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Break down of non-conference slate for men’s basketball, here’s what to look for

Break down of non-conference slate for men’s basketball, here’s what to look for

Break down of non-conference slate for men’s basketball, here’s what to look for
November 25
15:50 2020

As of 6 p.m. on Nov. 24, North Texas men’s basketball (20-11, 14-4 Conference USA last season) has seven games scheduled as part of its non-conference slate. The Mean Green’s slate contains four games in Denton and is headlined by three road matchups with Southeastern Conference opponents.

On Monday, head coach Grant McCasland said North Texas had two more non-conference games in the works —including one at home — pending the finalization of contracts. The addition of a home matchup with Texas A&M-Commerce came on Tuesday, so North Texas could still be working on at least one additional non-conference game.

Coming off a regular-season conference championship last season, North Texas was picked to finish No. 2 in C-USA behind Western Kentucky. The Mean Green lost last season’s second-leading scorer in guard Umoja Gibson (14.5 points per game), who transferred to the University of Oklahoma. Two key players graduated as well in forward Deng Geu (7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) and guard DJ Draper (4.5 points per game and 51 percent 3-point shooter).

North Texas has several key returners, however, including last season’s C-USA Player of the Year and its leading scorer and distributor in redshirt senior guard Javion Hamlet (14.6 points and 4.7 assists per game). Three other current seniors return as well in guard James Reese (8.6 points per game), forward Thomas Bell (6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game) and forward Zachary Simmons (8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game).

A 2020 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in C-USA by Rivals should also help fill the void. Two transfers in junior guard Mardrez McBride and junior forward Terence Lewis II were standouts at the junior college level and look to contribute from Day 1 with North Texas.

McBride spent last season at the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie, averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. He showed elite 3-point shooting ability as well in making 52.9 percent of his 104 3-point attempts last season.

Lewis averaged 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season at New Mexico Junior College, shooting 60 percent from the field and 82.5 percent from the free throw line.

Mississippi Valley State University (Denton, Texas, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.)

In their home opener and first game in the Super Pit since March, the Mean Green are set to take on Mississippi Valley State University (3-27, 3-15 Southwestern Athletic Conference last season).

MVSU finished tied for last in the SWAC last season with Arkansas-Pine Bluff — who North Texas is also scheduled to face — and had the worst point differential in the league at -21.4 points per game. This was largely due to them giving up 89.7 points per game, making them the SWAC’s worst defense and second-worst in the country above only Houston Baptist.

After losing two of last season’s top three scorers to graduation in guards Michael Green (17.6 points per game) and Torico Simmons (10.8 points per game), the Delta Devils were picked to finish No. 9 this season in the SWAC preseason coaches poll, ahead of only Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The top returner for MVSU is guard Caleb Hunter, who returns for his sophomore season with the Delta Devils after being the team’s second-leading scorer last season. The 5-foot-11 guard was named SWAC Freshman of the Year last season after starting 27 of the team’s 28 games. He averaged 15.7 points per game (fourth-best in the SWAC) while shooting 33.2 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from 3-point range on a team-high 259 attempts.

Caleb was also selected to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team this season and is the son of head coach Lindsey Hunter, who was named the team’s head coach in April 2019.

Other players to note for MVSU include sophomore guard Quinton Alston (6.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season), and 6-foot-7 senior forwards Jordan Lyons (5.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game) and Brandon Kimble (4.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game).

North Texas has faced MVSU twice previously, in 2014 and 2015, winning both matchups by scores of 67-52 and 87-74, respectively.

University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, Arkansas, Nov. 28, 5 p.m. CT)

After kicking the season off at home, North Texas will face the first of three SEC opponents in the University of Arkansas (20-12, 7-11 SEC), with Mississippi State and LSU to follow.

Arkansas finished tied with the University of Missouri for No. 10 in the SEC last season, finishing fifth in the league in points per game, first in steals and last in rebounds. Despite losing four of five starters — including the team’s two leading scorers in Mason Jones (22 points per game) and Isaiah Joe (16.9 points per game) — the Razorbacks were picked to finish No. 6 in the SEC in the league’s preseason media poll.

In fact, Arkansas returns three players from last season and just two who competed in more than six games — junior guard Desi Sills (10.6 points per game last season) and junior forward Ethan Henderson (1.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game). The team added 12 new players for the 2020-21 season, however, including five freshmen, four graduate transfers and three players coming off redshirt seasons.

