North Texas Daily

Roundtable: Basketball mid-season analysis

Roundtable: Basketball mid-season analysis

Junior guard J-Mychal Reese (52) gets stopped in front of the basket while going up for a layup against Marshall. Reese went 3-12 from the field in the first half which helped Marshall lead 33-61 at half. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Roundtable: Basketball mid-season analysis
January 21
23:53 2016

Editor’s Note: The North Texas Daily sports staff analyzes both the Mean Green men’s and women’s basketball teams as they approach the midway point of their seasons. Both teams have started Conference USA play and have 12 games remaining on their schedules before the C-USA tournament.

Our staff: Scott Sidway (SS), Reece Waddell (RW), Torie Mosley (TM), Alex Lessard (AL), Brady Keane (BK) and Clay Massey (CM).

1. How would you grade the men’s team so far?

SS: D+. If we’re grading individuals at isolated times in the season, most of the team’s core has earned an A at one point or another. But as a team, it hasn’t worked outside of a couple of blowout wins against two NAIA teams to start the season and a short-lived winning streak against subpar teams. It’s disappointing, really, because I thought the team would thrive with players in more defined roles than in years past. But North Texas simply hasn’t been able to get it all to click at the same time.

RW: C. This grade would be higher, but a sluggish start to the season put the Mean Green behind the eight-ball. The team made numerous moves in the offseason, including bringing in junior guard Deckie Johnson, which have strengthened and solidified the backcourt. Unfortunately, North Texas dropped all three of its games in the Mean Green challenge and have struggled against quality opponents all year. North Texas has only one victory against a team with a winning record in addition to owning the worst free throw percentage in Conference USA.

TM: C+. Talent-wise, North Texas would score at least a B, but I can’t give a B grade to a team with a losing record and 1-6 record on the road. I’m not too worried though. The Mean Green have plenty of talented and versatile players to get them back on track during this stretch of C-USA stretch coming up.

2. How would you grade the women’s team so far?

AL: B+. Things couldn’t go anywhere but up after being one of only two teams to miss the Conference-USA tournament last season, and first-year head coach Jalie Mitchell has done a great job of changing the culture of the team. The Mean Green’s 7-9 overall record (2-4 in C-USA) doesn’t jump off the page, but surpassing last season’s win total before the spring semester started was an impressive feat. Defeating Oklahoma in the first road game of the season showed what this team is capable of on any given night, and Mitchell deserves the majority of the praise for making the program competitive again.

BK: B, but the team’s grade to this point in the season depends on what perspective you’re grading from. Jalie Mitchell deserves an A+ for the turnaround she has led from last season to this season. Mitchell came in with expectations that a lot of people thought were a little lofty, but The Mean Green are averaging more than 10 points more per game this season than they did last season, and the team has already won more games this year (7) than last (5). However, I give the Mean Green a B when grading strictly this season, because although the team has some huge wins (Oklahoma), their inability to pick up wins in winnable situations has hurt them thus far.

CM: B+. While the team currently sits below .500, it’s had some great, gritty wins that have shown what this team is really capable of. Jalie Mitchell has high expectations, and for good reason, as this group has really impressed at times. North Texas is currently averaging over 10 more points per game as a team than last year. When things go well for the Mean Green, they are great. But when it rains, it pours. The squad is in position to make a decent run at the top of Conference USA, but they have to win their winnable games.

3. Who or what has pleasantly surprised you about the men’s team?

SS: Jeremy Combs. I expected him to be most dynamic player for the Mean Green, but not to this level. The sophomore is averaging a double-double (15 points, 10.4 rebounds), and he’s the only player on the team to have made 100 shots at this point in the year, shooting 58 percent from the field. He’s also C-USA’s second highest scorer in league play with 20.6 points per game. Now if he just made a few more free throws…

RW: Deckie Johnson, simply because not a lot of people knew about him. The junior college transfer is tied for second on the team in scoring and is averaging 14.6 points per game. More than that, Johnson provides the team with floor spacing – something North Texas’ offense is predicated on. If the Mean Green is to make any kind of run down the stretch, Johnson must stay healthy and continue to produce.

TM: Freshmen like Rickey Brice and Ja’Michael Brown give the Mean Green a bright future and depth to lean on. Eric Katenda, J-Mychal Reese and Deckie Johnson give the team solid, efficient minutes every game. Oh yeah, and Jeremy Combs is the best player on the team and probably the entire conference.

