Yes, that was a terrible weekend for North Texas men’s basketball. Yes, the bench and the coaching and perhaps the very will for competition was in question on Friday/Saturday.
Normally when that kind of thing happens we have to wait an entire off-season to shake that feeling. Even worse is when it is an entire regular season also.
Over at WKU, the consistent success means that their fans aren’t really excited without a tournament win. The regular season wins are not enjoyable any more.
Here at NT, Grant McCasland has produced consistently good teams. The regular season title in 2019/20 was a real accomplishment. The falter down the stretch in this season is disappointing precisely because we have seen many of the guys on this squad pull out clutch basketball plays when it mattered.
UAB made life difficult for NT by being long and challenging passes and shots. To my eyes, North Texas never was comfortable attacking that zone. That happens and is normal. The underlying struggles by Rubin Jones and a couple of other normal contributors from the bench exacerbated already present struggles.
North Texas really dropped into a tough spot but the truth is that if the squad that played two poor games this weekend shows up again, it wouldn’t really matter too much if the opponent was good.
As it is, NT will have either a Middle Tennessee squad who has dragged the bottom of the league all season (but that did give UAB a little scare) or an FIU team that had been gawdawful for a month.
Read my text: North Texas should be in the Thursday game with ease. That means an ODU team that has played well, challenged WKU and nearly won the East despite struggling to score for long stretches of the first month.
This matchup was postponed earlier this season and that NT team looked much better than this one. We know that the Mean Green have it in them to shoot with confidence, attack on the bounce, and get vicious on the defensive end. Recently we have seen too much hesitation and if you believe the critics, that is some over-coaching.
The good news is that McCasland has flipped a switch before. When NT went on a run to win the CIT, he famously told a player to shoot with his non-dominant hand and let it fly.
I tweeted recently about an article about the Utah Jazz adapting their grinding style to be more of a fluid offense that lets their shooters shoot. NT needs that, but in just a couple of days’ time.
For years, the Jazz scrapped and clawed through possessions with a primary goal of getting Ingles open for a 3-pointer. It was often draining. One day, it occurred to Snyder that open Ingles 3-pointers were there all along, just hiding right there, in transition.
Shoot the ball. Hamlet is great in the pick and roll and can find guys — y’all saw the pass to Reese in the corner that he shot in one motion, right? More please — but his teammates need to shoot and not be so deferential with the ball.
Too often we see Murray catch the ball and look to give it right back. We see Bell ( a decent shooter) catch the ball and pump fake, before doing something else with it.
Good defenses will swarm on hesitation, and it if NT wants to win this tournament, they will have to face good defenses starting Thursday: ODU, Tech, UAB, and WKU are good because they don’t make it easy.
North Texas has a really good defense as well, and these offensive woes were always there and a concern. The key is to overcome them, and find enough answers to counter them.
If you need some context, consider that WKU doesn’t have a shooter and has a freshman in McKnight that is bold and daring but probably should be passing to Hollingsworth. That cost them one game can ODU and could be their downfall in the tournament.
Consider that La Tech doesn’t have consistent shooting, goes through offensive lulls, and Kalob Ledoux is not doing the role he was recruited to perform.
Consider that ODU can play great defense but also relies on an inefficient offense and that Xavier Green has not reached the levels he had when he basically won the title game for ODU a couple of seasons ago.
Consider that UAB played fine, but got scared by Middle, beat by UTSA, and thumped by Tech. I am wearing green glasses, sure but I saw a lot more of NT mistakes than amazing UAB offense. They scored off missed and capitalized on NT turnovers — cool. But they sure looked shook when NT put that press on them and shot the ball with confidence late.
Look, it’s the single-elimination tournament and the most dangerous teams are the ones that are hot from distance that night. It’s why everyone fears UTSa right now because they can go on a run where they don’t miss.
Defense and consistency are what win these things overall, however, as the teams that can reduce the opportunity for the opponent and get good shots when they need them are the ones that win. After that it’s luck and talent and talent and preparation make the luck.
NT is well-run and has good talent. They just need a jolt to get them back in stride. Here is hoping that happens before Wednesday.