UNT-Rice preview, running blog

UNT will take on Rice in Houston this morning in matchup of teams headed in opposite directions. UNT has lost its last three games to fall into a 2-5 hole and has also lost itsfirst three games in Conference USA play. UNT is done as far as the conference title race goes.

UNT has never lost four straight under Dan McCarney.

Rice is in an entirely different spot after recovering from an 0-3 start to even its record with three straight wins.

The Owls are also coming off a bye week and have had a whole lot of time to prepare for the Mean Green.

The situation does not seem particularly advantageous for the Mean Green, which we pointed out in our weekly prediction blog.

Rice will be out for revenge today after last season’s stunning loss to the Mean Green in Denton. UNT handed Rice its only loss in C-USA play last season. Normally, I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in the revenge angle, which is often overplayed. What makes this different is the way Rice lost.

The Owls had a chance to jump back into the game late, but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone while UNT came up with a memorable eight-play goal-line stand. Rice’s players talked this week about how they haven’t forgotten that game, that series and the way UNT celebrated afterward. Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington injured his hand in that game and said he hasn’t forgotten it.

UNT will look for a repeat of last season’s landmark win today and will have to slow down an effective Rice rushing attack to get there. The Owls are averaging 201.2 rushing yards a game and have one of the better running back tandems in Conference USA in Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard, who combine to average 154 yards a game.

UNT has been good against the run most of the year and come into today’s game allowing 148.7 yards a game, but did struggle last week against Southern Miss. The Mean Green coughed up 201 yards last week against the Golden Eagles, who came into the day averaging 91 yards a game on the ground.

The Mean Green are also looking to make a big jump offensively behind Andrew McNulty. The junior will make his second start of the season today after throwing for 287 yards without turning the ball over against Southern Miss.

Carlos Harris has been on a tear and posted career highs for catches (15) and receiving yards (216) last week against Southern Miss.

Stay tuned, I will update the blog all day.

10:43 — UNT will have three key defensive players back today in safety Sheldon Wade, cornerback Zac Whitfield and defensive end Tillman Johnson. Defensive tackle Dutton Watson is out, but we already knew that. Sid Moore did make the trip. Rice will be without backup defensive tackle Ross Winship and leading receiver Zach Wright. UNT will have Denison native Jordan Taylor back at wide receiver. Taylor was one of Rice’s top weapsons coming into the year.

10:50 — One aspect of this game I have always found interesting is just how many of Rice’s players were guys UNT recruited. There are a lot of guys Rice recruited who landed at UNT as well. I tend to forget who offered each guy UNT signed, but when I scan the Rice two-deep, it’s easy to think back on which guys I talked to or wrote about. There’s tight end Cole Hunt, wide receiver Jordan Taylor, Lake Dallas defensive end Graysen Shantz, defensive tackle Ross Winship and wide receiver James Mayden to name a few.

10:51 — And speaking of the former Lake Dallas standout, Shantz is starting at defensive end for Rice and seven tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. He’s having a good freshman season for the Owls.

Kickoff — UNT has won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half. Rice will have the ball first.

13:02 — Well, that didn’t start well for UNT. Jordan Taylor caught and 88-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. He beat Lairamie Lee on the slant and took it the whole way. UNT had to punt on its first possession after picking up a first down. Rice nearly had an interception on Andrew McNulty’s first throw. Not that this is a surprise, but that first pass went the way of Carlos Harris.

10:51 — UNT held up on Rice’s last possession. Rice picked up a first down, but had to punt. UNT has the ball back at is 25-yard line.

7:51 — UNT has tied it up at 7-7 on a 51-yard pass from Andrew McNulty to Carlos Harris. That is the longest pass play this season for UNT. Harris was wide open after a play-action fake.

6:12 — Rice just took a timeout with the play clock running down at its 39-yard line, which gives me a chance to point out that a pretty good contingent of UNT fans showed up today. There are a lot of UNT grads who live in Houston. Several hundred of them showed up today.

3:26 — Rice has answered on a 10-yard touchdown run from Jowan Davis. Rice converted on third-and-6 twice on that drive and is starting to get its running game going. The Owls last four plays on drive all went for at least eight yards.

3:11 — This is starting to look like it will be a shootout. Darvin Kidsy took the kickoff following Davis’ touchdown and went 100 yards untouched to tie this game up at 14-14.

