FRISCO — The North Texas women’s basketball team has spent the first few weeks of preseason practice learning more about how a host of new players will fit into the overall picture of a rebuilt team.
A scrimmage on Sunday could provide even more clarity for the Mean Green and head coach Jalie Mitchell. UNT will face TCU in a closed workout that will represent the Mean Green’s first action against another team.
UNT played a scrimmage against a squad of male students they face on a regular basis last week.
A game against the Frogs will be another matter entirely.
“The lights still haven’t come on,” Mitchell said on Monday at Conference USA basketball media day at The Star. “You never know how people will respond. We will know a lot more after Sunday. This week is big for us.”
UNT is coming off a breakthrough season that included a run to the final of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. UNT won three games in the event before falling to Appalachian State in the title game.
The Mean Green had not won a postseason game beyond a conference tournament before catching fire in the WBI. UNT finished 18-16, their second straight winning season, in addition to winning seven conference games.
UNT had not won more than six C-USA games in its previous five years in the league.
The question for UNT is if it can continue that upswing without Terriell Bradley, who finished her career as the third-leading scorer in program history with 1,467 points.
UNT returns Anisha George, a senior post player who ranked second on the team with an average of 10.2 points per game.
“Without Terriell, we don’t have a go-to player established outside of Anisha,” Mitchell said.
UNT will look for one this weekend when it faces TCU.
The Mean Green have several veterans and newcomers vying for playing time and the chance to help fill the void left by Bradley.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be just one player,” Mitchell said. “I hope it will be more than one.”
C-USA preparing for another year of bonus play
C-USA experimented a bit last season, when the league instituted a bonus play format in men’s basketball.
The change that had the league divide its teams into three pods based on the league standings following the first seven weeks of conference play. The teams played within their respective pods for the final four games of the league season.
C-USA hoped using the format would boost the schedule strength of its top teams, improve the seed of the league’s representative in the NCAA tournament and bolster the conference’s chances of having multiple teams selected for the NCAA tournament.
Those hopes went unanswered when Old Dominion won the C-USA tournament and was the league’s lone NCAA tournament representative. The Monarchs were a No. 14 seed and fell to No. 3 Purdue 61-48.
UNT announced in the weeks after the game that it would use the bonus play format again this season.
“It didn’t particularly help us,” Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones said. “There are added expense and logistical concerns. It didn’t do what everyone hoped, but to make a judgment on it in one year would have been a mistake.
“We will get more information this year that will help it shake out.”
A host of C-USA coaches are in favor of that approach.
“No thought this was going to be a cure-all,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said. “If certain things line up, it would give the top teams a chance to play a couple of more quality opponents. If they won those games, it would strengthen their position.”
UNT coach Grant McCasland was in favor of the scheduling format when C-USA first unveiled it, largely because it provided a set format for the final four games of the season. C-USA has 14 teams that play 18 games, including two against their travel partner.
The bonus play format provides a way to determine that matchups for the final four games of the season.
UNT was hurt more by the format than just about any team in the league after it fell out of the top pod late last season.
“I like the clarity of knowing why you play the teams you play in the last four,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “Before there was no clear way to determine who you play.
“You control your own destiny.”
C-USA women looking for NCAA tourney breakthrough
The Rice women came oh so close to breaking through in the NCAA tournament last season before falling to Marquette 58-54 in overtime in an opening round game.
That loss left C-USA still looking for its first NCAA tournament win with its current lineup of teams. The league’s last win came in 2008, when UTEP beat Western Kentucky.
WKU has since joined C-USA.
“The league has a history of playing really well in nonconference against teams that go on to the NCAA tournament,” Rice coach Tina Langley said. “We are building toward becoming a conference that can compete.
“If we can get a team a little deeper into the NCAA tournament, it would bring a lot of attention.”
Middle Tennessee Rick Insell knows exactly what an NCAA tournament win would mean for the league. He guided the Lady Raiders to a win over Gonzaga in the opening round in 2007, when MTSU was a member of the Sun Belt.
“It’s important for the credibility of the league,” Insell said. “We have several teams in our conference that could win a game in the NCAA tournament and five or six teams that would do well in any conference. They might not be able to win the SEC or ACC, but there are teams in those conference they can play with.”
An NCAA win can make a world of difference for a program.
“You recruit to it when you win an NCAA tournament game,” Insell said. “It gives your players confidence.”