And so it begins … the Conference USA tournament

The Conference USA tournament is officially underway here in El Paso. The teams that finished near the bottom of the conference standings play in the opening round today.

Unfortunately for UNT, that means it’s time for the Mean Green to begin its run.

I’m standing at Extended Stay, which was the cheap way to go.

Ironic?

Prophetic?

We are about to find out.

First off, some notes and thoughts.

The UNT men are the No. 10 seed and will face No. 15 Rice in its opening round game at 4:30 (Denton time).

Rice finished dead last in the conference standings at 2-14. One of those wins was over UNT. The Owls edged the Mean Green 75-70 and have lost seven straight since, although Rice did come close to winning a couple of times in that slide. UAB beat Rice 61-60.

The issue for UNT is that Rice’s best player is Sean Obi, a 6-foot-9 mountain of a forward and a matchup nightmare for the Mean Green, which has been anything but mean in the paint all year long.

Tony Benford mentioned in the days leading up the tournament that nearly all of UNT’s paint touches (a stat he emphasizes) are coming off penetration. UNT doesn’t have a guy it can throw it to down low. Rice does in Obi and works off him.

The challenge for UNT is trying to keep the ball away from Obi and not get killed down there when he does get it. UNT has some guys with size in Keith Coleman and Kelvin Gaines. The problem is if UNT goes with to those guys, they don’t provide much offensively. UNT’s best scorer out of its post players in Colin Voss, who scores a huge chunk of his points off face-up jumpers.

If Obi does get the ball, Rice runs a ton of 3-point shooters to their sweet spots. Rice ranks second in C-USA in 3-pointers per game at 7.83 a game.

Rebounding is also a huge issue with UNT, one it handled well against Rice the first time, when it finished with a 40-33 edge. Voss had 10 boards in that game.

Jordan Williams, who spends most of his time on the wing, is actually UNT’s leading rebounder at 6.2 a game.

The UNT women are the No. 11 seed and face No. 14 Louisiana Tech in their first game. UNT lost to the Lady Techsters earlier in the year 67-54. UNT just didn’t play well and everything Louisiana Tech threw up there seemed to go in, including a bank 3 from Perry Lulu.

UNT shot 24 percent in the second half and went 5-for-21 from 3.

Louisiana Tech got Kelia Shelton back against UNT. Shelton, who became eligible late in the year, is one of Tech’s best players. She finished with just two points against UNT the first time, but had 17 in a win over Florida International in the Lady Techsters last game.

If Shelton is at her best, she could make a big difference.

Stay tuned we are about to get going.

And in a side note, the UNT softball team plays a doubleheader against Texas at home today.

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