1:39 — UNT’s defense held up on that last possession. Rice will punt the ball away. UNT will have the ball back at its 26-yard line to start this possession.

End of th first quarter — We are all tied up at 14-14. UNT will face a third-and-10 situation at its 26-yard line to start the second quarter. UNT has played really well so far in what has been a game of big plays for both teams.

14:06 — Rice has the ball back at its 23 after UNT was forced to punt on its last possession.

12:38 — Rice had to punt on its last possession. Daryl Mason had a tackle for loss on that drive that really helped UNT’s cause. UNT has the ball at its 38.

11:45 — Andrw McNulty was absolutely drilled by former Lake Dallas standout Graysen Shantz on that last play and is down. I don’t think McNulty has any idea where he is at this point. And now the million dollar question. Who comes in?

11:45 (Part II) — Dajon Williams is in.

8:30 — Dajon Williams took the ball 20 yards on a quarterback draw. UNT has the ball at the Rice 1. It’s fourth-and-goal. This is a big play right here. UNT will go for it coming out of the time out.

8:26 — Carlos Harris carried the ball in on an end-around. UNT is up 21-14. Smart call right there by Mike Canales with Rice stacked up at the line of scrimmage.

5:29 — Rice has called a timeout after pushing the ball to the UNT 43-yard line. The Owls just converted on third down with a pass over the middle to Jordan Taylor.

4:04 — UNT just came up with a huge stop on fourth down at its own 37. Rice tried to pick up a yard on a running play out of its wildcat formation. Defensive end Daryl Mason came up with the stop in the middle. Great stand for UNT. I’ve never been a big fan of shotgun plays in short-yardage situations.

2:33 — UNT had a chance to really take control after that stop, but had to put it away. Rice has it back with 2:08 to work with.

1:47 — UNT came up with a stop on Rice’s last possession. The Owls tried to throw it twice and then smartly ran it on third down to force the Mean Green to use a timeout.

1:38 — Darvin Kidsy fumbled the punt, but got it back. UNT has the ball at its 33.

:41 — UNT has taken a timeout after Andrew McNulty was sacked for a loss of 11 back to the Rice 45.

:03 — Rice has taken a timeout after sacking McNulty on consecutive plays. The ball is at the UNT 46.

Halftime — We have reached halftime with UNT up 21-14, which is a pretty big surprise. Both teams hit on some big plays in the first half that made a huge difference. To its credit, UNT kept its cool after Rice scored on the first play of the game. Carlos Harris caught a 51-yard touchdown pass and Darvin Kidsy returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. UNT will have the ball to start the second half.

Start of the second half — UNT is 15-1 when leading at halftime under McCarney, including a 2-0 mark this year. Rice is 0-3 when trailing at halftime this year.

12:42 — UNT just made a huge stand deep in its own end of the field after Carlos Harris fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half. Rice cashed in with a field goal to pull to within 21-17, but UNT keep the Owls out of the end zone. Rice ran the option on third-and-2 to the short side of the field for some odd reason.

10:30 — Well, the second half is not starting well for UNT. Rice cornerback Ryan Pollard jumped a pass over the middle from Andrew McNulty, intercepted it and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Rice is up 24-21 now.

6:47 — UNT had to punt on its last possession, but Kenny Buyers made a key play on special teams, getting down the field to knock the punt out at the Rice 1-yard line. This is a key spot for UNT’s defense, which can get McNulty the ball back in a good spot with a stand here.

5:53 — That play by Byers looks pretty big now. Rice is punting from its end zone. UNT will have the ball back at its 45-yard line.

4:50 — UNT will have to punt after going three-and-out. Rice has the ball back at its 21-yard line. Rice picked up a sack on that last drive from defensive tackle Christian Covington. The Owls have been all over Andrew McNulty today.

2:35 — Rice just took its first timeout of the second half. The clock was running down on the Owls, who picked up a first down and have the ball at their 32-yard line.

Start of the fourth quarter — Rice has the ball at the UNT 27-yard line to start the fourth quarter. The Owls picked up a first down on their last play, a pass from Driphus Jackson to Mario Hull. UNT needs to keep Rice out of the end zone here down 24-21.

