Another bowl puzzle piece falls into play — Western Michigan wins

Western Michigan players celebrate a sack by defensive lineman Eric Assoua (33) during a win over Ohio in the MAC championship game on Friday. (Associated Press/Carlos Osorio)

Western Michigan players celebrate a sack by defensive lineman Eric Assoua (33) during a win over Ohio in the MAC championship game on Friday. (Associated Press/Carlos Osorio)

North Texas is waiting to find out where it is headed in bowl season, and that means scoreboard watching.

ESPN reported that UNT will likely land in the Heart of Dallas Bowl again and will face either Army or Western Michigan. UNT beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season, its lone bowl appearance since 2004.

If Navy is the highest ranked Group of 5 team, UNT will face Western Michigan. If Western Michigan is the highest ranked team, UNT will get face Army, according to the report.

UNT pulled off a surprising win over Army in West Point earlier in the season.

Western Michigan beat Ohio in the MAC title game tonight and finished the regular season unbeaten. Navy plays Temple at 11 a.m. and ends its season at Army on Dec. 10.

There is still a lot that has to play out.

Stay tuned.

Chalk talk — UTA at UNT

North Texas guard Ja'Michael Brown drives to the basket as Texas College guard Nathaniel Francis defends. UNT beat Texas to run its winning streak to three games heading into Saturday's game against UTA at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

North Texas guard Ja’Michael Brown drives to the basket as Texas College guard Nathaniel Francis defends. UNT beat Texas College to run its winning streak to three games heading into Saturday’s game against UTA at the Super Pit. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

UTA at North Texas

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Super Pit, Denton

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 4-3, UTA 5-3

Last game: UNT 73, Texas College 45; UTA 72, Texas 61

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese missed the first half of UNT’s win over Texas College so that he could take a final. He hit the floor in the second half, when he handed out three assists. Reese didn’t score, dropping his scoring average to 8.2 points per game.

SG: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson endured a tough shooting night in UNT’s win over Texas College. The freshman hit just one of his five shots and finished with two points. He handed out three assists and grabbed five rebounds. Lawson is averaging 9.4 points per game.

SF: Deckie Johnson, 6-4, Sr. — Johnson scored 19 points and hit three of his six shots from 3-point range against Texas College. The senior is averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game and also ranks second on the team with 17 assists.

F: Jeremy Combs, 6-7, Jr. — Combs could return to UNT’s lineup for its game against UTA after sitting out four games to recover from offseason ankle surgery. Combs is averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, despite playing at less than 100 percent.

C: Rickey Brice 7-1, So. — Brice posted a double-double that included 15 points and 10 rebounds in UNT’s win over Texas College. The sophomore is averaging 7.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Scouting UTA: UTA is on a roll. The Mavericks have won four straight and knocked off Texas 72-61 in their last outing. UTA is led by the inside-outside duo of Jalen Jones and Kevin Hervey. Jones, a 6-2 guard, is averaging 13.8 points per game. Hervey, a 6-9 forward, is one of the better front court players the Mean Green will face this season. He is averaging 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

What you need to know: UNT has fattened up on a host of cupcakes around the holidays to get to 4-3, beating Division III Sul Ross State and NAIA Texas College in addition to Niagara (1-5) and Hartford (1-7).

The level of competition will rise substantially on Saturday, when the Mean Green host UTA. The Mavericks finished with a 24-11 record last season and appear to be on their way to another successful year.

UTA has won three straight against UNT in the series and cruised by the Mean Green in both meetings in Tony Benford’s tenure. The Mavericks dropped UNT 72-59 at the Super Pit in the 2012-13 season and rolled to a 90-67 win in the 2014-15 campaign.

The Mean Green’s hopes to break through could rest with the health of Combs.

UNT shelved its top player for its last four games in the hope that he would be at full strength for the key games later in the year. UNT hasn’t said for sure if Combs will be back tomorrow, but it’s a possibility.

It makes sense with games against UTA and Sam Houston State coming up and Conference USA play right around the corner. Putting Combs back in the lineup will help UNT substantially, especially if he is anywhere close to full strength.

Thursday night notes (Scott, Holden honored, bowl tidbits)

We are quickly working our way toward North Texas’ first bowl berth since 2013.

The Denton Record-Chronicle will have a special section on the game again this year, a project that has kept me busy and off the blog as much as I normally am.

Hence, a few items have stacked up in the last day or so. Here goes …

– I have said all along that UNT will have to sit tight to see where it heads in bowl season as a five-win team getting in on its APR score.

What has been interesting is seeing some other dominoes fall. Old Dominion is headed to the Bahamas. The Honolulu Star Advertiser has a story out today that says there is a good chance Middle Tennessee ends up in Hawaii.

I have a hard time seeing how UNT doesn’t end up in Dallas or Fort Worth for its bowl game. The one selling point UNT has is that it should travel if it lands in DFW.

