...but not far from it. If you would have told me prior to the start of the season that the UT Arlington Mavericks mens basketball team would have started the season 1-3, I wouldn't have been overly concerned. While the opponents aren't fantastic, they aren't pushovers either.
Texas Southern is a contender within the Southwest Athletic Conference only. Minnesota is likely to finish in the top half of the Big 10 at best. Florida Gulf Coast is a good team that is about where UTA is trying to go and Arkansas is similar to Minnesota but in the weaker Southeastern Conference. What has given me some major concern and dejection is what I have witnessed in all four games. Let's look at the following.
1) They have held a halftime lead in every game. Hard to think of an
instance in where a team that is 4-0 at halftime is ultimately 1-3 when it matters.
Against Texas Southern, UTA was up by double digits, before entering
halftime at seven. UTA again pushed the lead to double digits before the
Tigers tied it. UTA managed to find enough in front of a home crowd
versus a team that won't finish in the top half in all of DI to get a win. I was concerned at the time, but brushed it off as early season jitters and rust.
Against Minnesota, UTA trailed early, clawed to a six point lead several times, including at the break, and then watched the Gophers use a 22-1 run to blow the game out of the water.
UTA found itself up by as much as 16 against Florida Gulf Coast, go to the locker room up by 13, and promptly get their behinds kicked as FGCU won by 13..
Another strong first half against Arkansas saw the Mavs get a lead early, push it to as much as 17 points in the first half, went into the half up 11 and promptly gave up the lead in the second half. UTA did manage to tie the score a couple of times late, but couldn't get it done en route to their third loss in four games.
2) The way they have given up those leads is very, very concerning. It looks to me like they didn't care. I could see the first game, buying into the hype that they are good and being surprised when a team punches them in the mouth.
The second game, they came out on fire and my thought was how they lost on Monday lit a fire under them. Then they do the same stuff in the second half, turn the ball over, miss shots, play weak defense, and I was shocked. FGCU, a good school, is not a great school. And then to do the EXACT SAME THING against Arkansas. I'll give them some small credit for batting back to a tie a couple of times, but I will not do what the headline on UTAMAVS.com and call the team resilient for staying in the game. If they were truly resilient, they would not sit there and let Arkansas just dominate them on both sides of the court. They finally responded after an 11-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit, but an 18-point swing at the half can not be considered resilient.
3) They have the worst record in the Sun Belt Conference. Out of 12 teams
in the conference, UTA is tied for 11th with Coastal Carolina at 1-3.
Granted, most of those teams have played a non-NCAA-Division-I team and
yes, the records don't mean anything since it is non-conference with
uncommon opponents, but I never thought UTA would ever be at the bottom
4) The team looks like an anti-team. What made last year's team so good was how well everyone played well together. Yes, Kevin Hervey was a big part in the non-conference success last year, but everyone contributed and players were making plays when they weren't holding or near the ball. They were rebounding, finding the right guy and being in the right place. That just isn't happening so far.
They have been outrebounded in all three losses and right now, opponents are winning the total battle, 148-140. Far cry from last year's team that was an NCAA leader in rebounding.
With the vast majority of players back from a team that garnered national attention last year, the only thing I can think of is this team just lacks heart. It seems to me that the players are sitting around waiting for someone else to make a play. I lost count of consecutive possession that ended in a turnover in one of the games, hoping for a play to start a comeback after leading by a large margin. There's hasn't been one player to say I'm fed up with this and I'm not gonna take it anymore. Getting upset after the game in the locker room does nothing. Getting upset on the floor and channeling that into something while the clock is running is what matters.
The biggest big-picture problem I see is just how this poor start is killing the program's support and ascension. The only way this start could have been poorer is if they lost at homecoming in front of a big crowd. Losing like they have has suppressed every bit of momentum gained from their success last year.
There was a chance for an at-large to the NCAA last year. That has all but evaporated with this poor start. If this trend continues, the Sun Belt season will be the same way.