Friday afternoon notes on the way out of town

Most of the attention this week at UNT has been focused on the Mean Green’s efforts to snap a three-game losing streak at Rice tomorrow, and rightly so.

Football drives the bus at UNT.

With that being said, there is a huge game at UNT tonight that I wanted to be sure to mention on the blog.

The UNT soccer team takes on Charlotte at 7 p.m. over the the Mean Green Soccer Complex. UNT is 5-1-1 in league play and has a three-point lead in the standings over four other teams, including Charlotte.

The 49ers were picked to win the league in the preseason coaches’ poll, which didn’t sit well with UNT’s players or coach John Hedlund. We talked a little about where UNT stands in our weekly all-sports notebook earlier this week.

UNT has three games left in the regular season and can win the conference title by winning out. Our money was on Hedlund and his crew to win the first C-USA title for the Mean Green after the program was shut out across the board in its first season in the league. UNT can take a key step toward that goal tonight.

Trust in the remain John (Now that Johnny Jones has set up shop at LSU). And speaking of the other John …

There were a select few doubters among UNT fans that Jones would get it going at LSU. Jones has a 19-win season and a 20-win season that included an NIT win last year in his first two seasons with the Tigers. It appears as if he has things heading in the right direction in Baton Rouge.

I never understood why anyone doubted he would win at LSU. He took UNT to the NCAA tournament — twice. Those two trips matched the total number of NCAA tournament appearances in the history of both the UNT men’s and women’s basketball programs combined before he showed up.

On the football front, I wrote this story for today’s paper on Kishawn McClain, an impressive freshman defensive back, who played well last week in a loss to Southern Miss.

 

I had an update on Trinity Valley wide receiver Jarvis Baxter a while back.

I will think he’s UNT’s to lose.

And finally, the UNT volleyball team is in seventh place in the C-USA standings and fighting for a spot in the conference tournament heading into a key home match against Florida Atlantic tonight. UNT is 4-5 in conference play and needs to finish in the top eight to make the postseason.

Q&A with Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle

We are lucky today to welcome Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle to the blog for our weekly Q&A on UNT’s up coming game. If you want to know about Rice or Houston football, Joseph is your guy. Here is a link to the Chronicle website’s Rice section. Be sure to check it out. It includes some telling comments on Rice looking at this game as a shot at revenge.

Here’s what Joseph had to say about tomorrow’s game:

1. How has Rice turned it around since a slow start?

First, let’s keep in mind that two losses during the 0-3 start were on the road against Notre Dame and Texas A&M, two programs that have been ranked in the top 10 this season. The biggest differences between that Owls squad and the one that has won three in a row is finally getting key players back from injuries, namely all-conference nose tackle Christian Covington and wide receiver Jordan Taylor. The Owls have also gotten better-than-expected play from first-year starting quarterback Driphus Jackson, who is completing 61.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions. The running game remains tough behind Jowan Davis (517 yards) and Darik Dillard (407).

2. How much did a week off help Rice heading into this game?

At the halfway point of the season, the Owls, like most programs across the nation, used the break to heal. They lost tight end Connor Cella to a season-ending ankle injury in the Army game and wide receiver Zach Patt will be out 1-2 weeks after hurting his foot in practice. But on a positive note, defensive end Zach Patt, who missed four games with a leg injury, has been cleared to play, although it remains to be seen how much time he will see against North Texas. Having Covington back is huge for a Rice defense that ranks in the top 25 nationally with 42 tackles for loss. His presence alone disrupts offenses, as he’s almost impossible to stop one-on-one. The Owls have also received breakout seasons from two first-year starters at defensive end Brian Nordstrom (8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks) and Graysen Schantz (seven tackles for loss and three sacks).

3. Rice seems really balanced this year. Is that the case?

Yes, the Owls have been a balanced offense this season, but make no mistake: There’s a reason the Owls are among the top rushing team (201.2 yards) in Conference USA. Rice likes to control the clock (34:45) and has a deep enough backfield to rotate 3-4 players throughout the game. Davis is a workhorse and Dillard provides speed on the edges. Luke Turner, a former high school quarterback, is used primarily out of the ‘Wild Owl’ formation, which keeps defenses off-balanced with his ability to run or pass. With Taylor back, the Owls have several options in the passing game, including Mario Hull (three touchdowns), Dennis Parks and James Mayden.

