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Preview: #4/#5 Texas vs. North Texas

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The pride of the 40 Acres looks to stay unbeaten tonight at the Erwin Center. The #4/#5 Texas Longhorns (6-0) take on the North Texas Mean Green (5-1) at 7 PM. The game will be televised in Texas on Fox Sports Net (Houston & Dallas viewers) and carried on KVET 98.1 FM and the Zone 1300 AM. The name North Texas won’t strike fear in the average college basketball fan, but the Mean Green are an above average ball club.

North Texas returns three starters from a 23-11 team that won the Sun Belt tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament a year ago. Even with the loss of their two best guards, this year’s team should challenge for the Sun Belt West divisional title. The Mean Green are off to a very good start this season. While their record is just 3-1 against Division I opponents, two of those wins are worth mentioning. UNT knocked off Oklahoma State, 82-73, in Denton in mid-November and overcame a 21 point deficit last Saturday to defeat New Mexico State, 75-72, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Their only loss came at UT-Arlington two week ago.

Ken Pomeroy
The Mean Green are currently ranked #19 in the RPI and #62 by Ken Pomeroy’s rating system. Pomeroy’s Scouting Report on UNT shows a below average offensive club but a strong defensive one. UNT has struggled shooting the basketball this season, especially from behind the arc (27.8%), and is turning the ball over on nearly one quarter of their offensive possessions. Their defense has been considerably better, though. While they don’t create turnovers at a high rate, the Mean Green are doing an excellent job limiting offensive rebounds and second chance points and rank in the top ten in the country at defending the three-pointer.

UNT is led by senior guard Ben Bell, 6-3 170, and freshman guard Josh White, 5-10 167. Bell is a steady point guard who is averaging nearly four assists per game and is also a solid rebounder for a guard. White was a highly rated high schooler in Louisiana at this time last year and has adjusted quickly to the college game. He leads the team in minutes at 30 min/gm and in scoring at 16.2 ppg. Collin Dennis is a 6-2 scoring guard who is making the most of his playing time. He only averages 18 minutes per contest but is scoring 14.8 ppg. Dennis went off for 21 points in just 16 minutes against New Mexico State. I have no idea why he isn’t receiving more minutes. The UNT frontcourt is anchored by 6-8 Quincy Williams. Senior Williams leads the team in rebounds at 7.7 per game.

Keys to the Game:
(1) Get AJ Back Involved: Abrams scored just 10 points in the Horns’ last home game missing many open looks.  He also struggled in Los Angeles scoring just seven points as he was effectively taken out of the game by the bigger UCLA guards. Thankfully the Horns have other perimeter scorers but this team is much more deadly when AJ is hot. As mentioned above, UNT has defended the three-pointer well this season, so, AJ is definitely the Horn to watch tonight.

(2) Motion Offense: If there was one negative in the UCLA victory, it was the increasing reliance on the penetration of DJ Augustin to create offense. Rick Barnes’s clubs are never going to run a Bobby Knight motion offense. I get it and that is not what I’m asking. However, I would like to see more than Abrams running the baseline or high screen and rolls with Connor Atchley and DJ. Barnes has said that this team will be really good in March when the younger post players catch up to the more talented and more experienced guards. Well, games like this one and many of the others in December should be opportunities to feed the post and develop the confidence of Clint Chapman, Dexter Pittman, Alexis Wangmene and even Justin Mason.

Tonight should be a good test for the Horns. The Mean Green are far from world beaters but they could give the Longhorns a scare if they don’t come out focused. Head to the Drum tonight and catch the college basketball team with the two best early season wins in the nation and one that is coming off the best regular season win in the program’s history. It would be great to see the Erwin Center rocking, but I’ll settle for 8k.

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