UNT-Indiana running blog

The North Texas women’s basketball team will take on Indiana here at the Super Pit this morning.

UNT doesn’t get a shot at hosting a Big Ten team very often. It’s an opportunity UNT received largely because Indiana has former Denton Guyer standout Bre Wickware on the roster.

Indiana wanted to bring her home to play in front of her family. It’s a pretty common practice. UNT will visit Indiana next year.

In a fun side note, Tosin Mabodu grew up in Chicago and used to face star Indiana guard Tyra Buss every once in a while in high school and on the AAU circuit. That was the subject of our advance in the paper today.

UNT has lost two straight and is 2-5. Unfortunately for the Mean Green, Indiana has also lost two straight and will be out for blood today.

UNT is going to be at a pretty big disadvantage today in terms of size. That’s what hurt the Mean Green in their loss to SMU a few days ago. UNT turned around and lost to Tulsa in its next outing.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all day.

Starters for UNT — Adams, Criner, Ellison, Mabodu and Bradley.

The big question now — does UNT capitalize?

North Texas fans cheer on the Mean Green in a loss to Louisiana Tech earlier this season. UNT will face Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to cap its season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas fans cheer on the Mean Green in a loss to Louisiana Tech earlier this season. UNT will face Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl to cap its season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas fans have spent the last few weeks pondering the question of whether or not the Mean Green would sneak into a bowl game in Seth Littrell’s first season.

UNT got its answer on Sunday, when the Mean Green were invited to the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 27. UNT will face Army for a second time this season.

The bigger question now is this — Can UNT capitalize on a rare bowl appearance?

It’s a wide-ranging topic.

UNT fans made up most of the crowd of 38,000 the last time the Mean Green played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. Can UNT bring a big crowd again?

The bigger — and better question — is if this season will serve as a springboard for a program that has historically struggled.

UNT is 5-7, which is a huge step in the right direction after a 1-11 finish a year ago. The Mean Green could get to six wins to finish the season, but will still head into next year having posted losing seasons in 11 of the last 12 years.

The Mean Green will return several of its key players, including quarterback Mason Fine, running backs Jeffery Wilson and Willy Ivery in addition to safety Kishawn McClain and cornerback Nate Brooks.

UNT should have enough pieces back to improve its record, especially with what is expected to be a more favorable schedule.

The same couldn’t be said in 2014, when UNT fell to 4-8 after beating UNLV in its last Heart of Dallas Bowl appearance. Most of the key players from that team graduated.

Can UNT take advantage of what seems like a more favorable situation in 2017?

Questions also linger in terms of UNT’s recruiting efforts going forward. UNT coach Seth Littrell has maintained that he needs players who fit his system and the program’s culture, whether they are highly ranked or not.

UNT is currently sitting 11th in 247 Sports rankings among Conference USA schools.

The Mean Green are in position to make a run up the rankings after earning a bowl berth for just the second time since 2004. UNT will find guys it thinks are a good fit. The Mean Green will be a whole lot better off if they add guys who fit who are also high-end talents.

The question is if that run up the recruiting rankings will materialize and whether or not UNT can stockpile the talent it will need to build on a bowl appearance and close the gap on the elite teams in Conference USA.

UNT was soundly beaten by Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech, two of the top teams in C-USA this season.

The Mean Green have rarely been in the position they are now.

The question now is if UNT can capitalize.

It’s official — UNT to Heart of Dallas Bowl to face Army

Littrell

Littrell

North Texas officials have made what we just reported a couple of minutes ago official. The Mean Green are headed to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

UNT will face Army on Dec. 27 in an 11 a.m. game at the Cotton Bowl.

The Mean Green’s last bowl appearance came in the Heart of Dallas Bowl after the 2013 season, when UNT knocked off UNLV.

The Mean Green broke through for their first appearance in a bowl since 2004 that season behind Dan McCarney and a veteran cast of players led by linebacker Zach Orr, wide receiver Brelan Chancellor and quarterback Derek Thompson, who went on to be named the game’s MVP.

UNT is back in the postseason for the first time since that win behind first-year coach Seth Littrell.

The former North Carolina assistant took over a program that finished 1-11 and led it to a breakthrough 5-7 finish.