– UNT has announced that bowl tickets will go on sale on Sunday once the Mean Green know where they are headed.

– And speaking of good news, Fred Scott has been named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team. Scott is as good of a guy as he is a player. It’s always nice to see good things happen to good people.

– Rachel Holden of the UNT women’s soccer team also picked up some hardware at the end of her career. She has been named third team all-region.

– I have had several people ask about if there is a chance that Terian Goree and Willie Robinson could be back at UNT next year after being suspended for the season. I would not rule out the possibility of Goree returning. His status is something that will likely be decided during the offseason.

Hoops rewind: UNT 73, Texas College 45

North Texas guard Deckie Johnson goes in for a layup against Texas College on Wednesday at the Super Pit. Johnson led UNT with 19 points in a 73-45 victory (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

North Texas guard Deckie Johnson goes in for a layup against Texas College on Wednesday at the Super Pit. Johnson led UNT with 19 points in a 73-45 victory (Denton Record-Chronicle/Tomas Gonzalez)

Final: North Texas 73, Texas College 45

Where UNT stands: UNT moved over the .500 mark at 4-3 after winning its third straight game.

Now what?: The Mean Green will see the level of competition it is facing take a significant jump when they host rival UTA on Saturday.

Brice

Brice

Star of the day: Rickey Brice Jr. posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds and helped fill the void left by the absence of Jeremy Combs. Brice hit four of his nine shots from the field and seven of his nine free throws. He gave UNT a presence inside without star forward Jeremy Combs, who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Combs  is expected to return for UNT’s game against UTA on Saturday.

Say what?:

“There is no doubt it gets tougher from here. That is how we put the schedule together.”

– Tony Benford, UNT head coach

Our take: UNT took care of business in its annual Denton ISD game, hammering Texas College, an NAIA opponent.

UNT has won three straight and inched over the .500 mark heading into a tougher portion of its schedule, beginning with a game against UTA on Saturday. The Mavericks have won four straight and knocked off Texas in its last outing.

The Mean Green needed to pick up some momentum heading into that game. UNT reached that goal with a solid all-around performance. Deckie Johnson led UNT with 19 points and Shane Temara added 14.

The question for UNT now is if it can build on that performance against a higher level of competition.

Here is a link to the full story in today’s paper.

 

 

UNT-SMU women’s hoops running blog

The North Texas women are taking on SMU here at Moody Coliseum. I made the quick trip down after covering the UNT men’s win over Texas College.

UNT is up 8-7 in early going.

I wrote an advance on this game and the showdown between UNT coach Jalie Mitchell and her old colleague at Texas Travis Mays.

Stay tuned.

End of first quarter — UNT was down by six, but scored the last five points of the first quarter and has pulled to within 15-14 at the end of the first quarter. Terriell Bradley has seven points for UNT.

3:48 — UNT is down 26-20 late in the first half. SMU is in the midst of a 7-0 run. Terriell Bradley has 10 points to lead UNT. SMU is running an active zone that UNT is having problems cracking. SMU is shooting 50 percent from the floor.

Halftime — We have reached halftime with SMU leading UNT 32-27. Terriell Bradley has kept UNT in this and has 12 points to lead all scorers. UNT has an 18-16 edge in rebounds, but has been outscored 18-6 in the paint. Alicia Froling has 11 points for SMU. The Mustangs are shooting 50 percent (12 of 24) from the floor.

4:57 — UNT is on a 7-2 run and has pulled within 39-35 in the third quarter. Candice Adams hit a key 3 and Terriell Bradley has 13. The pair has helped UNT get back in this a bit.

Start of the fourth quarter — UNT is down 45-41 heading into the fourth quarter. SMU scored six straight on Alicia Froling free throws before Terriell Bradley scored the final points of the quarter for UNT. Bradley has 15 points for the Mean Green. Froling has 19 for SMU.

7:08 fourth quarter — SMU is on an 8-0 run to open the final quarter and is up 53-41. Terriell Bradley has 15 for UNT. SMU leads UNT 30-14 when it comes to points in the paint. Alicia Froling has 19 points for the Mean Green.

4:44 — SMU extended its run to 10-0 to open the fourth quarter and is now up 57-43. Alicia Froling is still giving UNT fits and has 21 points. Terriell Bradley has 15 for UNT. Candice Adams has nine. SMU has outscored UNT 13-7 at the line.

Final — UNT falls to rival SMU 65-51.

UNT-Texas College running blog

North Texas will take on Texas College in the Mean Green in the annual DISD game today at the Super Pit.

UNT is 3-3 and should roll today.

Texas College is an NAIA team that is 1-5 on the season.

In an interesting side note, J-Mychal Reese has a test that his professor wouldn’t let him out of. He should be here by halftime.