4. Is Rice looking for revenge after last season?

The players who spoke this week said last year’s game  – the Owls’ only conference loss on the way to the C-USA title – would be on their mind. “How can it not be?” Covington said. Most of all, the players said they remember not being able to score despite eight plays near the goal line and the fumble and punt returns for touchdowns that wiped out an early lead in Denton.

5. How do you see this playing out?

Rice had a week off to prepare and rest and is playing its best football of the season. This is beginning to look like the team many picked to contend for the C-USA West division title. The Owls will look to establish the run, and expect Jackson to take a few shots down field. One matchup to watch is Owls senior cornerback Bryce Callahan vs. North Texas wide receiver Carlos Harris. In the end, I think the Owls are riding so much momentum and eager for payback.

My pick: Rice 31, North Texas 17

UNT Hoops Madness wrap-up thoughts

I know this comes as a huge shock, but both the UNT men’s and women’s basketball teams came out of their annual tipoff event feeling really good about their chances to be better this year.

I wrote about Jeremy Combs’ big night for the paper. He looked like he could help UNT right away with his athletic ability and the way he chases rebounds. He also won the dunk contest.

I talked to Jordan Williams after it was all over. He told me that he firmly believes UNT will win 20 games this year.

He said I could quote him on it.

Williams is among a host of UNT players who firmly believe this team will be better that it has been since Johnny Jones took his talents to Baton Rouge and LSU.

UNT still has a long way to go to get there, but there were a few good signs tonight:

– Combs played well and looked like he could be a key part.

– Greg Wesley showed flashes of why he was a top recruit in the state.

– UNT is really athletic

There are still plenty of reasons for pause:

– I’m not buying for a minute that UNT won’t get pummeled on the glass and inside until the Mean Green go against a team with some decent big guys and make it out alive.

– UNT didn’t exactly light it up shooting the ball. UNT hit one 3 in 15 minutes and by my unofficial count went 1-for-7 at the line. Williams hit that one 3. We know he can shoot the ball. Can anyone else? Eaglin shot the ball well in the 3-point contest, but UNT didn’t shoot it well overall. Is there a guy on this team UNT can toss it to in the post who can score inside? This team is going to be vulnerable to off shooting nights if that isn’t the case.

And in a very important side note, key recruit Rickey Brice was on hand and said hello. I think he’s UNT’s to lose at this point. The big guy from Arlington would be a big addition.

The UNT women will be something of a mystery as well, even after tonight. Acheil Tac and Joh’vonna Darrington both missed the who deal with injuries. They will be back soon, but it isn’t a good sign that they weren’t around tonight.

LIke the UNT men, the Mean Green women will depend quite a bit on newcomers. The good news is JUCO guards Kasiney Williams and Teandra Jones both looked like they could help quite a bit this year.

Freshman forwards Megan Womack and Bria Frierson both have good size and also look like they could help.

Well find out soon enough if either team will have a shot to turn it around this year. What we do know is both teams feel good about their chances.

No surprise there.

UNT basketball madness running blog

UNT will host its basketball madness event tonight.

We previewed the festivities earlier this week.

UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen swung by on his way in to the locker room to provide a little information.

Acheil Tac is having some pain in her knee after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago and will not play tonight. Joh’Vonna Darrington is also having some knee trouble and will undergo and MRI. Neither player should be out long.

It looks like the free food bribe aimed at UNT’s students is paying off to a certain degree. There are several hundred people here.

As far as the festivities go, I wouldn’t read a whole lot into it. Armani Flannigan was the big start of last season’s event. He averaged 2.4 points a game for a team that finished 16-16.

We will get to at least see some of the newcomers UNT is depending on, including the ballyhooed guard tandem of J-Mychal Reese and DeAndre Harris. Reese played for Texas A&M last year. There is a track record there. Harris sat out last season with a case of tonsillitis and hasn’t played since his freshman year at Tyler JC.

We could find out more tonight.

As far as the UNT women go, we will see a partial return of the body bag squad in point guard Candice Adams and BreAnna Dawkins. We will also see a few key recruits.

Stay tuned.

7:33 — I was going to try to keep unofficial stats on the women’s scrimmage, but there isn’t a roster around. UNT is going to be a work in progress early in the year. There is some talent out there. Candice Adams is moving around pretty well and BreAnna Dawkins looks good out there. JUCO transfer Teandra Jones looks like she should help UNT this year.

