The early keys to success for men’s basketball as C-USA play approaches

The early keys to success for men’s basketball as C-USA play approaches

The early keys to success for men’s basketball as C-USA play approaches
December 25
18:17 2017

Coming into head coach Grant McCasland’s first season, the task was to integrate his system, his style and points of emphasis for a new and young team. Now, 13 games into the year, the Mean Green are 7-6 and have already taken strides to improve in a few key areas. But they still have a long way to go before anyone is really satisfied.

Here are three parts of North Texas’ game which have stood out now that their non-conference schedule has come to an end.

Rebounding

McCasland said on media day this would be the area where the team struggled the most. The team has no players listed over 6 feet 9 inches tall and their rotation of bigs includes one senior who averaged 4.6 rebounds per game last year, two others who had not played a minute of Division I basketball and one sophomore who played sparingly last season.

It started with simply holding people accountable. McCasland stressed the basics, including grabbing the ball with two hands, boxing out and being more physical.

“The indicator to me that we’re doing a good job rebounding is we are actually delivering the first blow on a lot of these rebounding efforts,” McCasland said. “The shot goes up, someone is going to hit someone first, that’s just the nature of the game and we’re becoming the first team to hit more often.”

The mindset of the team has changed and it’s well reflected in the numbers.

Last season, the Mean Green ranked No. 283 out of 351 teams in the country in total rebounding percentage. Through 13 games this year, the team ranks No. 91 in the country.

Senior forward Shane Temara leads the team in rebounding at 6.8 per game. He is one of six players to have more than three boards per game.

“It’s been a team effort,” McCasland said. “You can see different guys helping out. It’s guys like Allante [Holston], Mike [Miller] and Ryan [Woolridge] who are helping with rebounds. Then the obvious ones are Shane, Zach [Simmons] and Tope [Arikawe].”

The guards account for a lot of rebounds since the bigs usually have their hands full boxing out opposing bigs. This allows a quick push into transition and a secondary break before pulling it out and running some half-court offense.

Pick-and-Roll Defense

Defending the pick and roll has become such an important part of basketball around the world because of how important it is to have mobile bigs and a good plan to defend them.

This was something that plagued last year’s team as rotations were blown nearly every time a high ball screen came into play against them. Here’s one example.

This season though, McCasland wants the team to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball and force ball handlers to retreat before attacking in order to give the defense time to recover. This hard hedge is used most of the time, but the defense also goes through stretches where the players simply go under screens or soft hedge them.

Here’s a hard hedge example.

Notice how Holston checks the roll man and then recovers with sophomore A.J. Lawson in good help position. Even though the ball handler only takes a step and a half back, Temara has enough time to recover and the defense is back in position. It’s a lot more work than simply sitting the big back and forcing the guard to get through, under, or over the screens – but it has been well worth it so far.

Roosevelt Smart

The junior college transfer from Chicago has absolutely torched everything in his path in his first 13 games at the DI level. Not only is he on pace to break the school’s 3-point record, but he is also shooting 39 percent on over eight attempts per game – most of which are contested. He had a rough game last Tuesday against Georgetown, but it was one of only four games this season where he has shot under 40 percent from three.

Smart fits right in with this team because his role is really just to get buckets as a scorer and shoot 3-pointers. He’s an average defender but the team has plenty of guys who excel in those areas already. This team needed a pure scorer and Smart provides that. He leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game, 4.1 more than Woolridge, who is second at 13.5.

Smart is a tough shot maker. He always seems to bail the team out, whether it’s the key bank 3-point shot against the University of Texas at Arlington or this ridiculous shot here.

Or this shot. Even he knows it’s tough.

Smart is an extension of another key to this team’s success, as everyone seems to know their roles already. Smart is a scorer, sophomore guard Ryan Woolridge is a true point guard who sets the tempo and can attack the paint, Lawson is a rebounder who can put the ball on the floor, Simmons is a defensive forward and Temara is a scorer and a strong rebounder. The bench unit similarly knows what it needs to do when on the floor which may seem simple, but it’s very important.

There’s a lot of season left, but the expectations going into conference play have been raised and there’s plenty of reason to believe this North Texas team can live up to them in McCasland’s first season.

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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