North Texas Daily

Roundtable: Basketball season review

Roundtable: Basketball season review

North Texas sophomore guard Greg White-Pippen (2) celebrates with teammates after he forced a defensive stop in the closing seconds against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Roundtable: Basketball season review
March 20
23:32 2016

Editor’s Note: The North Texas Daily sports staff analyzes both the Mean Green men’s and women’s basketball teams and how both did this season. The men’s team finished 10th in Conference USA with a (12-20, 7-11) record and first round exit in the conference tournament to Western Kentucky. The women’s team finished 13th with a (11-19, 5-13) record, falling to Old Dominion in the C-USA tournament after defeating FIU in a play-in game.

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

1. If you could sum up the men’s season in one word, what would it be?

RW: Rollercoaster. This team had a lot of ups and downs this season. It endured a seven and five game losing streak and managed just one win away from the Super Pit all year. There were elevated expectations heading into the season with the arrival of some highly touted recruits, but things never totally came together.

TM: If. If North Texas had capitalized on its five straight home games to start the season. If the team didn’t have part ways with DeAndre Harris early in the season. If the Mean Green didn’t lose seven games in a row after starting the season 2-0. If North Texas didn’t go 1-12 on the road, despite being 11-7 at home. If, if, if.

AL: Frustrating. Tony Benford’s squad was enormously talented but never found the consistency needed to make an impact in Conference USA, largely because of its incompetence on the road. It’s painful to imagine what could have been if North Texas hadn’t lost all three games of the Mean Green challenge in November.

2. If you could sum up the women’s season in one word, what would it be?

BK: Foundation. After more than doubling their win total from the previous season and getting a win in the conference tournament for the first time as a member of Conference USA, Jalie Mitchell and the Mean Green laid the foundation for the future. The team returns a solid core of players in Kelsey Criner, Candice Adams and Terra Ellison, and will have more depth next season as well.

CM: Satisfiable. This team was awful in Mike Peterson’s last season in charge, and first year head coach Jalie Mitchell did her best to get the team moving in the right direction. It appears she has done so, as the team beat then No. 17 Oklahoma and won a conference tournament game. The team was gritty to say the least. Nothing special, but not bad at all.

SS: Unpredictable. Last season was nearly unwatchable for the women’s team, especially with its free throw struggles. But this season, no matter who North Texas played, I felt compelled to tune in for at least the start of every game knowing the team would scrap their way to a competitive game. It didn’t always turn out that way, especially when the team struggled with inbound passes out of timeouts, but the grit that showed during the Oklahoma upset early in the season created intrigue each week.

3. What was the biggest surprise for you this men’s season?

RW: The biggest surprise for me was how bad North Texas was on the road, 1-12. Take that in for a second. Go ahead, read it again. That’s one win in 13 attempts on the road, and that’s not counting the game it lost in the Conference USA tournament, which also was not held in Denton.

TM: The team’s (1-12) record on the road. I understand playing on the road is tough, especially with a young team trying to build a chemistry with each other. But I don’t understand how any Division 1 collegiate team in any sport can go an entire season with only one road victory. This year North Texas had one road win combined between football and men’s basketball.

AL: Deckie Johnson. Getting big improvement from Jeremy Combs and steady play of floor general J-Mychal Reese was expected, but having an Angelina College transfer turn into a lethal scorer from the wing was huge. The junior snatched a spot in the starting lineup early in the season and never let go, improving from a solid bench piece to someone capable of single-handedly taking over a game.

4. What was the biggest surprise for you this women’s season?

BK: I think the inconsistency the team played with was the biggest disappointment for me. Overall, they obviously took a step forward, but there were so many opportunities to string together a couple more wins throughout the season. They went from the high of knocking off then No. 17 Oklahoma to falling to Weber State at home. It was just a roller coaster of a year, but consistency should come with time.

CM: The biggest surprise this season was the culture Mitchell brought to the program. She made sure these girls knew what it meant to be a North Texas basketball player, and part of that comes from the pride she has from playing in Denton. The team definitely bought into that culture, and Mitchell laid some strong groundwork for the future to come.

SS: Achiel Tac. She’s battled injuries for much of her collegiate career, and a level of timidness was apparent in her play last season. It was a completely opposite story this season, with Tac routinely making her presence felt under the basket. It’s no fluke she was near the top of the conference with 10 double-doubles this season.

