I ran spent some time running around today picking up material for my notebook that will run into tomorrow’s paper and have had more time to think over UNT’s stunning loss to Alabama-Huntsville.
I’m not saying it’s an excuse, but Huntsville is supposed to be pretty good on the DII level this year.
What I do wonder at this point is if UNT isn’t trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.
Hear me out.
UNT has been an open court, run the floor and score team for more than a decade and has had a lot of success with that style.
When Tony Benford took over he talked a lot about improving the Mean Green’s performance defensively and getting the ball into the paint more often.
That’s a solid way to play, one that has worked a lot of places for Benford and a lot of other coaches.
What I wonder is if UNT has the guys to play that way. UNT recruited John Odoh to put next to Tony Mitchell so that he would be able to take advantage of his skills. Mitchell is a nightmare at the four because he can shoot, drive and post up smaller guys. Put him at the five and other team’s big guys lean on him and get him into foul trouble. UNT picked up Keith Coleman when Odoh declined to play for UNT after Johnny Jones and Shawn Forrest left for LSU, where Odoh eventually ended up.
UNT signed up Coleman to fill the same role. Benford said he played very well in the off-season and was the best player UNT had on the court at times. Now that the season has started, Coleman has gone MIA. He’s played an average of 10.0 minutes a game and is averaging 2.0 points and 4.0 rebounds a game.
With Coleman’s role being somewhat limited, that leaves Mitchell as one of the only guys who can play with his back to the basket on the floor, not to mention one of UNT’s few good rebounders. The only other back-to-the-basket guy UNT has is Roger Franklin, who is really undersized at 6-5.
UNT’s other forwards, including Jacob Holmen and Niko Stojkovic are face-up guys. They are not the type of player a team can post up and throw the ball to repeatedly like Keith Wooden and Quincy Williams.
UNT has guys who can take the ball to the basket in Chris Jones and Jordan Williams, but lacks a spot-up shooter at this point with Brandan Walton down, quite possibly for quite a while.
One of the advantages of a system where a team tries to get the ball inside is that there are kick-out opportunities for 3-point shots. Jones and both of the Williams — Jordan and Alzee — can take them and hit them. They just don’t do it at as high a percentage as one would hope.
If I’m an opposing coach, I’m plenty happy to sit back and let UNT try to pound it inside in a halfcourt game. Limit Mitchell and take away driving lanes for Jones and Williams and I’m in a good spot.
UNT led the Sun Belt in scoring last season during conference play, averaged 70.3 points a game on the year and has most of the same guys back who excel scoring the ball in an open court game.
Pressing and getting up and down might also cover up some of UNT’s problems on the boards. Mitchell is a great rebounder, but UNT does not have a whole lot of other high volume rebound guys. Mitchell was the only UNT player who ranked among the top 20 players in the Sun Belt last year in rebounding. Franklin (5.0), Jones (4.7) and Williams (4.0) were the only other players on the team who averaged more than four boards a game.
Those guys picked up a lot of their boards in transition.
UNT certainly scored enough points to beat Huntsville, but managed just 51 against Creighton.
UNT’s guards have really struggled so far this season. Chris Jones is shooting 15.8 percent from the field, Alzee Williams 20 percent and P.J. Hardwick 33 percent.
Those percentages might go up if UNT pushed the pace.
I’m not saying that UNT isn’t looking to push the ball enough. I just wonder if playing a defensive and paint/post oriented game is going to end up being a good fit for a team with a load of talented guards who are at their best in the open floor and a forward like Tony Mitchell, who is a whole lot better when he is running and using his athleticism than when he’s anchored in the paint.
We will see what kind of adjustments UNT makes tonight.