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Analysis: How McCasland and his staff coached their way to a CBI championship

Analysis: How McCasland and his staff coached their way to a CBI championship

DENTON TEXAS, March 28: University of North Texas Mean Green Men’s Basketball v University of San Francisco at the Super Pit in Denton on March 28, 2018 (Photo Rick Yeatts Photography/Colin Mitchell)

Analysis: How McCasland and his staff coached their way to a CBI championship
April 03
14:51 2018

A win-or-go-home game is the essence of college basketball’s appeal. The agony and uncertainty leading up to a game makes it a must watch, even if the best team does not always win.

Just ask Virginia.

Regardless, the games are embraced in the NCAA and conference tournaments, so anything else feels abnormal or even just wrong to some. This was the feeling to some when North Texas entered a three game series for the College Basketball Invitational Finals last week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

As you all probably know by now, North Texas won the finals series two games to one against the University of San Francisco. After dropping the opening game one on the road, 72-62, the Mean Green won the next two games 69-55 then 88-77.

In any other college basketball tournament, the season would have been over for North Texas after game one, but not here. As a result, we were treated to compelling basketball by both teams both physically and mentally.

Coaching is pivotal in every game, but these felt more prominent because of the fact it was a series and adjustments were made so frequently. After watching the film, it’s safe to say, Grant McCasland and his staff coached their way to a CBI championship.

Game 1

In the opening game, the Dons’ offense destroyed the Mean Green early with a sophisticated and active Princeton offense that never seemed to be in a rush and always got the cut they were waiting for. Early on in this game, those cuts led to threes.

It is also worth noting just how bad North Texas was off the ball in game one. The guards were constantly in poor position or were busy ball watching to stop anybody.

Another reason the defense looked so bad was because San Francisco actually hit shots in the first half. They shot 12-of-18 from 3-point range, and while a lot of them were open, they still hit some contested ones, i.e. number two Frankie Ferrari.

The motion of this offense was not insanely fast, but it was enough for North Texas to get uncomfortable. Also, with a center who always seemed to be moving or out of the paint, protecting the rim became even more of an issue for the Mean Green’s defense. Here, junior forward Tope Arikawe is drawn away from the basket, and sophomore guard Ryan Woolridge is beat for a backdoor to an empty paint.

One of the main things to note in the above clip is number 23 for North Texas, junior guard Michael Miller guarding number 15 in white, Nate Renfro. Renfro is one of the only guards on this Dons’ team that can not shoot, at 24.3 percent on the season, and the plan coming in was to have his man probing around the paint ready to help. Miller is a good shot contester, so this should be fine, but he was late far too often. This is something to remember as the series goes on.

Besides that, the high pick-and-roll with Ferrari as the primary ball handler eviscerated North Texas as the Mean Green were reluctant to leave shooters at this point, and the North Texas guards were not great at getting around ball screens which McCasland mentioned numerous times after game two.

Last note defensively for North Texas is the Dons only shot 2-of-15 from deep in the second half. This was not a good 3-point shooting team coming into the series, which is probably a huge reason the Mean Green were caught so off guard. Regardless, some of these sets just killed North Texas.

The protruding theme of the North Texas offense in game one was the long and athletic Renfro guarding Woolridge. Woolridge ended the game 4-of-12, and Renfro finished with four blocks.

The challenge moving forward for McCasland was opening lanes for his stud point guard and furthermore getting clean looks for his shooters.

Game 2

More energy and a spark from the home crowd was to be expected heading into game two for North Texas, and San Francisco was unable to shoot their way to a lead this time around.

On film, you immediately notice the Mean Green are prepared for a lot of the base sets of the Dons forcing San Francisco into more late-clock possessions and, in turn, more isolations or high pick-and-rolls.

However, it was North Texas’ early pick-and-roll coverage which doomed the Dons.

Remember how in game one the guards struggled to get through the screen quickly, then Miller or whoever was guarding Renfro was late on tagging the roll man? Well, none of that happened in game two.

Watch Miller stay in the middle of the paint, fully stopping the roll, until freshman forward Zachary Simmons recovers. Then he even helps to stop the penetration off of the dribble hand off before safely returning to Renfro.

That sequence is the basis for how North Texas slowed San Francisco in the final two games, better execution and more discipline on ball screens.

Regardless of where Renfro was spotting up, his defender would come all the way across the paint if needed to stop the easy roll to the rim, which is a noteworthy adjustment. Look at sophomore guard A.J. Lawson here checking the roller all the way across the paint for crying out loud.

There are two more things you notice on film defensively in game two. One is the attention to the backdoor cuts as the North Texas guards play cautiously, but they are still able to contest threes over the top. The second is the minimal resistance North Texas puts up in guarding deep twos. The big man defender dropped back a tad more in game two than in game one, and it left the mid range open for Ferrari and compan0y — which was fine with McCasland.

Offensively, the activity and ball movement was there from the jump. Woolridge continued to put his head down to force the issue, and so did the rest of the team. Rarely did North Texas force a 3-pointer which resulted in efficient shots.

The sets McCasland drew up were run with conviction and his shooters were making shots, which helps. Another key to this game was Renfro only playing 22 minutes due to foul trouble, which either left Woolridge with a smaller defender on him or the Dons playing a zone like in the above clip. Either way, it helped the Mean Green offense.

Game 3

This game was the culmination for both teams strategically. Let’s not forget San Francisco played a really good game here and was within one in the final ten minutes.

A lot of what happened here is what happened in game two. Renfro was still getting left on offense, but occasionally he’d attack the closeout or make a cut off the ball and score presenting problems. He finished the game with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

The fascinating part of watching these games back and watching North Texas this whole season was seeing the new wrinkles McCasland put in which threw San Francisco for a loop. These are not new plays, but the timing of calling them and saving them for the exact right moment is ridiculously impressive after this happened game one.

This was in game three:

This was also in game three:

Meanwhile on defense, whoever was guarding Renfro (bottom left) still left to tag the roll man or provide great help like this.

Do not be misled, the Mean Green were not perfect in games two or three, and it helped San Francisco get back into the game on occasion. Here is what happens when Renfro set the screen, and they had shooters on the perimeter. Well played by the Dons’ here.

But, the Mean Green adjusted again, and Simmons dropped back quickly. Miller lightly tagged the roll man, and Ferrari had to settle for a poor, mid-range jumper.

One of the final adjustments made by either coach was going small. San Francisco went small in need of offense with about nine minutes left in game three, and to counter, McCasland put in junior guard Allante Holston at center who ended up being a plus-seven in seven minutes while allowing the Mean Green defensive versatility at the one through five positions.

With this last move, McCasland officially called checkmate on the Dons.

Featured image: DENTON TEXAS: Mean Green Men’s Basketball played game two of the College Basketball Invitational finals against University of San Francisco at the Super Pit in Denton on March 28, 2018. (Photo Rick Yeatts Photography/Colin Mitchell)

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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