UNT men’s basketball open practice live blog

UNT is having a rare open practice for its men’s basketball team today.

I am here, along with five other people not on the UNT payroll to do a little live blogging before tonight’s football game between the Mean Green and Southern Miss.

We are a full service operation here on the MGB.

First off, a couple of quick hitters:

– T.J. Taylor is still out while working on rehab following knee surgery as expected.

– Freshman guard Greg White-Pittman is out with a minor injury and should be back next week.

11:48 — This is nothing new, but UNT continues to be high on JUCO transfer DeAndre Harris. I have been here for just a couple of minutes, but Harris made a pretty nice defensive play to get block a shot in one-on-one drills. The feeling is that Harris will start for this team one way or another. UNT’s lineup all hinges on whether or not J-Mychal Reese gets a waiver from the NCAA and is eligible just one season after leaving Texas A&M. Reese starts at the point if he gets that waiver.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that happens.

We could then see a lineup of Reese, Harris, Jordan Williams, Colin Voss and a forward to be named later.

Things get interesting, depending on whether or not T.J. Taylor is ready to go at the start of the season.

There are a number of guys who could fit into that fourth spot, including Armani Flannigan or JUCO transfer Muhammed Ahmed.

11:57 — Tony Benford emphasized to his team what he has said a few times in the preseason: UNT will have to rebound by committee. UNT doesn’t have a whole lot of size. Jeremy Combs, Armani Flannigan and Muhammed Ahmed all look like carbon copies of each other. Colin Voss has some added beef, but that’s about it. It’s going to be a fight for UNT to hold up down there.

12:04 — UNT is shooting free throws. The Mean Green shot 68 percent from the line last year, but that total was drug down quite a bit by Armani Flannigan, who shot 28.6 percent. The goal is to get that total closer to 75 percent.

12:15 — Rickey Brice, a 7-footer from Dallas, is on campus today for an official visit. Brice is rated No. 23 on TexasHoops.com’s list of the top players in Texas in the Class of 2015. UNT is at a point now where it lacks size inside. It isn’t a big problem most of the time in Conference USA. UTEP is about the only team out there with overwhelming size, but adding a big guy certainly wouldn’t hurt matters with Colin Voss finishing up this year.

12:28 — UNT is working on its defense. That has been a huge point of emphasis under Benford. UNT really struggled in conference play last year. The Mean Green ranked 15th out of the 16 teams in Conference USA with an average of 72.4 points allowed a game in league play.

12:32 — Another key point about Rickey Brice. This is his second visit to campus. He was here earlier in the year on an unofficial visit. It sounds like UNT has a good shot at him.

12:40 — And there we go. Brice just came back in to practice after touring campus. He’s standing next to Colin Voss and looks like he is a couple of inches taller. It’s hard to tell from this far away. It looks like his family is here with him, which makes sense considering this is an official visit.

12:56 — UNT is running through some five-on-zero offensive drills. Everyone does. What is interesting is who is playing together. In green — Reese, Voss, Flannigan, Williams and Aniefiok. That could end up being a starting lineup.

1:05 — It’s pretty obvious that Armani Flannigan has beefed up a little bit in the offseason.

1:15 — UNT is going to scrimmage here for a couple of minutes. It;s the same lineup in green. In white, we have Harris, Eaglin, Ahmed, Ward and Combs.

1:24 — We talked a little over the last few days about how much better UNT’s roster fits what the Mean Green wants to do in terms of getting up and down the floor. UNT’s big guys are clearly better in that regard. Muhammed Ahmed has shown the ability to handle it in the open floor here in this scrimmage.

And we are out.

A couple of key points here about UNT’s game against Southern Miss

Here are a couple of Friday night leftovers …

I checked in for official word, and officially, who will start at quarterback for UNT against Southern Miss tomorrow will be a game-time decision. I still believe that the decision has been made.

Dan McCarney is on record saying that UNT will pick between Dajon Williams, who has started the last three games, and Andrew McNulty. All signs point to McNulty getting the start.

