North Texas Daily

Column: Men’s basketball has ability to make deep run in C-USA tournament

Column: Men’s basketball has ability to make deep run in C-USA tournament

jake king

Column: Men’s basketball has ability to make deep run in C-USA tournament
February 20
12:38 2018

We should have seen this coming.

Head coach Grant McCasland has made this year’s men’s basketball team formidable once again in just his first season in Denton.

Entering conference play, few Mean Green faithful expected a top six or even top eight finish in Conference USA, but this is what McCasland does.

The magic he did with a 10-win Arkansas State team, taking them to 20 wins in his one season there, has been mentioned before. Perhaps more telling, though, is the Red Wolves record this season. Arkansas State is now 9-18, further proving the capabilities of McCasland.

The turnaround has been profound and refreshing for the North Texas community, and it was all put to the test over the past two weeks in a stretch where the team went 1-3 against four of the top teams in Conference USA. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Middle Tennessee State University, Western Kentucky University and Marshall University all posed serious challenges, but the Mean Green did not appear tentative against any of them.

While the win over UAB was impressive and dominant, especially on the road, the Blazers are more of a middle of the pack team, at 8-7. Leaving us with an 0-3 stretch against three of the top four teams in the conference in an eight-day span.

The Mean Green lost by a combined total of eight points in regulation in the three games. This includes a six point loss to Middle Tennessee where they were down just four with one minute and 15 seconds left in the game.

As of Monday morning, Middle Tennessee was ranked No.24 in the country in both the AP poll and the coaches poll.

It was a stretch of games where fans wanted to see North Texas stay competitive, but those in attendance were still surprised when it became reality. After the last loss to Marshall, McCasland shared a similar hope in his worn out voice, post game.

“You get a good feel of what you have to do in order to win the tournament,” McCasland said. “Now [we understand] what the top part of this league really is, and there hadn’t been a game against the top part of this league we hadn’t been competitive in and given ourselves a chance to win.”

He’s right.

Now, after seeing all of this, the main takeaway is a new one for most who have followed the men’s basketball team over the past five years. It’s the same feeling that swept through the football and volleyball teams and fans in the fall. It’s a new belief.

Yes, this team has more than its fair share of flaws. The lack of shooting (both on 3-pointers and free throws), defensive versatility and size at the second forward spot are a few which stand out when they play those top teams, but somehow they stay in games long enough for any of their sophomore guards to make a play and give them a chance, whether that is Roosevelt Smart, Ryan Woolridge or DJ Draper.

However, the defensive side of the ball is where most of the work has to be focused on against these teams, but they may just not have the players to keep these uber talented teams under control.

They continuously struggled to stop them, giving up a 114.9 defensive rating in the three contests, a figure that would rank seventh worst in the country if it were the Mean Green’s average on the year.

Fortunately, they are actually in the top half in the country in defensive rating, allowing only 101.5 points per 100 possession, but it magnifies the problems these three teams pose to McCasland’s defense.

The offense has been incredible in these games, though, and it has been all from the usual suspects in Smart, Woolridge and occasionally sophomore guard A.J. Lawson or freshman forward Zachary Simmons. It is how they have stayed in these games and had chances to win in the final seconds, and it may be their best shot going forward. Just try to outscore these teams.

The men’s basketball team proved to their fans, their opponents and even themselves in these games, they are not far from the top. The belief in this team is growing and their ceiling rises with it.

Still, four games remain, but the last two weeks proved the cautious theory I had going in.

This team is a legitimate threat to pull off some upsets in the Conference USA tournament come March 7. And after last season, that is more than anyone could have imagined.

Featured Image: File

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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