15:55 — UNT is up 8-5 at the first media timeout of the first half. Derail Green and Rickey Brice Jr. both have four points for UNT.

11:55 — UNT is up 13-7 at the second media timeout. Neither team is doing much offensively. The Mean Green are taking advantage of their size advantage inside.

10:42 — Texas College has pulled within 15-12. UNT just took a timeout after not being able to get the ball in.

7:09 — UNT is in a barn-burner here at the Super Pit. Texas College was up until Deckie Johnson hit a runner in the lane to put UNT up 17-16. Texas College is 6-for-32 from the field and is still down just one. Derail Green has six points for UNT.

3:44 — Derail Green and Deckie Johnson hit back-to-back 3s to get UNT going. The Mean Green are up 25-19. Derail Green had nine points for UNT.

Halftime — UNT is up 31-23 on Texas College at halftime of a surprisingly close game here at the Super Pit. Texas College is an NAIA team. UNT was without J-Mychal Reese, who couldn’t get out of a test to play in the first half of this game. UNT takes that whole class thing pretty seriously, which is why the Mean Green are going to play in a bowl game this year. Derail Green and Deckie Johnson both had nine points in the first half.

14:59 — UNT is up 39-27 on Texas College. The Mean Green’s lead was down to nine before Ja’Michael Brown hit a 3.

11:58 — UNT continues to hang on to a double-digit lead. The Mean Green are up 44-31 behind 23 from Rickey Brice Jr. No one else is in double figures for UNT.

10:16 — UNT is up 49-35. Texas College keeps hanging around and just called a timeout after scoring. Rickey Brice Jr. has 13 points for UNT.

3:56 — Checked out there for a minute to handle something real quick. We are at the final media timeout. UNT is up 63-36 and is cruising to the finish. Deckie Johnson has 19 and Rickey Brice Jr. has a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Final — UNT 73, Texas College 45.

Chalk talk: Texas College at UNT

North Texas guard J-Mychal Reese will lead the Mean Green on Tuesday when they face Texas College (DRC file photo)

North Texas guard J-Mychal Reese will lead the Mean Green on Tuesday when they face Texas College (DRC file photo)

Texas College at North Texas

When: 11:30 a.m., Wednesday

Where: Super Pit, Denton

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 3-3, Texas College 1-5

Last game: UNT 81, Hartford 78; Dillard 83, Texas College 74

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: J-Mychal Reese, 6-2, Sr. — Reese has come on after battling a hamstring injury early in the season. He scored 10 points and handed out six assists in a win over Hartford and went off for 20 in a win over Niagara in UNT’s previous game. Reese is averaging 9.8 points per game.

SG: A.J. Lawson, 6-5, Fr. — Lawson made his first start in UNT’s win over Hartford and scored 17 points. He has scored in double figures in consecutive games and is averaging 10.7 points a game.

SF: Deckie Johnson, 6-4, Sr. — Johnson has scored in double figures in three straight and in five of six games this season. He finished with 15 points against Hartford and is averaging 14.2 points per game. He is shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range.

F: Shane Temara, 6-9, Jr. — Temara scored 10 points in UNT’s win over Hartford and has scored in double figures in two of the Mean Green’s last three games. He is 7-of-18 from 3-point range and is averaging 6.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

C: Rickey Brice 7-1, So. — Brice has started UNT’s last three games and is averaging 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He gives UNT a presence inside on both ends of the floor.

Scouting Texas College:

UNT typically brings in an opponent it won’t have a whole lot of problems with for its annual Denton ISD game and selected a Texas College team that is 1-5. Nathaniel Francis is averaging 18.8 points a game to lead Texas College, which competes at the NAIA level.

What you need to know:

UNT appears to be finding its form over its last two game while playing without Jeremy Combs. The Mean Green have won two straight. Baring complete catastrophe, UNT will make it three in a row.

A.J. Lawson continues to come on. The freshman gives UNT another scorer in its lineup.

J-Mychal Reese is also rounding into form, giving UNT an effective backcourt trio that also includes Deckie Johnson.

UNT’s schedule will become tougher following Tuesday’s game. UTA, Sam Houston State and San Diego are on the slate in final five games before the Mean Green open Conference USA play.

UNT coach Tony Benford keeps emphasizing how important it is for the Mean Green to continue to improve before beginning league play.

A game against Texas College offers that opportunity.

Tuesday afternoon notes (McDaniel done for the year)

McDaniel

McDaniel

With the North Texas football team waiting on its bowl berth, we haven’t talked a whole lot about what it is going on in basketball on the blog.

One really important tidbit I haven’t gotten to until today is the status of UNT women’s basketball player Stabresa McDaniel.

The Minnesota transfer went down with a knee injury in the Mean Green’s exhibition game against TWU.

At the time, it looked like McDaniel was going to be OK.

