Monday, January 20, 2014

That's what rivals are for

UT-Arlington men's and women's basketball teams played one game last week, but if you are going to have a week with one game, pick your rival. The Mavericks traveled to San Marcos to play Texas State and the outcomes for both games were expected, even if how they got there wasn't.

The men played to a 56-48 win over Texas State. Reger Dowell returned to action after missing a couple of weeks, but it was actually the defensive play that set the tone for the Mavericks. In giving up 48 points to the Bobcats, UTA gave up a season low while also scoring a season low. It was also a season low offensive output for TXST. That's very encouraging to see the defense rise to the occasion and win a game, rather than engaging in a shootout. I don't want this to seem like I am proclaiming this the second coming of last years UTA defense, the Bobcats rank 334 in points per game out of 351 DI teams, it sure was nice to see something from them.

Make no mistake, in scoring 56 points, UTA won this game on the defensive end. UTA allowed the Bobcats to shoot 32.1% from the floor and 25% from three-point land. UTA had 30 defensive rebounds and 36 overall. I do have a slight concern with giving up nine offensive rebounds to the 'cats, but that is it for me when critiquing Saturday's defensive performance.

UTA's offense was struggling, hitting only 39% of their shots and 31.6% of their three's. Three players did score in double figures with Dowell leading the way with 16. By the way, he's scored in double figures every game he has played this season.

My big problem still comes from the lack of consistent play. I didn't get to see or hear the game, as I had family obligations, but when I kept checking the status, UTA would build a six-eight point lead, then Texas State would match. UTA still hasn't played 40 solid minutes of basketball against DI competition. If UTA is to beat the upper echelon teams in the Belt, they'll have to figure it out. I don't know that the defense can shoulder the load when a team like Georgia State with their big three comes to College Park Center.

Under normal circumstances, I would say this team lives or dies by the three, but at least for this one game, they only made 6 of 19. I can say they weren't hitting all that well, but still won. That is the power of defense.

Up next for the men is the Alabama twosome, Troy on Thursday, South Alabama on Saturday. Troy comes in with a 2-4 SBC record and is 7-11 overall. They lost at home to Western Kentucky and Georgia State, two of the favorites before the season, then went to Arkansas and beat both UALR and stAte. They dropped homes games this weekend to the two Louisiana schools, Lafayette and Monroe.

So that means...I have no idea what this game will bring. I don't know which UTA or Troy team will show up. Troy nailed 14 of 27 three's in their upset of Arkansas State. They do that against UTA, which has traditionally struggled in defending the three and it will be a long day. However, if it is the team that lost to Central Arkansas, UTA will have it easier. I do know the game will be available on ESPN3, if you can't make it to CPC.

As for South Alabama, they are really struggling with a new coach. 1-5 in SBC play. Losses to Western Kentucky, Georgia State, UALR, stAte and ULM with the lone win against UL-L. That doesn't really tell me a lot. The five losses are to the teams in the top six. UTA has lost to two of those same teams, lost to the one that USA beat and beat a team USA lost to. Of course, in a ten-team conference, what does that mean. Nothing. Augustine Rubit is their star, who is .1 rebounds away from averaging a double-double. Otherwise, USA is an average team.

If UTA is to improve on its 7th place n the SBC standings, these two at home are the best chance in a while as both occupy spots lower than where the Mavs are.

As for the women, I just don't have much to say, another close loss on paper, 68-60, their fourth conference loss by single digits. The game wasn't as close as the score indicated, as the Mavs had to rally to get it to that point. I just don't think experience or depth are there right now.

At 0-5, they reside squarely in the cellar of the SBC. Troy comes in with a 5-12 record and is 1-5 in SBC play. They are in ninth place. South Alabama is one spot ahead of them and sport a 5-11, 3-3 record. Like the men, if the women's team is to make a move in the standings, now is the time. With UTA in clear rebuilding mode, it will be interesting to see how they do.

Friday, January 17, 2014

UNT in the clear

So forget the first half of the previous post. The NCAA is granting a blanket waiver to all of DI who had issues with the DI-transitional schools counting as non-DI games. A large part of it was due to conferences like the Southland and America East who have these transitional members in their ranks.

While I disagree with them taking on these members day one - there used to be a time when these schools would sit in independent status until the transition was over - I can at least see the reason for conferences getting the waiver. But UNT?

Here's a school that had a DI school scheduled, dropped the DI school in favor of a non-DI school, ran afoul of the rules and then gets a waiver for something they did to themselves. On the one hand, the NCAA took criticism for its apparent over-zealousness in looking for rule breakers, now they have done a 180 in the other direction. Ignorance of the rules shouldn't be an excuse to break them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bummer Green, but...