5. What was your favorite moment this men’s season?

RW: My favorite moment of the year was when Deckie Johnson scored a career high 32 points to lead a ferocious North Texas rally against FIU. Johnson hit five threes in the second half, including one in the final 20 seconds to give the Mean Green a much-needed win. There was also a decent crowd on hand that night, which made it even more enjoyable.

TM: Seeing Eric Katenda end his career at North Texas with back-to-back career scoring games to end the regular season and at the C-USA tournament was great. A graduate forward transfer from Notre Dame overcoming a career full of injuries to go out with the playing time he deserved is what sports is all about. I won’t be surprised to see Katenda in an international uniform if the NBA doesn’t make a call.

AL: The defensive stand in the waning seconds of the senior night victory. It was the team’s only regular season game without Jeremy Combs all season, and it finally came together to finish a game with a total team effort. What followed in the C-USA tournament may have been disappointing, but four consecutive stops in the final three minutes produced an electric atmosphere at the Super Pit to cap off the regular season.

6. What was your favorite moment this women’s season?

BK: The comeback win over IUPUI was pretty much the season in a nutshell. Mitchell brought a “never say die” attitude to the program, and despite trailing by 20 points late in the game, the Mean Green fought back to pick up a win at home early in the season.

CM: When walk-on freshman Orianna Shillow made her first start against the Rice Owls on January 30th, the script wrote itself and Shillow played her part. In an Oscar-worthy performance, Shillow was deadly from three, scoring 16 points and nailing five from deep, which would be the season high for any player. It’s always fun to see a walk-on show they belong.

SS: The November 16 win over Oklahoma. With so many sour tastes still in Mean Green fans’ mouths following last season, the way North Texas and Kelsey Criner closed out the OU game to pick up first win over a ranked opponent in program history set the tone for the season. I am willing to bet nobody outside of the Mean Green locker room gave North Texas a snowball’s chance in hell to pull it off. Besides, how can Steven “Poppy” Bartolotta’s call of that game not be somebody’s favorite moment?

7. What’s your outlook heading into next season for the men?

RW: The general outlook for next year has to be pretty positive. North Texas has former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier coming in, even though he was arrested a few weeks ago. The Mean Green is also losing only one starter in forward Eric Katenda, and will return every member of its “Mean Three.” Couple that with A.J. Lawson from Bryan High School and I would like to think there is reason for optimism with this team come next season.

TM: With next year being Tony Benford’s contract year, I expect him to pull out all the tricks up his sleeve. There’s no more time for improvement – it’s time to see some winning. The Mean Green faithful don’t want to hear anything else about the team being too young or lacking chemistry. A more experienced lineup next season with a couple key recruiting additions should be a sight to see come Fall.

AL: Things are looking great for what may be a make-or-break year for head coach Tony Benford. The big three of Jeremy Combs, J-Mychal Reese and Deckie Johnson will be back, and Rickey Brice Jr. should fill in seamlessly for Eric Katenda as a starter down low. Expect the stars to shine even brighter next season. And who knows? Maybe the Mean Green can become the third straight C-USA team to pull off a massive upset in the NCAA tournament.

8. What’s your outlook heading into next season for the women?

BK: I think the depth will be the biggest difference. It will be interesting to see how Criner grows in her second season at the point guard position, and the chemistry that she has built with Adams in the backcourt will be important again as well. The Mean Green will have several transfers from this season that will be available, and I expect the team to continue to improve.

CM: Despite the lackluster final stretch of the season, Mitchell laid some solid foundation for her program moving forward. She only lost three seniors and added some talented freshman in the signing class. She also gets to use her three transfers next season. It almost looks like there’s nowhere to go but up.

SS: It’s hard to imagine anything but improvement for the 2016-2017 women’s basketball season, considering the only major loss the team is suffering is the graduation of Achiel Tac. Jalie Mitchell has established a culture that paid dividends in the standings, but arguably more importantly, recruits will notice a North Texas team on the rise. Sprinkle in the growth of Kelsey Criner and Candice Adams with a full off-season of Mitchell recruiting, and the Super Pit could be home to some quality basketball next season.

Featured Image: Sophomore guard Greg White-Pippen (2) celebrates with teammates after he forced a defensive stop in the closing seconds against the Charlotte 49ers. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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