The Mean Green went with a youth movement in 2017-2018 in head coach Grant McCasland's first season and after bobbing along near .500 for most of the year, UNT caught fire late in the year winning five of its six games to take home the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) post-season title.
McCasland and the UNT administration are hopeful that the finale, an 88-77 win over San Francisco in front of over 6,000 fans at the Super Pit, proves that fans and students will show up in droves to support a winning product in years to come.
“There’s a lot of excitement in Denton, not just with our program but with all sports," McCasland said. "The Super Pit is a great venue and we are hoping to keep that momentum we had at the end of the years because with good crowds we think we can have one of the best home court advantages in our conference."
It wasn’t all easy in year one for McCasland, who saw his team limp into the post-season losing seven of eight games. But a breakout tournament performance from guard Michael Miller who increased his scoring average from 1.9 points per game to 10.3 points per game in the tournament proved to be the lift the offense needed.
If Miller can keep that scoring punch going into his senior year, look for the UNT offense to fly high on the perimeter with the return of Roosevelt Smart and Ryan Woolridge. Smart lit Conference USA up after transferring in from New Mexico JC averaging over 19 points per game, while Woolridge averaged 12.7 per night and led the team in assists with nearly six per game.
“Both Roosevelt and Ryan set school records last year and we think they can be even better this year," the UNT coach said. "They are the leaders of what we think could be an excellent group of guards."
The return of guard Umoja Gibson should add to the Mean Green’s guard depth. Gibson started the first two games of the year as a true freshman before suffering a season-ending injury. Jorden Duffey, D.J. Draper and true freshman from Waxahachie Larry Wise should all see time in the guard rotation as well, giving McCasland plenty of options to mix and match lineups based on matchup.
The big addition could be bringing 6-foot-7 JUCO transfer Abdul Muhammad into the mix. The swing man from Ottawa, Canada was a third team JUCO All-American who averaged nearly 16 points and seven rebounds per game a year ago. He is projected to slide right into the starting five and gives the Mean Green much needed length and versatility.
“Abdul is versatile, he’s a smart player, he can guard multiple positions and handles the ball well, but he’s got good size and toughness," McCasland said.
Expect North Texas to utilize a guard-heavy lineup once again as there isn’t a ton of depth or scoring punch on the inside. Look for Cedar Hill alum Zachary Simmons to be the key cog up front. The 6-foot-9 senior led the team in rebounding as a junior starting 29 games. Arkansas State transfer Jamaiah Simmons, who sat out last year due to transfer rules, will be another key factor in the frontcourt. He played in 25 games as a true freshman at Arkansas State in 2016-2017 when McCasland coached the Red Wolves.
“We guarded on the perimeter really well last year, if we can improve with our defense inside and capitalize on our experience and improved depth we think we have a chance to be pretty good,” McCasland said.
- G: Ryan Woolridge, 6’3, Mansfield, TX
- G: Roosevelt Smart, 6’3, Chicago, IL
- G: Umojia Gibson, 6’1 Waco, TX
- G/F: Abdul Muhammad, 6’7 Ottawa, Canada
- F: Zachary Simmons, 6’9 Cedar Hill, TX
Expect junior Roosevelt Smart from Chicago to be in discussion for Conference USA MVP honors this year. Smart is a true scorer and if his team takes a step forward, expect Smart to be right in the middle of that rise.
Middle Tennessee State is still the team to beat in C-USA, but UNT has the firepower to be right in the top tier of the conference race. A few breaks here and there and this could be a team that pushes for 20 wins and if they catch fire like last year late, they could surprise everyone to claim the automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.
There are still some question marks, most notably in the front court, and if the offense disappears like last year for stretches, a disappointing fall to the lower tier if C-USA isn’t out of the question.
Game of the Year
January 12 at UTSA. This is an underrated rivalry in Conference USA and a huge chance for the Mean Green to earn what would be a valuable road win against an up and coming program that won 20 games a year ago.
Impact First Year Player
Abdul Muhammad, Jr., 6'7, F from Gillette College