For those that know me, you know what I am trying for with this blog. While I am shooting for some level of professional, journalistic integrity, I make no bones that I am a UTA alum and fan. While I aim for standards that apply when I worked in media, I am still a fan first. With that said,I give you this targeted toward the University of North Texas:

There's a crisis brewing in Denton with their men's basketball team and it has me feeling there is justice in this world. Their basketball team has run afoul of one of the NCAA's myriad and obscure rules (ever tried to read the NCAA guidelines?).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The women's team should pick up horseshoes or hand grenades

As disappointed as I am in the UT Arlington men's basketball team, you'd think I'd be done with the women's squad, who is 1-14 on the year and 0-4 in Sun belt play. Yet I think it is the women's team that has given me some sense of competitiveness.

It also helps that the expectations were low. In the underwhelming Maverick Rambler pre-conference poll, I picked the team to finish last. Yes, that is where they are in the standings, but look closer at the results gives me some hope that new coach Krista Gerlich is on the right course.

In the 14 losses the Mavericks have on their ledger, the average margin of defeat is just under 16 points. While that is a high number, if you exclude the Power 5 Conference schools, a 39-point loss to Oklahoma State and the 53-point loss to Oklahoma, the average margin of defeat is not quite 11. Anytime you can be within 3-4 possessions, the game was close.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The merits of team play

I have a confession to make. I may have drank the Kool-aid of the UTA Men's basketball team. After a tough non-conference slate that saw numerous close losses to progressively better teams, I thought UTA would be a force in Sun Belt play.

That hasn't happened. Last week I was very disappointed in their 0-2 start. This past week, they picked up their first win in conference, 83-79 in OT to Louisiana-Monroe, but are now 1-3 overall, good for 9th place. Remember, they have played 3 games at home to one on the road and only the top eight make the conference tournament.

I think I have finally figured it out. This years team has a lot of talent, but they don't seem to play well as a team. They have good-to-great individual players, but aren't integrating their skills into team play.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vote for the Mavericks

The NCAA is holding what is nothing more than a popularity contest. Basically, anonymous internet users are asked to vote for their favorite team. I found this on the Sun Belt Conferences twitter feed, so I don't know how old it is.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Clunker of a start

I normally try to get my opinion of the previous week's games out by Tuesday. However, the motivation for this one is real low. UT-Arlington men's basketball looked terrible.

I wonder how much of the disappointment is based on expectations versus what happened on the court. At this stage of the UTA basketball's development, I think fans are expecting more winning. The coaching staff is pretty stable. They have a state-of-the-art arena to recruit. While the budget - higher end of the lower half of the Sun Belt Conference -  isn't large, it is enough to compete at our level. While there was some turnover in the roster, as there usually is every year, there isn't a lack of talent on the team. So when they come out of the first week of conference play at 0-2, both at home, it is disappointing. Reflecting what Coach Cross said in the post-game presser after the first loss to Arkansas State, it was embarrassing (more on why in a bit).

On the flip side is the women's team, preseason last place team in the preseason poll, as well as the less prestigious Maverick Rambler poll. They went 0-2, but there is far less disappointment because they competed in both games and could have been 2-0 had a couple bounces gone the right way. For both genders, the SBC Arkansas schools are top half of the conference teams. So a tough performance in both games for the women actually is a bit of a cause for optimism. That just isn't there for the men right now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Basketball conference predictions

If you followed me during the volleyball season, you'll recall I don't like making conference predictions before a game has been played. There are just too many unknowns going into a season that making those kind of prognostications nothing more than talking points. For example, no one in the Sun Belt Conference gave Reger Dowell much consideration, but has been a huge part of the team for the Mavericks. However, I feel that watching games in the non-conference portion does lend some insight into predictions for conference play.

And in the end, for a conference like ours at this point in time, conference play is all that matters. The conference champion is likely the only NCAA Tournament participant. Maybe some teams will get at-larges into other postseason, but only one into the NCAA's.

For the men, the top two seeds get a double bye into the semi-finals of the conference tournament while the next two get a bye into the quarters. The next four teams play in the opening round. That is huge. If you will recall two seasons ago, the Mavs were upset in the semifinals. In this format, McNeese would be playing their third game, had they won two that point, whereas UT-Arlington would have played their first. Would that have meant a win? No guarantees, but it helps the odds.

On the women, the tournament is a standard single-elimination bracket, but eight teams get in, leaving two at home.

For the men, here's how I see the order of finish.