MinerRush: What is the state of North Texas hoops after the non-conference slate?
Mean Green Nation: We've said on the blog that it takes time to gel and in this preseason the team has shown signs of a good team and signs of a team still trying to figure things out. The Creighton win and subsequent Prairie View A&M loss were everything summed up in a two game highlight reel. The 27-point lead was evaporated by Creighton and were it not for a flurry of misses late Creighton might have had a big comeback. It is ridiculously awesome to have gone up by 27 but to have given up (nearly) 24 straight almost erases it all. Such is life. Such is this team.
MR: Has the lack of a true point guard hurt the Mean Green in stretches?
MGN: Most definitely it has hurt the Mean Green. Teams know that they can force turnovers from our guys who are trying to fill in at the position. TJ Taylor has skills but he has turned the ball over in stretches. That's not the entire problem, however. The offenses under Tony Benford have not exactly been beautiful even with talented point guards leading the offense. Some questionable shot selection this season has been one of the problems. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that a point guard would help when being pressed, or in getting into sets. TJ Taylor has also struggled to score (he's a scoring guard) since he's had to fill in as point. So it has hurt in more ways than one.
MR: What is the key in breaking down Tony Benford's zone defense?
MGN: As with any defense, movement, passing, decisive attacking, and balls-out-shooting are the keys. Also patience. Creighton was able to mount their comeback by driving and kicking against the zone and NT has had some trouble when teams are able to drive into the teeth of it. UNT guards get too aggressive with the on-ball defense and they usually have poor fundamentals.
MR: Who has to have a big game individually in order for North Texas to pull off the upset?
MGN: T.J. Taylor. Jordan Williams and the other guys are really important, but the ball-handling needs to be solid for this team to run well. The biggest weakness is at the point (because there is none) and so TJ Taylor needs to have a great game running the offense for this team to pull out a win. That said, basketball is a funny game and a great shooting night from anyone can help any team beat any other one.
MR: Besides the zone defense, what is another identity North Texas has that helped bring W's this season?
MGN: North Texas has been scrappy. They've played good defense, gotten decent inside scoring and have shot the ball well in stretches. They ugly the games up and in the mad scramble after, the get what they can. It isn't fun to watch at times but it is our team and dammit we are going to watch the ugly happen. Jeremy Combs has been great as a freshman. He's at 9.2 points a game and pulling down 6.3 rebounds a game. Both of those are good for second on the team (to Jordan Williams in scoring 14.8 and Colin Voss rebounding at 6.5 a game). He's at 57.5 FG%, which leads the team. All in all we are all excited about his game, his potential, and his ability help this season.
MR: What does UTEP do stat wise, or from what you have seen that North Texas doesn't do well?
MGN: Just a glance at the efficiency stats tells us a ton. UTEP is better shooting all across the board and just has a more efficient offense than NT. FG% UTEP 47.1% to NT's 42.9%. eFG - UTEP 51.4 to NT's 47.1. True Shooting - UTEP 55.2 to NT's 49.2. Points per weighted shot (kind of same as true shooting) UTEP 1.09 to NT's 1.01. They play at nearly exactly the same pace but UTEP gets 1.015 points per offensive possession while NT is at .875. They defend at about the same rate. The numbers are just backing up what we see with our eyes - that North Texas struggles when it is not generating turnovers and scoring on the break.
MR: Where do you think North Texas finishes in conference play from your non-conference observation?
MGN: No one predicted us to finish high and for good reason. Tony Benford has a losing record as head coach with some questionable roster decisions to go with questionable basketball decisions. With the surprisingly good defense I think NT can scrape together a win or two more than they were predicted to win. What does that mean? Well they probably finish somewhere with 6-10 wins and that means probably another 9 or 10 seed.
The thing about this season is that record likely would get Benford the sack. The more cynical UNT fans may not think that's a bad thing. Looking at his three-year tenure, it is hard to argue with them.
Huge thanks to the crew over at Mean Green Nation, check out the Q&A we sent over to them.