7:58 — We had to sit through some dance groups, cheerleader and dance team appearances. Tony Benford is up and has the microphone.

8: 00 — Benford is appealing to UNT’s students to come to games and is asking them to stand this year instead of sit. He promised that UNT’s guys will play hard this season.

8:03 — UNT is going through warmups. I had forgotten this, but DeAndre Harris will not play tonight due to a minor injury.

8:21 — The white team beat the green 23-15 in the scrimmage. Greg Wesely and Jeremy Combs both played pretty well. Combs looks as advertised. He just goes and gets the ball. By my unofficial count, UNT went an atrocious 2-for-9 from the line and made just one 3 in 15 minutes. Jordan Williams hit it, which makes sense.

8:28 — In a side note, the crowd has filled in pretty well at the Super Pit. It’s pretty much all students.

8:37 — Todd Eaglin and Kasiney Williams won the 3-point contest with 11 total makes. One player from the guys team and one from the girls team paired up for the contest. Eaglin made seven.   

8:54 — Jeremy Combs wins the dunk contest. I will be back with more later.

Prediction: Rice will handle UNT at home

North Texas quarterback Andrew McNulty (5) is leveled by Southern Miss linebacker Brian Anderson (39) and defensive back Picasso Nelson last week at Apogee Stadium. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT at Rice, 11 a.m. Saturday, Rice Stadium, Houston

Records: North Texas 2-5, 0-3 C-USA; Rice 3-3, 1-1 C-USA

TV: Fox Sports: Brendan Burke (play-by-play), Ben Leber (analyst), Christian Steckel (sidelines)

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1, KGAF-AM 1580

On the line: UNT is quickly running out of hope that it can build on its Heart of Dallas Bowl win of last season heading into its game against Rice. The Mean Green have lost three straight and at 0-3 are well out of the Conference USA race. UNT’s hope now is that it can somehow manage to win four out of its last five games to become bowl-eligible with six wins or run to the table to get to 7-5. UNT did win seven of its last eight games last season, but lost most of the players who led that charge to graduation. A win over Rice would help UNT keep its hopes of another bowl bid alive. Rice is in a much better spot at 3-3 and 1-1 in C-USA play. The Owls have won three straight, but have some tough games late in the season at Marshall, which is ranked 23rd, and at Louisiana Tech, which is 3-0 in conference play. A win over UNT would improve Rice’s chances of playing in a bowl substantially.

When North Texas has the ball: UNT has elected to stick with Andrew McNulty as its starting quarterback for a second straight week. McNulty threw for 287 yards on Saturday in a loss to Southern Miss and, most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over. UNT had seven turnovers in its previous two games combined. UNT will pound away in the running game if it can, but has come to depend largely on Carlos Harris the last few weeks. Harris caught 15 passes for 216 yards last week and posted 120 yards in a loss to Indiana on Oct. 4. More often than not, Harris is UNT’s outlet when teams stack the line of scrimmage. Rice has allowed 19.3 points a game during its three-game winning streak and has allowed an average of 70.0 rushing yards in its two C-USA games against Old Dominion and Southern Miss. The Owls also have one of the top cornerbacks in C-USA in Bryce Callahan who could at least contain Harris.

When Rice has the ball: The Owls have one of the top running back duos in C-USA in Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard. Davis is averaging 86.2 rushing yards a game, while Dillard is adding 67.8. McCarney said what makes that duo particularly hard to defend is Rice also has a solid quarterback in Driphus Jackson, who is throwing for 197.5 yards a game. Jackson has 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the year. UNT has allowed at least 30 points in five of the six games against FBS competition it has played this year. Part of the problem has been an offense that has continually put the Mean Green in bad spots, but there are plenty of signs UNT is struggling. Southern Miss rushed for 201 yards in its win over UNT last week after coming into the game averaging 91 yards a game. UNT is hoping the return of safety Sheldon Wade, cornerback Zac Whitfield and defensive end Tillman Johnson from injury will help matters.

