Just when you thought football season was about to get interesting (Conference USA play begins for UNT next week) we have another season starting.
Or at least the practice end of it.
The UNT men’s basketball team will roll the balls out this afternoon for the first day of official practice in the second season of the Tony Benford era.
This will be a pivotal year for a number of reasons for UNT, but it basically comes down to this:
1. It’s the Mean Green’s first in Conference USA.
2. It’s UNT’s chance to show that last year was an aberration.
The school built a pretty highly regarded mid-major program under future UNT Hall of Famer Johnny Jones, arguably one of the greatest coaches in the history of Mean Green athletics along with guys like Hayden Fry, John Hedlund and Odus Mitchell.
Jones left for LSU, leaving Benford the task of carrying on the tradition.
A host of factors led to a tough 12-20 first season for the Mean Green under Benford that we won’t get into.
The question is if UNT can bounce back. The UNT athletic department has floated the idea that last season was an aberration and that things are looking up. Could be. Landing Dallas Carter forward Jeremy Combs, who will arrive next fall, certainly helped build some good will.
Now it’s up to UNT to prove that things are in fact headed back in the right direction.
Here are a few factors to watch as practice begins:
1. Can UNT fill the void left my Tony Mitchell and Roger Franklin?
It will be a challenge, that’s for sure.
Mitchell blocked 87 shots (the same number as Florida International did as a team on the season, and more than either Troy or Louisiana-Monroe), averaged 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds a game and was a second round NBA draft pick. And that doesn’t even count Franklin, who averaged 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
UNT will turn to Cincinnati transfer Kelvin Gaines and Keith Coleman, a pair of guys who are 6-10 and three other newcomers in Armani Flannigan, Colin Voss and a potential future star in Greg Wesley.
There is not a proven impact player in the bunch.
2. Does this team have any chemistry?
UNT didn’t have much in the way of chemistry last season, which isn’t really all that surprising considering the coaching change and the fact Chris Jones missed a big chunk of the season. UNT has a ton of new players this season — seven in all. UNT has some key players returning, including Jones and Jordan Williams, but there is no arguing the point that UNT will have a ton of new pieces this season.
3. Is T.J. Taylor the real deal?
Taylor has bounced around the college basketball world, from Oklahoma to Marquette to UNT without capitalizing on his potential and is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. Will be big the big-time scorer UNT hopes he will be?
4. Will UNT improve offensively?
UNT struggled offensively last year for a myriad of reasons, including a lack of outside shooting. UNT lost its best shooter in Brandan Walton to injury right off the bat and shot an abysmal 28.5 percent from 3-point range for the year. UNT ranked last in the Sun Belt in 3-point shooting percentage and averaged 66.2 points a game, down from 70.3 points the previous year. UNT will have to be better to compete in C-USA.
Will UNT get better?
We will begin to find out today.
And in a couple of side notes, Omar Sherman, a forward from Prime Prep UNT was after, committed to Miami today.
Looks really nice here in Kentucky.
— Iso Evans (@YaaBoyKeenan) September 27, 2013
And another UNT target, Richardson Berkner point guard Keenan Evans, is visiting Western Kentucky today. He’s being recruited by former UNT assistant Shawn Forrest.