It’s my gut feeling that is what will end up happening.

Another key point that never found its way into anything I have written this week is that Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens made the first start of his career against UNT last season. UNT beat him up a bit in a 55-14 win. The Mean Green posted four sacks and three interceptions. It will be interesting to see how far he has come since then.

MGB video: Tony Benford talks about his team, upcoming season

Here is the video I shot at Conference USA media day with Tony Benford. We talked a little about his team and the upcoming season.

MGB video: UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen talks team, season

Here is a video I shot with Mike Petersen at Conference USA media day in Birmingham. Petersen talks a little about his team and UNT’s upcoming season.

Q&A with Jason Munz of the Hattiesburg American

We are fortunate today to have Jason Munz from the Hattiesburg American with us to talk a little about this weekend’s UNT-Southern Miss game. Both teams are 2-4 on the season and 0-2 in Conference USA play. One can find Jason’s work for the paper on the American’s website, which also contains a link to his Southern Miss blog. Here’s what Jason had to say about Saturday’s game and the Southern miss program.

1. How much better is Southern Miss under second-year head coach Todd Moken this season?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s night and day, but Southern Miss has improved in a number of areas this season. Turnovers aren’t anywhere near as big a problem as they were last year. The offensive line has improved. The run game is better.

2. How much has Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens progressed?

Things are beginning to slow down for Nick. He’s not getting hit as much as last season, so that’s a big part of his development. His TD-to-INT ratio is better. He’s still got work to do. It’s important for people to realize, Nick’s most recent start was just his 12th at Southern Miss — the equivalent of a full season. So he’s still growing as a quarterback, but he’s better than he was as a true freshman.

3. How much better is Southern Miss defensively? UNT hung 55 points on the Golden Eagles last year.

The defense has been up and down this season. It still struggles to get off the field on third down. It’s still giving up too many big plays. The last couple of games, tackling has been an issue. And it has struggled to keep opponents off the scoreboard after the team’s offense scores. But, when its back is against the wall, it has been pretty good. It’s also creating far more turnovers than a year ago.

4. Who are USM’s key playmakers?

On offense, it’s primarily Nick Mullens (QB), George Payne (RB), and Michael Thomas (WR). You could throw Casey Martin (WR) in there as well. On defense, Dasman McCullum (DE) has been very good this season. Brian Anderson (LB) covers a lot of ground, and Jacorius Cotton (S) is the quarterback in the secondary.

5. How do you see this game playing out?

I’m picking Southern Miss to win this one. North Texas seems like it’s reeling right now, while Southern Miss looks to be putting things together slowly but surely. It just feels like these two teams are moving in opposite directions, which I believe will favor Southern Miss.

Dajon Williams talks confidence and a guess as to a starter

McNulty

I caught up with Dajon Williams for a couple of moments on the way to the airport for Conference USA media day this week.

There have been some questions as to the UNT quarterback’s mindset after being benched in during the Mean Green’s loss to UAB last week.

Be sure to check out tomorrow’s story about UNT halfway into its season that is now posted. 

I gave Williams a chance to speak his mind. Here’s a teaser, not a whole lot has changed in terms of how he looks at things.

As far as the quarterback race (Take 3) goes, I’ve heard from a few people who know how things are going at practice.

This is just a gut feeling, but I think there is a very good chance Andrew McNulty starts on Saturday against Southern Miss.

That just seems to be the way this is headed.

McNulty sat behind Derek Thompson and for years and hasn’t really gotten much of a crack at the starting job.

Saturday’s game against the Golden Eagles looks like it could be his opportunity. McNulty played well late in UNT’s loss to UAB after Williams struggled and turned the ball over four times.

There is nothing Dan McCarney detests more than turnovers and the stress they put on a defense.

We could see this weekend if McNulty can drive the bus and handle UNT’s offense.

Pulling Williams in is a bit of a risk. He could lose a little confidence or drive, but UNT is running out of wiggle room if it wants to make a run at six wins.

