UNT-Kansas advance

North Texas coach Grant McCasland watches his team play during a win over UTA last week at the Super Pit.

When Grant McCasland first arrived at North Texas, the idea of playing in a nationally prominent regular season tournament seemed like a distant goal.

Event organizers don’t invite just anyone to high-profile events.

A whole lot has changed over the last few years. The payoff will come when the Mean Green play in the ESPN Events Invitational beginning on Thanksgiving.

UNT will face Kansas at 1:30 p.m. at the HP Field House on the campus of Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The Mean Green and Jayhawks are two of the eight teams in the event that also features Alabama and Miami.

McCasland mug

Grant McCasland

“This is what we hoped for in our program,” McCasland said. “We wanted to get to a place where we are invited to play in an event like this and have a chance to play an elite program.”

Teams don’t get a whole lot more elite than Kansas. The Jayhawks are ranked No. 4 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll and are unbeaten on the season at 3-0.

UNT attracted national attention last season when it won the Conference USA tournament and went on to beat Purdue in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

The Mean Green (2-1) lost several of their elite talents from that team and are looking to rebuild around a new batch of players. UNT suffered an early loss to a Buffalo team picked to win the MAC but has shown signs of improvement early on.

UNT has also gotten a better idea of where it needs to improve.

“We have played tremendously defensively and are not turning the ball over excessively,” McCasland said. “We are having a hard time in the second half and are having trouble scoring around the basket. We are making the right decisions. We have to finish.”

Tylor Perry, a transfer guard, leads four UNT players averaging double figures in scoring at 17.3 points per game. Senior guard Ochai Agbaji leads Kansas with an average of 26.3 points.

UNT women heading to California

The UNT women’s team will also be in action over Thanksgiving when it travels to the Cal Poly Thanksgiving Classic.

The Mean Green will face Montana State at 4:30 p.m. Friday before taking on St. Thomas at 2 p.m. Saturday.

UNT (2-2) has dropped consecutive games to Missouri State and UTA.

Junior guard Quincy Noble is averaging 15.5 points per game to lead three UNT players averaging double figures.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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