UTSA held the Lobo rushing attack below their average, but UNM never really was threatened. UTSA had some miracle scores late, but UNM controlled this game throughout. If you are a long-time college football fan you have to be happy for Bob Davie. He turned around a junk program and earned two bowl berths, including this first UNM bowl win since 1961. Good times in ABQ.

New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28 ULL 21

  • ESPN Highlights
  • When you watch Allanzae Staggers, Nick Mullens, and Ito Smith play the way they did last night, or when you see the Southern Miss defensive line make plays, you wonder how in the hell they dropped games to North Texas and UTSA. Then you remember the injuries, and the let-down, and the coaching change before the season. Life is Plinko, man. Louisiana is a good Sun Belt team, and if we CUSA elitists want to hold ourselves superior to the other G5 teams, we have to start by beating the good Sun Belt teams consistently. Southern Miss was the 4th-best team in CUSA and they beat the 4th-best Cajuns. Southern Miss still was stagnant on offense too often for them to feel really great about this, but Mullens nearly cried after capping his career with a bowl win. USM will lose Mullens, and three of the starting five offensive lineman.

Next up:

  • WKU v Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl, Tuesday December 20.
  • ODU v EMU in the Bahamas Bowl and La Tech vs Navy in the Armed Forces bowl, Friday December 23.
  • MTSU v Hawai’i in the Hawai’i Bowl, Saturday December 24.
  • North Texas vs Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, Tuesday December 27.
Categories
CUSA Stuff Football

2016 CUSA Bowl Schedule

CUSA is sending seven teams to the bowl season. Advanced numbers suggest CUSA is only above the Sun Belt among the FBS conferences, which sent six teams to the post-season. Given there are 80 bowl slots, a post season berth does not mean what it did back in 1980.

That is OK.

A bowl berth does not need to be a huge accomplishment in this era, but it is a marker of program progress. And if it is easy to get in, what does missing a bowl say about the teams that are sitting at home this Dec/Jan?

Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri, Texas State, etc?

Sending seven teams — even if one was an APR entry — is a good thing, but it does not mean much outside of a nice cap to the year for these squads unless everyone makes the most of the opportunity. CUSA needs to win every single one of the bowls and and next season fair better in non-con play to move up the G5 rankings,

Here is how the top of the conference faired in non-conference play:

  • Our reigning back-to-back conference champion WKU went 2-2, winning against foes from the MAC and FCS, while losing against Alabama (reasonable) and Vandy by 1 (less reasonable).
  • CUSA runner-up La Tech similarly lost to Arkansas by one point, and was blown out (relatively speaking) by defenseless TTU. This is less reasonable, but understandable.
  • Southern Miss managed the big Kentucky upset, but dropped a game to Sun Belt contender Troy. They held close with LSU, but were blown out late.
  • MTSU was blown out by Vandy (what?) and then upset a struggling Missouri.

While losing is not necessarily bad, not getting blown out is better. For example: Temple won the AAC, widely regarded as the sixth best conference and lost to Army, and Penn State — but only by seven.

Next season, CUSA needs the top of the league to pull off “upsets” against the lower tiers of the P5, and for the rest of the league to do better against the rest of the G5.

Bad non-conference losses by CUSA teams: UTSA being handled by Colorado State, North Texas losing to Southern Methodist, UTEP obliterated by Army, MTSU blown out by Vandy, Southern Miss to Troy.

These are not bad because the opposition was not good, but because they were winnable and / or were not even close. Building a reputation as a conference involves every program pulling in the same winning direction, not just the top four squads.

The good news is that this bowl season offers another chance to impress. Winning these games will not magically change CUSA, but it will help build the case for the league. Perception of quality is what brings in money and prestige, after all.

Here is CUSA’s Bowl Season:

New Mexico Bowl: UTSA vs New Mexico Saturday Dec 17th 1pm CST

New Mexico finished third in the Mountain Division but actually lost on tie-breakers to Wyoming and Boise St. New Mexico is favored by 7 as of this writing. UTSA did not play well on the road — 14-13 at Rice? — and this one will essentially be a Lobos home game. A UTSA win would continue the growing Frank Wilson legend and kick off CUSA season right

New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss vs Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday Dec 17th, 8pm CST

Southern Miss needs to play like the squad that handled Louisiana Tech and not the one that North Texas beat. The Rajin’ Cajuns tallied six wins by beating bad teams — 2-10 Texas State, Georgia Southern, McNeese, ULM — with the exception of USA and Arky State. A fully healthy Nick Mullens and company can win this easily, but Southern Miss has not played consistenly well. Golden Eagles favored by 3.

Boca Raton Bowl: WKU vs Memphis Tuesday Dec 20th 6pm CST

Back-to-back conference champion WKU takes on the AAC’s Tigers. Memphis beat Houston, and conference champ Temple this season. They are good, but WKU should be winning this kind of game. The big, glaring problem: Jeff Brohm took the Purdue job this morning.

Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion vs Eastern Michigan Friday Dec 23rd 12pm CST

The best bowl destination not named Hawai’i? Perhaps. The Monarchs surprised people by beating teams that were playing worse than them all year. They lost to Appalachian State on the road, which does not bode well for their chances this game. That was back in September, however, and five straight wins gives a team confidence. EMU had a solid season, but is not obviously better than ODU here.

Armed Forces Bowl: La Tech vs Navy Friday December 23rd 3:30pm CST

The best bowl matchup of the league slate, pairing the CUSA and AAC runner-ups. La Tech looked like potential conference champs until they lost two straight to USM and WKU. avy had an incredible November run before losing to Temple at home in the AAC title game. They play Army this weekend. Navy famously upset Houston this season, and was ranked in the top 25 for a while. This is a clear opportunity to display some kind of conference supremacy.

Heart of Dallas Bowl: North Texas vs Army Tuesday Dec 27th 11am CST

North Texas vs Army was already contested once in October with the Mean Green victorious 38-18. These two will battle again again next November in what could be the spark of a non-conference rivalry.

Hey, it could happen.

NT vs Army is scheduled through 2021, so at the very least there will be plenty of history. Various outlets have ranked this the worst of the bowl games on the slate, and I cannot argue with them. Army had a nice start, but fizzled. NT has beaten bad teams, and done so with an offense seriously hindered by depth and injuries. Still, this is a game NT can win, and one a CUSA team should expect to win going forward. That is, if we want to improve our rankings.

Categories
Football

No Chance: NT 7 WKU 45

I cannot make you feel better about that beat down. That was a worse showing than last week, when NT’s offense at least showed some life and the defense looked like it could occasionally stop the Bulldog offense.

This afternoon the offense looked as bad as it has all season, and the defense did very little to impress. Whereas we heard some folks calling the performance abysmal last week, this was the week to start labelling the squad poor.

WKU were about 30 point favorites and were it not for about 15 drops between their WRs and DBs, this could have been sixty. I am not exaggerating by very much.

North Texas was already without Eric Jenkins and then Jeff Wilson joined that list. There is some part of me that wants to highlight the fact that the most productive (scoring) offensive and defensive players were out and that could and should account for the performance given this afternoon but that was not everything.

Western Kentucky was always going to be tough to defend, and for part of the first half NT was simply beat. The offense did not even do the things that managed to move the ball last week. Mason Fine began the game slowly, was loose with the football, nearly threw INTs, and finally was hurt and left the game.

The snaps were low and inconsistent, the run game was ineffective, and the pass game was out of sync. NT had no hope by halftime.

Again, compared to last week, the difference was the offensive performance. The crispness we saw against La Tech in the first half was gone. Credit the WKU defense, which made it tough and got pressure on Mason Fine, but look again at the offense that regressed enough to not even challenge for first downs.

Overall I do not want to question the heart or desire or toughness. At some point chasing after another WR who is too fast for you is hopeless, no matter how much desire you have. You cannot will speed into existence. Nate Brooks, KiShawn McClain, and James Gray were all beat or nearly beat. WKU helped out the defense on occasion by dropping wide open passes — multiple times.

The rush defense was sound early, managing to stuff the WKU run game for losses but that was gone by the second quarter as WKU started gashing NT with misdirection. The radio crew mentioned how similar WKU and La Tech were, a thing we noted on the blog and the podcast.

To this point the defense had not been challenged to this extent. Middle Tennessee had the most complete offense seen thus far and NT availed itself well but MTSU has shown they check out mentally on occasion. That and the fact that after NT showed they were not going to roll over like 2015, teams were preparing differently.

That said, NT did not play well. They did not help themselves at all.

As usual, let us unnecessarily go through the phases of the game.

Offense

We know Jeff Wilson is the most productive offensive player, but between Ivery, Tucker, Wyche, and a pass game now in Week 10 this squad should have approached 17 points at least. Were it not for the Wilson-like 71-yard run by Andrew Tucker, this would have been twice that the offense was shut out.

That is not getting a week better. We all know this and should allow for a bad week here and there. NT’s off-weeks mean they nearly get shut out, while the best weeks are the ones where only one phase of the offense (run game) plays well. This has been well-established.

The injuries helped us learn some things, or at least gave us some data that can help us infer and project the future a bit. Alec Morris looked better than he did against SMU but only barely. He is calm running the offense, threw decisively, and even managed to move the ball fairly well at times. He still cannot throw deep with any consistency or quality.

Morris was not helped by the OL, which is not a surprise. Again, this kind of thing will not be fixed even by a miracle bowl game practice session. Any QB is going to face a pass rush and get hit and sacked often for the next two games. Morris did a good job of standing tall and firing in passes. He still has the natural height advantage over Fine which allowed him to see things a little better. His time on the bench and the relatively low-pressure situation probably contributed to that also.