UNT coach Jalie Mitchell confirmed today that McDaniel has a torn ACL in her left knee and is done for the season. Losing McDaniel is a tough blow for the Mean Green, which has regrouped and won its last two games heading into a showdown with SMU in Dallas tomorrow.

I will delve more into that game and the interesting connection between Mitchell and new SMU coach Travis Mays in the paper tomorrow.

What we learned from UNT’s loss to UTEP, bowl madness

Littrell

Littrell

It’s Monday afternoon and time for this week’s edition of What We Learned, our regularly scheduled look back at what transpired in North Texas’ last game and what it means moving forward.

UNT had a chance to become bowl-eligible with six wins by knocking off UTEP on the road in its regular season finale, but ended up playing one of its worst games of the year in a 52-24 loss.

The Mean Green couldn’t contain running back Aaron Jones, who rushed for 301 yards and four touchdowns.

The good news is that UNT still appears to be a lock for a bowl game based on its score on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report. Pretty much every projection out there has UNT in a bowl game.

I’ve looked at it and asked people who have done the same and it doesn’t look like there is any way the Mean Green are left out.

That’s huge news for a program that has played in just one bowl game since 2004, especially when one considers this is Seth Littrell’s first season as the Mean Green’s head coach.

It’s a subject we covered in our weekly Monday column. 

The one lingering question we didn’t cover in that column or on the blog yet is what the heck happened to UNT on Saturday.

A couple of thoughts here:

First off, one has to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions, combined with having only 68 scholarship players to start the year, finally caught up to UNT.

The list of the players UNT was without was long and distinguished and included Mason Fine, Terian Goree, Andrew Tucker and Anthony Wyche. Jeffery Wilson played at less than 100 percent.

UNT also ran into a buzz saw in Jones, who might have been playing his last game for the Miners. There is a chance he could declare for the NFL draft.

Jones is really good. He wanted to go out on a high note, and he’s a terrible matchup for UNT. UTEP is a ground-and-pound team that ground and pounded UNT into submission.

And in other news and notes …

– Calvin Minor has been playing really well late in the season and finished with eight tackles. He started in UNT’s loss to UTEP.

– One overlooked shuffle on UNT’s offensive line was Chris Miles starting again at right guard.

 

A look at UNT’s bowl situation

North Texas and head coach Seth Littrell are expected to receive a bowl bid in the next few days after finishing 5-7 in the regular season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas and head coach Seth Littrell are expected to receive a bowl bid in the next few days after finishing 5-7 in the regular season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Jeff Woo)

North Texas has wrapped up its regular season slate after falling at UTEP on Saturday night and finished 5-7.

The key question now is what the Mean Green’s prospects are in terms of a bowl. I wrote about UNT’s chances to get into a bowl as a five-win team a few weeks ago.

That is exactly where UNT landed.

It looked like UNT had a good chance to get in as a five-win team even back then. As of tonight, it looks like a lock.

I say looks like because I am not going to say it’s a 100 percent certainty until the bowl bid is in UNT’s hands. That should take place sometime in the next week.

I have looked at it every which way and can’t see any way UNT doesn’t get into the postseason. No one I have talked to sees a way it doesn’t work out for the Mean Green, either.

So the question becomes where does UNT end up? There are a ton of projections out there.

That’s exactly what they are — educated guesses. The bowl season can be complicated with bowls trading around teams to get more favorable matchups and keep teams closer to home in the hope that their fans will travel.

There is no telling where UNT ends up at this point, but let’s look at the facts, starting with where things stand in Conference USA. The league has  six primary bowl tie-ins and a secondary agreement with the Independence Bowl. Here’s the lineup …

Bowl Date Tie-ins
New Orleans Bowl Dec. 17 C-USA vs. Sun Belt
New Mexico Bowl Dec. 17 C-USA vs. Mountain West
Boca Raton Bowl Dec. 20 C-USA vs. Mid-American
Bahamas Bowl Dec. 23 C-USA vs. American or MAC
Hawaii Bowl Dec. 24 C-USA vs. Mountain West
Independence Bowl* Dec. 26 C-USA vs. ACC or SEC
Heart of Dallas Bowl Dec. 27 C-USA vs. Big Ten
* Secondary agreement if the ACC or SEC cannot fill their slots

At this point there are six bowl-eligible teams in C-USA: Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, UT-San Antonio and Southern Miss.

Those teams will likely fill C-USA’s six primary bowl tie-ins.

A couple of key points here …

– While C-USA appears poised to fill all of its primary bowl tie-ins, there will be leagues that won’t fill all of their slots. UNT will be in play for those games.

– The one problem UNT could face in this whole scenario is that UNT does not draw well when compared to some of the other teams that are likely bowl bound as five-win teams. Mississippi State also finished 5-7 and would be a whole lot more attractive than UNT.

– UNT should find out where it is headed some time in the next few days. Stay tuned.