It only seems appropriate on Selection Sunday that we continue our off-season questions series on UNT basketball with Part III — Can the UNT men recover lost momentum?
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that UNT was sitting there on campus, waiting to see its name pop up on the NCAA tournament bracket.
Here’s a blast-from-the past photo, the 2007 selection show party:
UNT had a pretty good six-year run with NCAA bids in 2007 and 2010, five 20-win seasons and an 18-win season.
The Mean Green hoped to continue that run last year with Tony Mitchell leading the way in its first season under Tony Benford.
The expectations were through the roof with so many key players coming back, including Roger Franklin and Alzee Williams in addition to Mitchell, just to name a few.
It was the classic boom-or-bust scenario. Nothing less than an NCAA bid was going to make people happy. Nothing went right in a 12-20 finish.
UNT improved this year, finishing 16-16. But at this point one has to wonder if what UNT built during that historic run (and, yes, it was historic. UNT has three NCAA bids ever. Two came in that run) is becoming nothing but a memory.
UNT’s home attendance this season was 2,373.
UNT drew 3,552 in the 2010-11 season and 3,518 last year in Mitchell’s final college season, even though UNT struggled most of the way.
The Mean Green’s home attendance was 2,716 the last time UNT went to the NCAA tourney in 2010.
There is no way to argue that attendance and interest didn’t diminish at least a little. UTEP brought nearly as many fans as UNT for a regular season game this year.
There were times when UNT’s student section — better known as the Pit Crew — would fill a pretty sizable section of the Super Pit.
Here’s a throwback video to when UNT’s students rushed the floor following a win over Texas Tech a couple of years ago:
The Pit Crew diminished to less than a section of students several times last year. There were times I would walk by before tipoff and see just a few students there.
There was not only a lot of interest in the program not all that long ago, there was also a lot of momentum on the recruiting front. UNT landed some standout players like Jordan Williams (Top 150 nationally), Josh White (one of the best in Louisiana), Tristan Thompson (big-time mid-major prospect) in addition to Mitchell.
UNT is still bringing in some pretty good players. Greg Wesley and Jeremy Combs were great gets. But I don’t think there is any question that UNT needs to start winning again to continue bringing in the types of players it is going to take to compete in Conference USA.
UNT needs a point guard to back up Chris Jones next year now that Alzee Williams has finished up.
Getting back on track is a goal UNT can reach. Benford talked after UNT’s loss to Tulane in the C-USA tournament that UNT knows what it needs to do and what kind of players it needs to recruit to be competitive.
UNT has a huge senior class of seven players next year. There was only one scholarship freshman (Wesley, and he didn’t play) and one sophomore in Maurice Aniefiok on the roster last year.
That leaves UNT with a lot of rebuilding to do coming off 12-20 and 16-16 in a league that has some programs seemingly on the rise in Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss.
Now, UNT did show signs of putting it together this year. A win over Texas A&M was huge as was a four-game C-USA winning streak late in the year.
UNT needs a whole lot more wins like its victory over the Aggies and a whole lot more success in conference play after a 6-10 finish to get back to where it was a few years ago.
UNT could get it done. The question of whether or not it does, comes in at No. 3 on our list:
Here’s our list so far:
1. Can the UNT men improve in the post?
2. Did the UNT women improve more than we realize?
3. Can the UNT men recover lost momentum?