“We are excited to announce that North Texas and Army will be playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl this year,” Ringler said. “Congratulations to both the Mean Green and Golden Knights for their outstanding seasons. This promises to be a thrilling matchup at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium. Fans from both programs are in for a special time in Dallas.”

UNT beat Army 35-18 at West Point for one of its biggest wins of the season on Oct. 22.

The Mean Green lost their next four games, but bounced back to beat Southern Miss 29-23 at Apogee Stadium on Nov. 19. UNT’s fifth win ended up sending the Mean Green to just its second bowl game since 2004.

UNT had a chance to become bowl-eligible with six wins by beating UTEP in its regular season finale, but fell 52-24.

The Mean Green still made the postseason, thanks to its score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report.

Teams that finished with five wins were awarded bowl berths on the basis of their score on the APR report that measures a school’s performance in terms of keeping its players in school and eligible.

Littrell talked about what winning six games and playing in a bowl would mean for the program heading into UNT’s regular season finale against UTEP.

“It would mean a lot to win six games,” Littrell said. “We had a new head coach and a new staff that developed relationships with these young men. It would show that we are on the right track to do some very special things.

“We still have a lot of work to do. Where are validates the track we are on and what we believe in. That is important.”

UNT didn’t end up winning six games in the regular season, but will have a second chance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where the Mean Green picked up one of the significant wins in program history.

Here we go, UNT bowl announcement coming at 1:30

Littrell

Littrell

North Texas will announce its bowl destination at 1:30 p.m. and is going to milk this for all its worth.

I don’t blame them a bit.

This country elects presidents more often than UNT goes to bowl games. This will be the second time in the last 12 seasons, for those of you scoring at home.

UNT last went to a bowl game in 2013, when the Mean Green beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Long story short. For UNT this is a big, big deal.

All signs point to UNT heading back to Dallas, likely to face Army in a rematch from a game played earlier this season. UNT stunned the Black Knights 35-18 in New York on Oct. 22.

It just makes too much sense. UNT will bring a crowd to Dallas, just like it did the last time. Few other teams are going to provide that kind of boost to the HOD.

One has to give UNT coach Seth Littrell and his staff a ton of credit. No one thought UNT would be in this position at the beginning of the year.

UNT is 5-7 and will get into the postseason due to its score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report.

The only question now is where UNT is headed.

We will find out in just a couple of hours.

Stay tuned.

Late night hoops rewind: UTA 77, UNT 61

North Texas guard J-Michal Reese (52) drives  to the basket as UT-Arlington senior guard Jalen Jones defends on Saturday at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

North Texas guard J-Michal Reese (52) drives to the basket as UT-Arlington senior guard Jalen Jones defends on Saturday at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

Final: Texas-Arlington 77, North Texas 61

Where UNT stands: UNT fell to 4-4 after seeing its three-game winning streak snapped.

Now what?: The Mean Green will continue their season with a game against Delaware State on Thursday

Combs

Combs

Star of the day: Jeremy Combs returned from a four-game hiatus to rest his ankle following offseason surgery and posted a double-double. The junior forward scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in UNT’s loss to UTA. Combs hit eight of hier 12 shots from the field and all but two of his seven free throws. J-Mychal Reese added 12 points and Ja’Michael Brown 11 for the Mean Green. Combs’ performance kept UNT in its game against UTA on a day starting guards Deckie Johnson and A.J. Lawson endured horrible shooting performances. Johnson went 1-for-12 from the field, while Lawson went 0-for-8.

Say what?:

“It felt good to be back out there on the court. I felt the best I have felt in a while physically. I did a lot of rehab. That will help me going forward.”

– Jeremy Combs, UNT forward

Our take: UNT billed its game against UTA as a showdown between teams on a roll. UTA had won four straight coming in, including a win over Texas. UNT came in having won three straight, a run it capped with a win over NAIA Texas College.

UTA extended its run and sent the Mean Green to a tough loss in the process. The Mean Green never led and gave up key runs at the beginning of each half. UNT trailed by 23 late before making a cosmetic run.

UNT coach Tony Benford continued to push the narrative that the Mean Green are on the cusp of having a solid team due to the impending additions of SMU transfer Keith Frazier and San Diego transfer Ryan Woolridge at the semester break.