Arkansas’ 2020 recruiting class was ranked top 4 in the SEC and top 10 nationally by ESPN247 Sports and Rivals, and includes four freshmen ranked top 20 at their positions and rated as 4-star recruits by ESPN and Rivals. Freshmen guards Davonte Davis, Moses Moody and Khalen Robinson, and 6-foot-10 freshman forward Jaylin Williams all figure to compete for minutes this season.

Of the graduate transfers, 6-foot-6 guard Jalen Tate is the most highly touted. Coming from the University of Northern Kentucky, Tate was ranked as a top-20 graduate transfer by ESPN, 247 Sports and CBS Sports. He was Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 13.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game last season.

Another player to note is 7-foot-3 redshirt sophomore forward Connor Vanover. He transferred to Arkansas in 2019 from the University of California and redshirted last season. Vanover posted 7.5 points and three rebounds per game his freshman year at Cal, including averages of 12.8 points and five rebounds over his final 10 games there.

Having played Arkansas 12 times in program history, North Texas has beaten the Razorbacks in four of those matchups, prevailing twice in 2009-10 and two more times in 2010-11. Arkansas won the most recent matchup, defeating the Mean Green 66-43, last November.

Texas A&M University-Commerce (Denton, Texas, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.)

Sandwiched between their two SEC contests, the Mean Green will return home to face Texas A&M-Commerce (18-12, 13-9 Lonestar Conference last season).

The Lions finished tied for No. 7 with Tarleton State University in the Lonestar Conference last season and were picked to repeat that No. 7 finish this year in the preseason conference poll.

Four players return from last season’s 16-man roster for Commerce. Key losses for Commerce include the team’s three leading scorers and top rebounder in senior forward Wayne Stewart (18.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game), junior guard Deon Barrett (15 points per game) and senior guard Deonta Terrell (13.5 points per game).

Just one of the team’s top five scorers returns in redshirt senior forward Rodney Brown. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks per game last season in four games of action before taking a medical redshirt. Overall, the Lions return two players who competed in at least 20 games last season and just one who started more than 10 games — redshirt junior guard Leo Lara (5.5 points per game).

One newcomer to note on a team full of them is senior guard Devin Bethely. Bethely is a transfer from Tarleton who averaged 7.7 points per game last season for the Texans. A year prior, he averaged 11.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Seward Junior College.

North Texas has played A&M-Commerce once before in 2018, defeating the Lions by a score of 102-53.

Mississippi State University (Starkville, Mississippi, Dec. 4, 7 p.m.)

After its matchup with Arkansas, North Texas will face Mississippi State University (20-11, 11-7 SEC last season) in its second consecutive road bout with an SEC opponent.

Mississippi State comes into the 2020-21 season picked to finish No. 12 in the SEC by the preseason media poll, a steep projected decline from the Bulldogs’ tying for No. 4 with the University of Florida last season.

Like Arkansas, Mississippi State lost many of its key players from last season. In the Bulldogs’ case, they lost their top four scorers from last season, headlined by 2019-20 First Team All-SEC forward Reggie Perry (17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game) and the 2019-20 SEC Sixth Man of the Year in guard Tyson Carter (13.9 points per game).

Mississippi State possesses a young roster in general with 13 of 16 players classified as freshmen or sophomores and boasts nine newcomers for the 2020-21 season. Of the team’s returners, however, redshirt senior forward Abdul Ado stands out as a difference-maker. Listed at 6-foot-11, the big man has started 97 of 98 career games with the Bulldogs and averaged 5.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season.

Among the team’s incoming freshmen, 6-foot-1 guard Deivon Smith is the most highly touted prospect of the class. Rated a four-star recruit by 247 Sports and ranked No. 69 nationally in the class of 2020 by ESPN, Smith hails from Loganville, Georgia, and attended Grayson High School. He averaged 17.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 3.5 steals per game as a senior at Grayson.

Another player to watch is redshirt sophomore forward Tolu Smith. The 6-foot-10 forward is a transfer from Western Kentucky, where he averaged 3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as a freshman before transferring to Mississippi State and redshirting last season. He played his senior year of high school basketball at Kahuku High and Intermediate School in Hawaii, averaging 21.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a senior and was named the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Player of the Year that season.

North Texas has faced Mississippi State once before in 2011, falling to the Bulldogs 82-59.

University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Denton, Texas, Dec. 15, 7 p.m.)

After road bouts with two SEC foes, North Texas returns home to face its second SWAC opponent of the season in the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-26, 3-15 SWAC last season).

