Editor’s Note: Four members of the North Texas Daily sports staff weigh in on the current state of the Mean Green basketball teams. North Texas is approaching the second half of Conference USA play looking to make a run toward the C-USA tournament in Frisco.
What grade would you give the men’s basketball team so far this year? Why?
Brady Keane, Sports Editor
I cannot stress enough how refreshing it is to see a men’s basketball team take the floor and put together a product that is enjoyable to watch. The last few years have been brutal and Grant McCasland is well on his way to a full-blown turnaround. I think the team is ahead of schedule and the conference record could be much better with a few lucky breaks – things are clearly heading in the right direction.
Matthew Brune, Deputy Sports Editor and Senior Staff Writer
The men’s team has been alright, maybe a little above where I expected them to be coming into the season. However, considering injuries and how weirdly this team is constructed they deserve the benefit of the doubt. A straight B.
What grade would you give the women’s basketball team so far this year? Why?
Jordan James, Staff Writer
After losing a lot of key pieces last season due to graduation, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the women’s team. Despite a-number-of players being injured, this women’s team is a resilient group. Jalie Mitchell has managed to get most of the players such as Terriell Bradley and Lauren Holmes. From a statistical standpoint, this might be the best team they’ve had in 10 plus years. They set the record for 20 three-pointers in two games earlier in the season. As well as, won the most games since 2006 with 12 wins so far, this season. While it has been a historic season for them, the reality is they have struggled in closing out games and against scoring at the time.
Asher Feltman, Staff Writer
While the women are off to a rough 2-4 start in conference play, non-conference play is the basis for the grade here. Head coach Jalie Mitchell’s team has already almost met their entire win total from last season (12), however, two straight road losses have dropped them back to an unfavorable 2-4 in conference. But an overall record of 11-7 –including 8-2 at home– is a big step in the right direction for the program.
What is the biggest strength of the men’s team and how do they need to build on that as the conference schedule progress?
The biggest strength for this team has to be its youth – four of the five starters will be back next season and that number doesn’t reflect the return of freshman Umoja Gibson, who was in the starting lineup before going down with a season-ending injury. To compete at the level they are already is encouraging and there is nowhere to go but up for an overwhelmingly young roster.
The biggest strength for the men is their awesome guard play and by that I mean the consistency of Ryan Woolridge and Roosevelt Smart. In their last game against Southern Miss, though, the Golden Eagles took away Smart pretty well so they’ll need to continue to create open shots for him as the season continues.
What is the biggest strength of the women’s team and how do they need to build on that as the conference schedule progress?
The women’s biggest strength was their defense in non-conference play and probably still is despite having some rough games in conference play. They need to force turnovers to win games which they are fully capable of doing as they force over 20 turnovers per game, leading the conference.
The strength of the team is their defense. They are ranked third in scoring defense only allowing opponents to score 52 points a game. Early in the year against Coastal Carolina, they forced 29 turnovers which were the most since 2012. If everyone continues to commit defensively that should increase their chances of winning games.
Where do you see the biggest need for improvement for the men’s team?
Outside of Ryan Woolridge and Roosevelt Smart, the Mean Green have really, really struggled to find consistent scoring on a weekly basis. Smart is averaging 22.9 points per game in Conference USA play and Woolridge is averaging 10.9 ppg – the next leading scorer is Shane Temara at 7.3 ppg. That unbalanced scoring effort finally came back to the team against Southern Miss, and McCasland has to hope A.J. Lawson can return to form and down the stretch of the season to provide another reliable weapon offensively.
For the men, their biggest improvement needs to come in the form of consistency in any form. Rotations, health, free throws and just consistent individual production. I would say the only players consistently delivering for McCasland are the aforementioned guards — everyone else has been erratic.
Where do you see the biggest need for improvement for the women’s team?
They have struggled to produce offense at pivotal moments throughout the season. During the second quarter against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, they allowed them to go on a 23-6 run. While some adjustments are needed defensively, shots need to fall if they expect to be in contention as the season progresses.
The women’s team can certainly improve on their 66 percent free throw number as well as their three-point number of 28 percent. Their overall field-goal percentage of 38 does not impress, either. There’s no avoiding the big issue plaguing the Mean Green right now, and it’s shooting the basketball.
Who has impressed you the most on the men’s team? Why?
I have to think outside the box, because saying Roosevelt Smart is just too obvious. I’m going with walk-on extraordinaire DJ Draper, because his play off the bench has essentially bailed the team out of disaster with all of the injuries to the guards on the roster. Draper is averaging 8.5 points per game in four C-USA appearances, including a captivating performance against Rice when he scored 23 points on six 3-pointers in a win.
The most impressive player on the men’s side for me has to be Roosevelt Smart as safe of an answer as that is. It’s the obvious right choice. Smart has a usage percentage over 27 percent and takes 9.4 threes per game and is shooting 39.9 percent. What. How.
Who has impressed you the most on the women’s team? Why?
Often times people say it hard for athletes to make the transition from high school to college, but Lauren Holmes has proved otherwise. She was named C-USA Freshman of the Week twice already this season. Not only has she produced offensively averaging 10 points, but defensively as well as she leads the team in steals with 39 on the season. Holmes entered January tied for third in the conference with 40 rebounds standing at 5-9.
Named Conference-USA Player of the Week on Jan. 16, redshirt junior Terriell Bradley is one of the most exciting prospects in all of Conference USA. Averaging 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals a game, when Bradley is on, North Texas usually wins. Already at 86 made free throws on the season, there’s time for her to improve on her already gaudy numbers.
How do you see the men’s team finishing up the regular season?
McCasland’s team could legitimately be 6-1 in conference play if not for a few unfortunate finishes in losses to Charlotte, Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech. With that in mind, I think the team still has a chance to turn some heads moving forward. Let’s say they win five of their final 11 games to finish 15-16 in the regular season. With two surprising wins in the conference tournament, McCasland finishes at 17-17 with some real upside heading into next year.
As the rapper Drake once said, “Born a perfectionist, I guess that makes me a bit obsessive.” I think that applies really well to McCasland as he’s constantly watching film, instructing players and thinking about how they can improve. With that said, in his first season, I think this team winds up going 16-17 with one conference tournament win.
How do you see the women’s team finishing up the regular season?
Mitchell’s team is poised to make the conference tournament for the second consecutive year. Once this team addresses their offensives woes, they have a strong chance to upset some quality opponents as they are trending in the right direction.
The team is still one win away from matching last season’s entire total. It will probably happen soon, but conference play has not been as kind to the Mean Green as non-conference, where the team went 9-3. Their 2-4 conference record leaves a lot of room for improvement and if they can find their shooting stroke, reaching the latter stages of the Conference-USA tournament is not terribly unlikely. Shots absolutely have to start falling, though.
Feature image: University of North Texas Mean Green Men’s Basketball v Old Dominion University at the Super Pit in Denton on January 6, 2018 (Photo Rick Yeatts Photography/Colin Mitchell)