That will certainly help matters. The question is how much.

Getting Combs back on the floor was supposed to help as well and UNT was still drilled by 16 points by UTA.

UNT-UTA running blog

North Texas will take on rival Texas-Arlington here at the Super Pit this afternoon.

This game is a big one for UNT, which has won three straight against less than inspiring competition.

The Mean Green knocked off NAIA Texas College and picked up a pair of wins against struggling Division I programs Hartford and Niagara, which are a combined 2-13.

UTA is a different animal entirely. The Movin’ Mavs are 5-3 and beat Texas in their last outing.

The good news for UNT is that Jeremy Combs in going to give it a go today after missing four games to rest his ankle. Combs had surgery in the offseason and hasn’t been the same since.

Deckie Johnson leads UNT with an average of 14.9 points per game.

UTA is paced by the inside-out duo of Jalen Jones and Kevin Hervey. Jones, a 6-2 guard, is averaging 13.8 points per game. Hervey, a 6-9 forward, is added 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per outing.

UNT coach Tony Benford is 0-2 against UTA, which has beaten the Mean Green three straight times.

In a side note, UNT great Deon Hunter is in the house today. A pretty big contingent of UTA fans are here as well.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all day.

1:44 — One little factoid I have been meaning to mention, but haven’t until now is former UNT player Kenneth Mangrum is an assistant at UTA. He is on the court now.

2:03 — UNT will have a bigger crowd than UTA, but it will be close.

Starters for UNT — J-Mychal Reese, Derail Green, Rickey Brice Jr., A.J. Lawson and Deckie Johnson.

15:18 — UNT is down 13-5 in the early going to UTA. Derail Green hit a 3 for UNT, which fell behind 8-0 right off the bat. UTA has the ball coming out of this timeout.

11:10 — UNT is down 18-7 at the second media timeout of the first half. Derail Green still leads UNT with three points. UNT is just 3-for-15 from the field.

7:06 — UNT was down 15, but has scored five straight to pull within 25-15. Ja’Michael Brown hit a 3 to spark the Mean Green’s surge. Brown has five points to lead UNT. The Mean Green are shooting just 22 percent from the field.

3:57 — UNT is down 30-12 late in the first half. UTA is headed to the line coming out of this timeout. Derail Green and Ja’Michael Brown with have five points for UNT. UNT hasn’t hit a shot from the floor in 4:10.

20.8 — UNT has worked its way back into this game late in the first half and is down 34-28. The Mean Green called a timeout to set up a final shot.

5.3 — UNT got a shot off, but missed and grabbed the rebound. Jeremy Combs was trapped and called a timeout.

Halftime — J-Mychal Reese hit a pair of free throws on UNT’s final possession of the half to pull the Mean Green within 34-30 at the break. Reese and Jeremy Combs both have seven points to lead UNT. The Mean Green closed the half on a 12-2 run. UTA just quit scoring in the final four minutes. Kevin Hervey has 10 points for UTA,

15:54 — UNT is down 41-34 early in the second half. UTA opened the second half on a 7-0 run. UNT has come back with four straight. Jeremy Combs and Ja’Michael Reese both have nine points for UNT.

14:31 — UTA has run off six straight and is back up 47-34. UNT is shooting just 24 percent from the field for the game. UTA has scored a couple of quick transition baskets. UNT just took a timeout.

11:57 — UNT is down 51-39 at the under-12 timeout. Jeremy Combs has 11 points in his return to the Mean Green’s lineup. J-Mychal Reese has nine points. UTA has stretched its lead here in the second half.

10:45 — UTA is running UNT off its home court here in the second half. Kaelon Wilson just tossed in a reverse layup on a oop pass from Erick Neal. UTA is up 58-39. TO UNT.

7:31 — UNT is down 67-44 at the under-8 media timeout. UTA has hit seven of its last nine shots from the floor. Jeremy Combs has 11 points for UNT. Kevin Hervey has 19 for UTA.

5:09 — UNT is on an 8-0 run. UTA is up 67-52 and just called a timeout.