UAPB finished tied for last in the SWAC last season with MVSU and was picked to finish last again this season in the league’s preseason poll. The Golden Lions had the fourth-best defense in its league last season in giving up 68.3 points per game, but their offense finished dead last in the league after averaging 53.8 points per game. Those offensive difficulties left UAPB with the second-worst point differential in the SWAC at -14.5 points per game, only better than MVSU’s -21.4.

Overall, UAPB returns three of its four players who started 23 or more games last season — all senior players — as well as redshirt junior guard Shaun Doss Jr. who started all three games he played before a season-ending injury caused him to redshirt.

UAPB’s top returners are 6-foot-8 senior forward Markedric Bell and 6-foot-5 redshirt junior guard Shaun Doss Jr. Bell averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season and was named to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team this season. Although Doss played in just three games last season, he averaged 12.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2018-19 and was named to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team prior to the 2019-20 season.

North Texas has faced UAPB twice previously, winning 77-66 in 2018 and 86-53 last fall.

Houston Baptist University (Denton, Texas, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.)

For its final home game of the non-conference slate, North Texas will return home to face Houston Baptist University (4-25, 4-16 Southland Conference last season).

HBU finished last in the SLC at No. 13 last season and is picked to finish last in the conference once again in the SLC preseason poll. The Huskies had the second-best offense in the SLC last season in averaging 80.1 points per game, just behind conference champion Stephen F. Austin University (80.6 points per game). Their defense, however, allowed 93.9 points per game, last place in the conference and worst in the country.

Of its 14 players last season, HBU lost seven. The Huskies’ losses include six of the 11 players who competed in 20 or more games, headlined by the team’s two leading scorers — junior guard Ian DuBose and senior guard Jalon Gates.

DuBose was HBU’s top player last season with the 6-foot-4 guard leading the team in points (19 per game), rebounds (7.3), assists (3.8) and steals (1.4). He was named Second Team All-Southland Conference last season and is the team’s biggest loss after transferring to Wake Forest for his senior year of basketball.

Key returners for the Huskies include sophomore forward Jason Thompson and sophomore guard Myles Pierre. Thompson played in four games last season before an injury ended his season, but the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in his limited action. Pierre was one of five players to appear in all 29 games last season — and one of just two to return — averaging 8.1 points, 3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a freshman.

One newcomer to watch is 6-foot-6 guard/forward Pedro Castro, who is a new transfer to HBU for the 2020-21 season. Castro spent his sophomore season playing for Blinn College and averaged 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game there while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 39.1 percent on 3-pointers.

North Texas has played HBU once before in 2010 and defeated the Huskies 107-87.

Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Dec. 19, Time TBD)

In what is currently the Mean Green’s final scheduled non-conference game, they will face their third SEC opponent of the season in Louisiana State University (21-10, 12-6 SEC last season).

The Tigers — who finished No. 3 in the SEC last season behind the University of Kentucky and Auburn University — look to be North Texas’ biggest challenge of non-conference play. In the SEC’s preseason poll, LSU is picked to finish No. 3 again this season, this time behind the University of Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively. The Tigers were also the first team out in the preseason Associated Press poll, receiving 14 fewer votes than No. 25 Michigan.

LSU lost six of 11 players from a team that was No. 2 in points per game and rebounding in the SEC last season, including two of its top three scorers in senior guard Skylar Mays (16.7 points per game) and sophomore forward Emmitt Williams (13.3 points). However, the Tigers return two key players in junior guard Javonte Smart and sophomore forward Trendon Watford.

Watford was LSU’s No. 2 scorer last season at 13.6 points per game and also led the team in rebounds with 7.2 per game. He made the SEC All-Freshman team last season and was selected to the Preseason All-SEC First Team for this season. Smart averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 assists per game last season and was selected to the Preseason All-SEC Second Team this season.

Two newcomers could also play key roles for the Tigers this season in sophomore forward Shareef O’Neal and freshman guard Cameron Thomas.

Shareef is the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and transferred to his father’s alma mater in LSU, receiving a waiver to play this season on Nov. 18. He is a 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 27.6 points and 17.3 rebounds per game as a high school senior. O’Neal played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman at UCLA, averaging 2.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.

Thomas is a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 31.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a senior at the famed Oak Hill High School and is a five-star recruit, according to Rivals.

North Texas’s matchup with LSU will be the first in program history.

The North Texas Daily will provide an update after the last non-conference game is announced.

Featured Image: Redshirt senior guard Javion Hamlet prepares to go for a layup against Western Kentucky on March 1, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

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John Fields

John Fields

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