UTEP Scouting Report: Defending C-USA Champs North Texas
For the North Texas men's basketball team, the 2020-21 season has been a challenge. The defending Conference USA Champs are just 5-5 after 10 games, and they split with UTSA last weekend in San Antonio. They also had their C-USA opener against UAB postponed due to a positive COVID test within the Blazers program.
The Miners will be by far, the toughest opponent that North Texas has hosted all season, but the Mean Green have one of the best home records in all of C-USA. They have won 14 of their last 15 home games, and they are 43-13 at The Super Pit under 4th year head coach Grant McCasland. Interestingly enough, UTEP head coach Rodney Terry was an assistant at Baylor from 1996-1998 when McCasland played for the Bears as a sophomore and junior. He is the only former player to become head coach and face Terry.
The team features the reigning C-USA Player of the Year in redshirt senior Javion Hamlet. The 6-4 guard averaged just nine field goal attempts through his first seven games this season, but that total has jumped to 14 attempts per game since the start of league play. He comes into the series with the Miners averaging 13.2 points and 5.8 assists per game. "I think you just have to do a good job of trying to contain him," UTEP head coach Rodney Terry said during his media call this morning. "You're not going to stop him. I think he's really one of their most competitive guys. Guys like him you label as winners because they are going to make winning plays."
Hamlet will be joined in the backcourt by 6-2 junior Mardrez McBride (8.5 ppg) and 6-4 senior James Reese (10.3 ppg). Hamlet and Reese are the only two players on the team who are averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Meanwhile, McBride spent two years playing point guard at junior college, but his role has changed to off ball at UNT with Hamlet running the point. He is also a three-point threat, and he has attempted 38 from downtown in 10 games with the Mean Green.
Up front, North Texas is led by 6-10 senior Zachary Simmons (10.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg). Simmons has been the team's iron man, having made 38 consecutive league starts over his career and 52 total starts in C-USA, the most in program history. 6-6 small forward Thomas Bell is also contributing both in scoring and rebounding (9.7 ppg and 6.1 rpg). Last season, Bell led UNT in rebounding without starting a single game. He also averages a pair of blocks per game.
Offensively, the Mean Green are playing with a little more tempo than they had the previous two seasons, but they still play with a slow pace. They average 17.4 seconds per possession, which is the 215th longest in college basketball. UNT will shoot plenty of threes, but they also drive and attack the basket. If UTEP can hold them to under 70 points, the Miners will have a great chance to win. North Texas is just 15-25 when they score under 70 points, but they are 41-7 when they score 70 or more points and 12-1 when they top 90 or more under Coach McCasland.
Defensively, the Mean Green have held their last six opponents to an average of 12.1 points below their scoring average. They will mostly play man-to-man, and they like to run in transition when given an opportunity. Here is the UNT highlight reel from their series last weekend against UTSA.
Both games Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso with the Voice of the Miners, Jon Teicher. The games will also be televised on Stadium and can be seen locally on Channel 4.2 or on Spectrum Cable Channel 1215. Direct TV and Dish Network subscribers will not be able to watch the games, so go buy some rabbit ears for $10 and enjoy the over the air HD quality.