UNT turning to McNulty would be a heck of a story. He’s started one game at UNT. He’s be carrying the hopes of a team and an entire season on his shoulders after spending pretty much his entire career as an afterthought.

Like I said, just a gut feeling.

Prediction: UNT will right the ship with win over Southern Miss

North Texas quarterback Andrew McNulty throws a pass in a win over SMU at Apogee Stadium earlier this season. McNulty could become the third player to start under center for UNT this season when UNT takes on Southern Miss on Saturday at home. (The Dallas Morning News/Nathan Hunsinger)

Southern Miss at UNT, 6 p.m. Saturday, Apogee Stadium, Denton

Records: North Texas 2-4, 0-2 C-USA; Southern Miss 2-4, 0-2 C-USA

TV: American Sports Network: Ron Thulin (play-by-play), Keith Moreland (analyst), Evan Nemec (sidelines)

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

On the line: UNT’s chances of playing in a second consecutive bowl game have taken a bit of a hit the last couple of weeks when the Mean Green lost consecutive games at Indiana and UAB. UNT fell to 0-2 in Conference USA play last week with its loss to the Blazers, a set back that was particularly costly. UNT’s hopes of making a run at the C-USA West Division title are dim at best now, especially considering one of its losses came against Louisiana Tech, which appears to be the odds-on favorite after jumping out to a 2-0 start in league play. The Bulldogs have the tiebreaker over UNT in addition to a two-game lead. What the Mean Green are hoping now is that they can make a late run at becoming bowl-eligible with six wins, a goal that is still well within the realm of possibility. UAB is in essentially the same position with a 2-4 overall record and an 0-2 mark in league play. The Golden Eagles have a brutal schedule coming up after their game against UNT with games against C-USA division leaders Louisiana Tech and Marshall coming up with a game at UTEP in between. Saturday’s game could be Southern Miss’ best shot for a win for a while.

When North Texas has the ball: The UNT quarterback carousel continued to spin this week with the Mean Green taking a long look in practice at both Dajon Williams and Andrew McNulty. UNT started the year with JUCO transfer Josh Greer as its starter and stuck with him for three games before turning to Williams, a redshirt freshman, for three games. McNulty has played well off the bench this season, but has started one game his entire career, and that was back in 2011. No matter who is under center, UNT will be content to hammer away in the running game, if it has the opportunity. Southern Miss ranks 12th in C-USA with an average of 246.0 rushing yards allowed a game. Antoinne Jimmerson rushed for 104 yards last week in UNT’s loss to UAB and rolled up 83 yards against Indiana in the Mean Green’s previous game.

When Southern Miss has the ball: The Golden Eagles have come on late in the season offensively and had one of their best games in their last outing, a 37-31 loss to Middle Tennessee. The Golden Eagles not only posted a season-high point total, they also rolled up a season-high 537 yards. Nick Mullens threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns for the Golden Eagles in his best game of the year. UNT has struggled in pass defense all year and has given up seven passing touchdowns in its two C-USA games. UNT also didn’t force a turnover in its loss to the Blazers, ending a 21 straight games in which the Mean Green have posted at least one takeaway.The lone turnover UNT forced against Indiana came on special teams.

Prediction: UNT is in an even more dire situation heading into its game against Southern Miss than it was a week ago against UAB. The realistic goal for UNT now is to become bowl-eligible with six wins. The Mean Green face a long road to get there and really need to take the first step this weekend at home, where UNT is typically very tough to beat. There is some question about who will start at quarterback, but no matter who UNT rolls out there, he will spend a lot of time handing the ball off to Jimmerson, who is coming on late in the season, and the rest of the Mean Green’s running backs. UNT will give up some plays in the passing game like it has all season, but will make just enough plays to win.

UNT 27, Southern Miss 24

Quick recruiting tidbit — UNT target named NJCAA POW

Baxter

One of UNT’s problems this season has been a lack of playmakers at wide receiver outside of Carlos Harris, who is having a monster year.

