2020-21 North Texas Men's Basketball Preview

Photo by John Hamilton

Preseason MVP: Javion Hamlet is the heart of this team and an elite offense revolves around his ability to drive, assist and dictate the pace of the game.

The Ceiling: Another year of good health can result in another Conference USA title, except this season UNT can back up the regular season ring with a tournament championship before reaching the NCAA tournament as a 12-seed. If they steal a couple tough non-conference games, then maybe they could even sneak into a higher seed.

The Floor: If the incoming junior college replacements don’t work out and the perimeter shooting isn’t as sharp as it was last year, the Mean Green offense could take a step back. Then, if the defense remains mediocre, the team could finish fourth or even fifth in Conference USA.

Game of the Year: Oklahoma State

Projected Starting Five:

Javion Hamlet
PG | 6-4 | Sr. | Memphis, Tenn.

MarDrez McBride
G | 6-2 | Jr. | Augusta, Ga.

James Reese
G | 6-4 | Sr. | Eastover, S.C.

Thomas Bell
F | 6-6 | Sr. | East St. Louis, Ill.

Zachary Simmons
C | 6-10 | Sr. | Abilene, Texas

GRANT MCCASLAND
Head Coach

 

Season Preview

A three-year turnaround from missing the Conference USA tournament in 2017 to conference champs in 2020 says everything about the job head coach Grant McCasland has done in his brief tenure at North Texas. Behind Conference USA Player of the Year Javion Hamlet and perfectly positioned role players, the Mean Green were an elite mid-major team and projected to be a 12 or 13 seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament.

The canceled conference and NCAA tournaments is where we have to start when previewing this team. The “What-if” thoughts have lingered since March and clearly influenced how everyone in the program approached the offseason. With three seniors graduating and two players transferring from the 2019-20 team, McCasland and his staff had more than enough freedom to reload once again.

As always, they hit the junior college ranks hard, bringing in MarDrez McBride who will replace Umoja Gibson (transferred to Oklahoma) at the shooting guard position and Terrance Lewis who will give the team another versatile big man. Five of the top six players on this team are from junior colleges. While that may be a concern to some, junior college players like Hamlet, senior guard James Reese, and senior forward Thomas Bell were the backbone for the title run in 2020.

Those three seniors along with three-year starting center Zachary Simmons will lead a team with six players in their final season. North Texas replaced Gibson with McBride, replaced starting senior forward Deng Geu with Lewis and has a slew of young players ready to step in for last year’s senior role players DJ Draper and Roosevelt Smart. Not only do the Mean Green return four of their top six players, but there are no questions about who is replacing the other two.

Last year, North Texas ranked 34th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive rating and will be expected to be top 40 in the country again with Hamlet at point guard and quality 3-point shooters at the 2 through 4 positions. Not to mention Simmons, who has proven to be effective in the post and as a roll man. The defense tapered off towards the end of the season as the offense continued to amaze, but McCasland and his staff have proven that defense is their top priority every year.

The only obvious concern is the 7-8 spots in their rotation. Last year, McCasland mainly played seven players in important games with Smart getting fringe minutes, but there’s no standout player who will obviously take that seventh spot. Redshirt sophomore guard Larry Wise, sophomore guard Jalen Jackson, or perhaps freshman Rubin Jones could be fine, but we don’t know.

Finally, the schedule is loaded with fun non-conference games including Oklahoma State in Frisco, a loaded tournament in Hawaii, along with LSU, Wichita State, and Mississippi State, all on the road. It won’t be easy, but driven by the shortened 2020 championship season, the Mean Green are hungry to not only repeat, but break onto the national stage.

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