At least two passes to Thadd Thompson were familiarity issues. I may be being generous. His deep tosses were concerning. Some NT fans call it a speed problem and I will not overly dispute it here. It will always be easy to throw to wide-open guys but the good QBs can throw passes that give the receivers a chance. Morris does not do that on passes 15+ yards. There are too many jump balls where the WRs are playing defense instead of having a chance to catch the ball. This is a problem. Like the OL thing, it is a problem that is unsolvable this season. More work, more guys, more time.

In other news, that run game was mediocre without Jeff Wilson, but in the way it looks when Jeff Wilson is not able to run off huge gains. Ivery and Tucker managed a total of two big runs, but everything was stuffed otherwise. This problem is tied to the other one — no pass game makes it easy to stop the run game. No run game makes it hard to pass.

When I said earlier this season that this offense is overly reliant on the big play, some people asked how that could be a bad thing. Well, an offense’s purpose is obviously to score, but controlling field position and (to a lesser extent in this offense’s case) controlling time are important to winning games. It is great that the offense is capable of these 70-yarders, but if they are not frequent enough we get quarters like the first.

There were openings in the pass game that were exploited when Morris came in that were thwarted by holding calls. It would not be a 2016 NT offense without holding calls to kill productive drives.

Defense

North Texas’ best group is the defensive group. While good against one-dimensional, or similarly talented teams, they were gutted by two straight offenses with talent and a high ability to execute.

If you have been following the team, you know this is not anything to be ashamed of. The group has exceeded expectations, and are still good enough to compete in games against most of the conference. The two team left on the schedule are not nearly as good as the ones just faced and a return to the squad we saw dominate Army, and play competitively is likely.

Given everything, the way the schedule shaped up this was the best time to play these squads. If they were earlier in the schedule, the confidence and belief in themselves and in the fan base would have been harder to muster.

Nate Brooks got roasted I hear. I did not see it because ESPN3 is awful, but that was the case. We suspected NT would give up the occasional big pass play, but in these last two weeks they have gone for TDs. North Texas likes to challenge the offense by playing man-to-man and bringing numbers in the run game and pass game. That is fine, but it gets destroyed when their guys are better than ours.

Football is a simple game.

The concerning thing I saw was that halfway through the game the defense was being accused of either quitting or being tired. I do not buy either. It just looks like that when the other squad is that much better at blocking you, out running you, out executing you.

Happens. They competed when they were able to. The blitzes reached Mike White a tad too late and hit him hard, but he completed passes. When the DL was able to get in the backfield, the entire squad was pursuing the ball. Those are effort plays.

Coaching

There is only so much that can be done to stop a better team. Seth Littrell likes to talk about how he wants his teams to believe the can compete against any and everyone. That is mostly true, but only if the other team does not play to their potential.

You know it. I know it. NT has been ready to give effort every game but not so prepared to execute every game. That is a function of talent and experience. With so many new and young guys in the rotation, these kinds of mistakes are inevitable.

I am not trying to absolve the poor performance but just trying to understand it.

Defensively the squad tried to play their game but the corners got beat. When they tried to take away that game, Mike White and later Tyler Ferguson had tons of time to throw.

“Bringing pressure” or “play better” are not real solutions. WKU is good and puts lots of pressure on you to match up in space against their quality players. NT could not do that. It is that simple.

There were no obvious breaks in assignments, which is something you look for. If everyone was in the right spots (mostly, there are always mistakes) and they get beat, that is the game.

Offensively, there was another slow start, followed by an injury, and then ineptitude. Again, I cannot imagine the staff is ignoring the line’s mistakes, but they are limited in options. And like last week, when there are penalties, that can mean players are getting beat. You hold because the guy got around you and it is a last-ditch effort.

Next Up

Southern Miss has dropped two in a row and four of their last five. They were supposed to be one of the conferences’ top 4 squads in performance. That has not come true, but they still have talent. Ito Smith is quality, and still can put up yards and points. They beat themselves mostly, and are certainly capable of blowing our football team out of the water.

But they can be beat.

Mason Fine hurt his AC joint and so I am betting Alec Morris takes the starting job again. The trade off between the two is what we saw today: slightly more field vision in place of running ability. Morris is at least capable of running this offense and putting up similar passing numbers to what we have seen Fine do. The dynamism Fine brings is a counter to the defense stacking the run, however, and that will be lost.

Is it enough? I do not know. A week of practice with the first team and enough uncertainty on film might give NT’s offense enough of a boost to pull off something quality.

The last time NT beat Southern Miss they had a young quarterback. This next game? They have a young quarterback

Senior Day, bowl eligibility on the line, and a vulnerable team. I think there is more than a good shot to win this.

Categories
Football

North Texas 28.5 Underdogs at WKU

NT at WKU

 

Louisiana Tech were 20 point favorites in Apogee, and this on is on the road in Bowling Green. I think it is just a little high, for what that is worth. WKU is as explosive as La Tech with a good quarterback throwing to a pair of good receivers, and a capable running back. The defense will do what it can, but unless Mason Fine and the offense can score with them, this looks like another blowout. Which is fine. Southern Miss is the beatable team on the schedule.