That was one of the reasons UNT jumped into the race for Trinity Valley wide receiver and former SMU commit Jarvis Baxter. We talked to him this summer for our on-going UNT recruiting target series.

I bring it up because Baxter could be on the verge of blowing up.

The former Garland Lakeview Centennial standout was named this week’s NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week after catching 13 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

Baxter has offers from the New Mexico schools in addition to Louisiana-Monroe and Lamar.

There is no telling how high Baxter is on UNT’s board, but he has connections to to the team. I saw him at Friday Night Lights.

Baxter sounds like he would be a good get for UNT, but he could start attracting more attention.

He told me this fall that he wanted to wait until after the season to see if he would get any additional offers.

Stay tuned.

C-USA media day wrap-up thoughts, notes

North Texas men's basketball head coach Tony Benford talks with a member of the media at Conference USA media days in BIrmingham, Ala. , on Wednesday.

Conference USA media days has wrapped up. But before I go to the wrap-up festivities, here are a few thoughts.

There is an aura of confidence when it comes to both the UNT men’s and women’s teams, but both are going to depend on a host of newcomers and players coming off injuries.

Tony Benford sees J-Mychal Reese as a huge difference-maker at point guard and really played up his overall abilities. He is also developing into a leader for the team.

UNT is really hoping the NCAA grants Reese’s waiver request for immediate eligibility, which is a roll of the dice.

Benford also likes his depth of talent at the guard spots with Carrington Ward, DeAndre Harris and several other guys.

The question is if enough of those players come through and if UNT has enough strength inside to hold up.

Benford is high on Armani Flannigan, a JUCO transfer who has yet to become a major contributor. I warned everyone after Tony Mitchell left how iffy a proposition it is to depend on newcomers to contribute in the post.

Those guys tend to play better later in their careers. UNT will have to hope that is case with Flannigan, who averaged 2.4 points a game last season, and Colin Voss, who was actually pretty effective when it comes to a JUCO transfer at 7.3 points a game.

The UNT women were hit hard by the injury bug last season, but should have everyone back. The Mean Green could be pretty good if BreAnna Dawkins, Acheil Tac and especially Candice Adams come through.

UNT didn’t have a great year last year, but wasn’t all that far off considering how many close games they lost in a season nothing seemed to go right. UNT is really hoping JUCO point guard Kasiney Williams comes through.

She will play a lot.

UNT is built better for Mike Petersen’s system. He likes what he has in terms of his team and his newcomers.

The question is if those players can make up for what UNT lost, especially when it comes to the 11 points a game Alexis Hyder provided.

I will have a whole lot more in the paper tomorrow. Check back.

C-USA media days quick-hitters

North Texas men's basketball coach Tony Benford, left, and women's basketball coach Mike Petersen talk during Wednesday's Conference USA basketball media day in Birmingham. (Associated Press)

Conference USA media day took place this afternoon in Birmingham, Ala. I will have a host of material in tomorrow’s DRC and DMN and some video for later in the week, but here are a couple of quick-hitters as far as the news tidbits of the day:

– The UNT men are preparing like Texas A&M transfer J-Mychal Reese will be eligible this year. UNT is still waiting on an appeal that would grant him immediate eligibility at UNT after he played part of last season at A&M before being dismissed.

– T.J. Taylor is on track as far as his rehab goes and should be ready for UNT’s exhibition game on Nov. 14. Taylor had preseason knee surgery.

– All of the members of the UNT women’s team are working out and have been cleared to play. Point guard Candice Adams and shooting guard BreAnna Dawkins are not 100 percent. Acheil Tac and Joh’Vonna Darrington are pretty much at top shape at this point.

– Kasiney Williams has shown signs that she can provide some quality minutes at the point guard spot after transferring in from Baton Rouge Community College and could give UNT a lift at a spot where UNT lost two key players and has another in Adams who is coming back from a knee injury.