Division I college basketball is about as a diverse group of teams gathered together in one organized grouping when it comes to competitive sports. The sheer number of teams across a wide geographic spectrum of play is the driving force behind this high level of diversity and a spot in the field for the annual NCAA Tournament is the common bond that brings it all together.
Digging deep into the list of a few Mid-Major sleepers that can do more than just show up for this season’s Big Dance, the Conference USA’s North Texas should have a place on this list.
The last time the Mean Green made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament was in 2010 as members of the Sun Belt Conference . Just like their previous trip in 2007 as a No. 15 seed, the stay did not last long in a one-and-done performance as a No. 15 seed that time as well.
North Texas made the move to Conference USA ahead of the 2013-14 season and it has been a struggle to post a winning record, let alone compete for a conference title. That all changed last season when Grant McCasland became the team’s new head coach. The Mean Green went 20-18 to post their first winning record since going 18-14 in the 2011/12 campaign while still playing in the Sun Belt.
North Texas Team Overview
Last year’s campaign ended with a championship run in the CBI Tournament with a 2-1 series victory over San Francisco in the best-of-three championship round. The Mean Green also beat South Dakota, Mercer and Jacksonville State to advance to that tournament’s final round.
Building on the momentum of last year’s success, North Texas reeled off eight-straight victories at the beginning of this season in games its was expected to win as favorites on the closing betting line. While none of those victories would be considered quality wins when it comes to the national power rankings, the Mean Green served notice to the rest of C-USA that they plan to be a major factor in this conference come tournament time in early March.
Winning is contagious and McCasland has done an excellent job at changing the culture at North Texas coming off so many seasons of sub-.500 records. It also helps that his recruiting efforts have dramatically upgraded the depth on the roster.
North Texas Season Outlook
Two of the team’s top attributes are scoring depth and the ability to convert a solid percentage of its three-point shots. Freshman guard Umoja Gibson has made an immediate impact as part of the team’s youth movement. The Waco, Texas native only stands 6-foot-1, 160 lbs. soaking wet, but he has proven to be a very reliable shooter.
Junior guard Ryan Woolridge is part of the veteran depth on this team that could make a huge impact come the month of March. He is a big contributor in team assists and he has also been solid under the boards from the guard position.
Going as many as five deep in double-digit scoring, the Mean Green have also shown the ability to shut teams down on the other end of the court. They could have one of the best defenses in C-USA this season. This will be another key factor in a potential run to a conference tournament title and guaranteed spot in this year’s Big Dance.