Prediction: Nearly everything about this game sets up horribly for UNT. The Mean Green have lost three straight, while Rice is on a roll after winning three straight to climb back into the C-USA race. The Owls had a week off to prepare for UNT and have won nine of their last 10 games at home. UNT is 6-17 on the road under McCarney and 0-3 this year. Rice also has the added motivation of trying to avenge last season’s 28-16 loss at Apogee Stadium, where UNT posted an eight-play goal line stand. Jackson told the Houston Chronicle this week that it was embarrassing not to capitalize in that situation, while defensive tackle  Christian Covington said it’s an experience he and his teammates haven’t forgotten. UNT appeared to settle in a little last week with McNulty at quarterback and has one of C-USA’s top wide receivers in Harris. The return of a few key defensive players from injury will also help matters. Even with that being the case, UNT winning would be a substantial upset. McCarney is a master at rallying his teams and getting them to rise up against great odds, but Rice will pull away in the end.

Rice 31, UNT  17

Thursday afternoon notes on the SMU opening, thoughts on QB situation

There has been some concern among schools like UNT that the money being spent in the world of college athletics these days is putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say a bigger competitive disadvantage.

The subject became relevant again today when Bill Nicholls from the Morning News came out with a list of the coaches who appear to be in the running or of interest when it comes to the SMU search.

The zinger?

Brown

The Ponies appear to be willing to pony up $4 million a year for former Texas coach Mack Brown.

Point of reference — UNT pays Dan McCarney about $700,000 a year. The entire UNT staff doesn’t make $4 million. Not even close.

Earlier this week, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said the school could end up paying each player $10,000 a year.

The cost of playing the game is going up.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said this summer that the league’s schools are prepared to full cost of attendance scholarships. 

The world of college athletics is changing. It’s just something to think about as UNT continues to move forward.

And in other news, here’s a link to my weekly project-type, long-form, spent-some-time-on-it piece on Andrew McNulty.

McNulty

I tried to get a little into McNutly’s background, his story and what motivates him.

My take?

McNulty has taken far more grief than he has deserved over the years. Somehow McNulty has been the exception to just about every rule when it comes to backup quarterbacks.

He’s supposed to be the most popular guy among fans, even those who couldn’t figure out that UNT was going to really miss Derek Thompson, a future UNT Hall of Famer.

And that has proven to be the case, by the way.

McNulty wasn’t a popular guy even when Thompson struggled.

McNulty should have been even more popular this year considering the way UNT floundered offensively at times early in the season, even though he did contribute to the 15-yard, four-interception performance in a season-opening loss to Texas.

That love never came.

There just seems to be a deep-seeded belief that UNT only recruited McNulty because of his father’s relationship with Dan McCarney. I get that to a certain extent. UNT wasn’t going to go to Iowa to recruit a quarterback if it didn’t have a reason to, but one can point to players in any class the Mean Green have signed over the years who had some kind of connection with UNT or its staff. That true for any team.

UNT wasn’t getting Lance Dunbar if it didn’t hire his high school coach. Zach Orr ended up playing for the Mean Green largely because of his father’s relationship with Todd Dodge, one of the few upsides to an … uh, let’s just say really unfortunate situation.

Dunbar and Orr were home runs.

McNulty might not be headed to the NFL, but he’s been a solid backup for years and he didn’t play as poorly as people make it sound against Southern Miss.

UNT has recruited far worse players at the position who contributed far less.

Recruiting quarterbacks isn’t easy. If it was, every team would have a good one. The fact that UNT runs a run-it-up-the-middle, pro-style offense that is all but extinct in Texas high school football doesn’t help.

The point is, McNulty has done all the right things since he’s been at UNT. There’s no reason he shouldn’t get a shot now.

He might not be the fans’ choice. But he’s certainly not a bad choice at this point after UNT pulled the plug on the Josh Greer and Dajon Williams experiments.

 

 

UNT hoops madness preview and a few notes

Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton (North Texas forward Colin Voss goes up for a shot last season as UAB forwards C.J. Washington (25) and senior forward Rod Rucker (42) defend last season. UNT will host its season-opening event at the Super Pit tonight.)

North Texas will host its annual preseason basketball event tomorrow at 7 p.m.

This season’s event will mirror the festivities of a year ago and pretty much what one sees around the college basketball world. There will be a 3-point shooting contest, a half-hearted scrimmage and a dunk contest.

There isn’t a whole lot one can tell about much of anything from tipoff events, but they are typically a fun affair for fans.

With that being said, here’s what we will be looking for tomorrow.