4. Who or what has pleasantly surprised you about the women’s team?

AL: Kelsey Criner. It wasn’t shocking to see senior forward Acheil Tac and junior guard Candice Adams taking more of the scoring load as two of the most tenured North Texas players, but Criner has arguably become the most important piece to the team’s puzzle. The New Mexico Junior College transfer leads the team in scoring and averages over six assists, five rebounds and nearly two and a half steals per game. She runs the show and does it all for the Mean Green on a nightly basis, and coming one rebound shy of the first triple-double in school history against Rice put her on the map as one of the best all-around players in C-USA.

BK: The team’s chemistry this season is amazing, especially given all the new pieces that were added in the off-season. It’s Jalie Mitchell’s first season, but she has developed a tight-knit group in her short time in Denton. One of the most dynamic players in the conference, junior Kelsey Criner, transferred from New Mexico Junior College but has developed an impressive bond with fellow junior guard Candice Adams to give the Mean Green a potent one-two punch in the backcourt.

CM: The emergence of junior Kelsey Criner as the go-to point guard and all-around offensive machine for the squad has been great so far. She leads the team with 12.4 points per game and sits in the top five for assists in C-USA. The duo of her and junior guard Candice Adams has been deadly at times. They click, and it is very noticeable on the court. The normal starters as a whole are up there in points per game, with four of the five being in double digits for the season.

5. How do you see conference play unfolding for the men’s team?

SS: The last couple of seasons, the men’s basketball team has been able to string together four and five game winnings streaks at this time of year to gain momentum heading into the C-USA tournament. For that reason alone, I’m giving head coach Tony Benford a chance to reach into his bag-o-tricks and pull a rabbit out of a hat again to jockey for a decent seed in the conference tournament. But even if North Texas finds its way in, this season still feels like a one-and-done, which will surely stir the pot among Mean Green fans about the status of Benford’s future.

RW: I consider myself the ultimate pessimist and don’t see conference play or the rest of the year unfolding well for North Texas. The Mean Green have just one win away from home this season and are in the midst of a tough road stretch, with a loss to Middle Tennessee State last night and UAB tomorrow. With a record of 7-11, the next few weeks are crucial for North Texas, especially in terms of seeding for the C-USA tournament. The biggest concern I have moving forward is the Mean Green’s depth, as bench production has been an issue all year for North Texas.

TM: I think the current road trip will be rough for North Texas with a road loss to Middle Tennessee State and UAB tomorrow, but the Mean Green should do well against Rice (6-12, 1-4), who they beat 85-74 less than two weeks ago, and the other lower ranked C-USA teams. I don’t see North Texas getting past around the fifth or sixth rank in the end of the year rankings from its current 10th place spot.

6. How do you see conference play unfolding for the women’s team?

AL: Expect the Mean Green to hover around .500 for the remainder of the season. Although the squad has shown it’s capable of bringing down the best of the best on anywhere, anytime, inconsistency has been its downfall. North Texas has lost multiple games in the final moments due to defensive breakdowns and costly turnovers, but the more situations the team is thrown into before the C-USA tournament, the more seasoned and experienced it will be when it’s do-or-die. No matter what happens, more drama in the final minutes of games is certainly on the way.

BK: If you look at the games the Mean Green have lost, it’s fair to say that there have been at least four games that could or should have been wins: Texas State, Weber State, UTEP and Rice. Switch those in favor of North Texas, and this team is sitting at 11-4 with only one loss in conference play. It just depends on which team shows up for the remainder of the season. Do we see the team that upset a ranked Oklahoma team in Norman, or do we see the team that put up only 38 points in a loss to Weber State at the Super Pit? If Criner plays the way she has over the last few games, the Mean Green should be able to build some momentum moving forward.

CM: The rest of conference play could be tricky for the Mean Green, because C-USA is a tough conference for women’s basketball. With the team trending upward, the team could peak at just the right time near the end of the season. With eight remaining home games, the Mean Green have to improve on a 3-4 home record. If the squad can win a majority of their remaining home games and pick up a few on the road, where they hold a .500 record, North Texas could be hot heading into the C-USA tournament.

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