3:52 — UTA used a 5-0 burst to turn back UNT. The Mavericks are up 72-55. Jeremy Combs has 20 points for UNT. The Mean Green just haven’t been able to score enough to keep up with UTA.

Final — UNT falls 77-61.

Another bowl puzzle piece falls into play — Western Michigan wins

Western Michigan players celebrate a sack by defensive lineman Eric Assoua (33) during a win over Ohio in the MAC championship game on Friday. (Associated Press/Carlos Osorio)

Western Michigan players celebrate a sack by defensive lineman Eric Assoua (33) during a win over Ohio in the MAC championship game on Friday. (Associated Press/Carlos Osorio)

North Texas is waiting to find out where it is headed in bowl season, and that means scoreboard watching.

ESPN reported that UNT will likely land in the Heart of Dallas Bowl again and will face either Army or Western Michigan. UNT beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, its lone bowl appearance since 2004.

If Navy is the highest ranked Group of 5 team, UNT will face Western Michigan. If Western Michigan is the highest ranked team, UNT will get face Army, according to the report.

UNT pulled off a surprising win over Army in West Point earlier in the season.

Western Michigan beat Ohio in the MAC title game tonight and finished the regular season unbeaten. Navy plays Temple at 11 a.m. and ends its season at Army on Dec. 10.

There is still a lot that has to play out.

Stay tuned.

Chalk talk — UTA at UNT

North Texas guard Ja'Michael Brown drives to the basket as Texas College guard Nathaniel Francis defends. UNT beat Texas to run its winning streak to three games heading into Saturday's game against UTA at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

North Texas guard Ja’Michael Brown drives to the basket as Texas College guard Nathaniel Francis defends. UNT beat Texas College to run its winning streak to three games heading into Saturday’s game against UTA at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

UTA at North Texas

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Super Pit, Denton

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 4-3, UTA 5-3

Last game: UNT 73, Texas College 45; UTA 72, Texas 61

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese missed the first half of UNT’s win over Texas College so that he could take a final. He hit the floor in the second half, when he handed out three assists. Reese didn’t score, dropping his scoring average to 8.2 points per game.

SG: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson endured a tough shooting night in UNT’s win over Texas College. The freshman hit just one of his five shots and finished with two points. He handed out three assists and grabbed five rebounds. Lawson is averaging 9.4 points per game.

SF: Deckie Johnson, 6-4, Sr. — Johnson scored 19 points and hit three of his six shots from 3-point range against Texas College. The senior is averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game and also ranks second on the team with 17 assists.

F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7, Jr. — Combs could return to UNT’s lineup for its game against UTA after sitting out four games to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Combs is averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, despite playing at less than 100 percent.

C: Rickey Brice 7-1, So. — Brice posted a double-double that included 15 points and 10 rebounds in UNT’s win over Texas College. The sophomore is averaging 7.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Scouting UTA: UTA is on a roll. The Mavericks have won four straight and knocked off Texas 72-61 in their last outing. UTA is led by the inside-outside duo of Jalen Jones and Kevin Hervey. Jones, a 6-2 guard, is averaging 13.8 points per game. Hervey, a 6-9 forward, is one of the better front court players the Mean Green will face this season. He is averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

What you need to know: UNT has fattened up on a host of cupcakes around the holidays to get to 4-3, beating Division III Sul Ross State and NAIA Texas College in addition to Niagara (1-5) and Hartford (1-7).

The level of competition will rise substantially on Saturday, when the Mean Green host UTA. The Mavericks finished with a 24-11 record last season and appear to be on their way to another successful year.

UTA has won three straight against UNT in the series and cruised by the Mean Green in both meetings in Tony Benford’s tenure. The Mavericks dropped UNT 72-59 at the Super Pit in the 2012-13 season and rolled to a 90-67 win in the 2014-15 campaign.

The Mean Green’s hopes to break through could rest with the health of Combs.

UNT shelved its top player for its last four games in the hope that he would be at full strength for the key games later in the year. UNT hasn’t said for sure if Combs will be back tomorrow, but it’s a possibility.

It makes sense with games against UTA and Sam Houston State coming up and Conference USA play right around the corner. Putting Combs back in the lineup will help UNT substantially, especially if he is anywhere close to full strength.