1. Who’s on first? Or in this case at the point, on the wings, et cetera?

When we last left UNT basketball, Chris Jones was running the point, Alzee Williams was the Mean Green’s second-leading scorer, Brandan Walton and Vertrail Vaughns were key parts of the backcourt rotation and UNT really, really needed some help in the paint.

As far as the women’s team went, Alexis Hyder was on pace to become one of the leading scorers in school history, Laura McCoy was about the smallest rock of stability one could imagine, Briesha Wynn was a steady producer and pretty much everyone else’s knee resembled ground beef.

Point?

A lot has changed for both of these teams.

On the men’s side, UNT is hoping an influx of players, including J-Mychal Reese, Muhammed Ahmed and DeAndre Harris will help this team post its first winning season in Year Three under Tony Benford.

The UNT women are banking on a couple of newcomers and the return of the body bag squad (Candice Adams, Acheil Tac and BreAnna Dawkins for starters) of injured players to help the Mean Green break out and post its first winning season since the 2005-06 campaign.

I don’t think anyone has a clue what either of this teams will look like. There is a lot of hoping going on, but there are a whole lot of key players on both teams who have proven exactly bubkus on the Division I level.

Tomorrow could provide at least a small glimpse of what both of UNT’s teams have to work with.

2. Can anyone rebound for the UNT men?

UNT ranked 14th in rebounding margin last season during Conference USA play with a deficit of 2.9.

Jordan Williams, a 6-6 wing guard tied for 18th in C-USA in rebounds in conference play at 6.1 a game to lead UNT.

UNT doesn’t need to have a dominant rebounder with the style it plays, but there is little doubt the Mean Green need to improve overall.

UNT was outrebounded by 14 by UAB, 13 by UTEP and nine by Middle Tennessee last season. And those are just a couple of examples.

If UNT wants to make a move up in the conference this year, it’s going to have to improve. Does UNT have the horses to get it done, especially after jettisoning 6-10 forwards Kelvin Gaines and Keith Coleman, even though they weren’t particularly productive?

We could know more tomorrow.

3. Can anyone shoot the ball for the UNT women?

UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen named 3-point shooting as one of UNT’s biggest concerns this year. UNT lost not only McCoy, but also saw Janis Peterson leave after her junior year to go back to California. Those two players were UNT’s best 3-point shooters.

UNT will have to find someone to replace them, whether they are newcomers or are returning from the body bag squad.

4. Who complements Wynn offensively?

Petersen said he isn’t concerned with UNT’s ability to put the ball in the hole. Wynn can score. She averaged 11.3 points a game, but is the only player who averaged double figures who returns.

Acheil Tac has expanded her game offensively after putting up 8.3 points a game and BreAnna Dawkins averaged 6.5 points a game before being lost for the season with a bad knee injury.

We could see who will carry the scoring load this year.

In a side note …

Hollis, a small forward Mansfield Summit who is ranked No. 51 in the state in the Class of 2016 by TexasHoops.com, will be by UNT’s event tomorrow.

 

And finally, Davion Freeman, a cornerback from Oklahoma UNT had shown some interest in who we talked to over the summer for our on-going UNT recruiting target series committed to Wyoming.

Five things UNT fans should know about Rice

Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue is stopped short of the goal line by North Texas last season at Apogee Stadium. UNT posted an eight-play goal-line stand against the Owls in a 28-16 win. Rice’s players said this week that they haven’t forgotten that loss heading into a rematch Saturday in Houston. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas will face Rice at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Rice Stadium in Houston. Here’s a quick scouting report of the Owls

Rice: 3-3, 1-1 in Conference USA (Beat Army 41-21 on Oct. 11)

Key number: Three (consecutive games Rice has won, all by at least 14 points, since opening the season with three straight losses while facing a brutal early schedule that included trips to Notre Dame and Texas A&M. The Owls have beaten Southern Miss (41-23), Hawaii (28-14) and Army (41-21)

1. Rice is starting to look as good as it was expected to be at the beginning of the year

Rice was expected to contend for the Conference USA West Division title at the beginning of the season after finishing 10-4 in 2013 and is finally starting to look the part. The Owls have rolled to three straight wins, and none of them have been close. Rice is playing well on both sides of the ball. The Owls have 25 tackles for loss in their last two games combined and are averaging 33.7 points a game in that span. UNT coach Dan McCarney said this week that he can sense from watching Rice on tape that the Owls have confidence and momentum at this point in the season.

2. Rice is out for revenge

UNT posted one of its more memorable wins and moments in recent program history last season when the Mean Green beat Rice at home, 28-16. The loss was Rice’s only setback in Conference USA play and included an eight-play goal-line stand by the Mean Green that was extended by a holding call on the Mean Green in the end zone. The win made UNT bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. It also provided Rice plenty of motivation for the rematch.

“You can’t forget something like that,” Rice defensive tackles Christian Covington told the Houston Chronicle.

Rice has won nine of its last 10 at home and had a bye last week. The Owls will be ready for UNT, especially coming off a bye week.

3. Rice has one of the better running back duos in C-USA

The Owls have two running backs who combine to average 154 rushing yard a game in Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard, who is averaging 5.5 yards a carry. The pair has helped Rice average 201.2 rushing yards a game behind a solid offensive line featuring Andrew Reue and Matt Simonette, who were both named to Phil Steele’s midseason All-Conference USA team.

UNT allowed 201 rushing yards last week in a loss to Southern Miss, which came into the day averaging 91 yards a game on the ground. Rice will likely look to pound the ball with Davis and Dillard.

4. Rice is getting along fine without Taylor McHargue 

Rice lost the first quarterback in school history to lead the Owls to consecutive bowl berths in Taylor McHargue, but has found what looks like the perfect replacement in Driphus Jackson.

Jackson has thrown for 1,185 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He has thrown for at least 163 yards in each game Rice has played this season and could present a challenge for UNT’s secondary that has struggled at times this season. The Mean Green rank ninth in Conference USA in pass defense with an average of 248.1 yards allowed a game and have given up 15 passing touchdowns. Only Rice (16) and Middle Tennessee (18) have allowed more.

5. Expect to see Bryce Callahan on Carlos Harris

UNT has leaned heavily on Carlos Harris to spark its passing game all season. Harris has 42 caches and 558 receiving yards. No other player on UNT’s roster has more than 12 catches on the year.

Harris caught 15 passes for 216 yards last week in UNT’s loss to Southern Miss. Both totals are career highs.

The former Frisco standout said this week that he expects to spend the day locked up man-to-man with Rice cornerback Bryce Callahan, who was included on the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back.

The way the matchup plays out will have a big impact on the outcome of the game.

McCarney talks about sticking with McNulty long-term

UNT has pondered just about every possible quarterback scenario it seems since Derek Thompson rode off into the sunset following a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. (Actually, he just went across town to coach at Denton High, but that’s besides the point).

UNT turned to JUCO transfer Josh Greer and then Dajon Williams.

It’s Andrew McNulty’s turn now. And judging from what Dan McCarney had to say this week, UNT is open to sticking with McNulty long-term.

“We don’t need to keep moving guys around and changing quarterbacks,” McCarney said. “Who the hell wants that? I don’t. Nobody does. He’s our guy this week and maybe the rest of this season and all of next year if he takes care of the ball and keeps making plays. It’s not like he didn’t make plays. He did make plays. We didn’t make enough, but I was really encouraged, rather than discouraged with the job he did leading our offense.”

McNulty threw for 287 yards in UNT’s 30-20 loss to Southern Miss last week in his second career start and first since 2011. He didn’t turn ball over — not once.

McNulty isn’t flashy, but he knows what he’s doing out there. McCarney told us that. Mike Canales told us that.

UNT’s players said the same things this week.

I know that there is an assumption out there that  some unknown quarterback is going to ride in on a white horse out of nowhere or that Connor Means is going to rip off his redshirt and suddenly become the savior in 2015.

Maybe something like that happens, but the odds are not very good.

That was the hope with a host of guys who showed up and were expected to star the next year, or at least get a crack at it — Greer, Brock Berglund and Woody Wilson to name a few.

That plan of attack has worked out for some schools over the years. Louisiana Tech’s doing just fine with Cody Sokol.

It just never seems to work out for UNT, who nearly always seems to turn to a guy who was on the roster the previous year.

All I’m saying is I wouldn’t discount for a minute that McNulty doesn’t drive the bus effectively and keep right on driving it through the end of next season.