North Texas guard Matthew Stone chose to look at the bright side on Monday afternoon. The Mean Green set a goal to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the spring of 2021 this season and fell short.
The good news is UNT landed in the National Invitation Tournament on Sunday night, just hours after the NCAA field that didn’t include UNT was unveiled.
“We have a second opportunity to play, which is a big blessing,” Stone said. “To make a run in the NIT would be great for us.”
The Mean Green have begun focusing on that goal in what will be a quick turnaround before their NIT opener. UNT will face Alcorn State at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Super Pit.
The Mean Green are a No. 2 seed in the 32-team event. UNT is playing in the NIT for the second straight year.
Being awarded a No. 2 seed shows just how close the Mean Green were to earning an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
The top seeds in the NIT are awarded to the best of the teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament. UNT wasn’t included on the list of the first four teams out named by the selection committee.
UNT was the top-ranked team in the NCAA’s NET rankings that didn’t receive an NCAA tournament bid at No. 38.
UNT coach Grant McCasland said the Mean Green were likely among the next four teams out.
“We played well enough to be in the NIT, which says a lot about the season we had,” McCasland said. “There are great teams that missed out on the postseason completely. You have to look at it as an opportunity and a joy to keep being around our team. We have a great one.
“It takes some time, but we are excited to play.”
UNT has reached a series of milestones this year, including breaking the program record for wins in a season. The Mean Green are 26-7 and surpassed the previous mark of 25 wins set last year.
UNT has turned its attention to adding to that record in the NIT.
“We’re absolutely capable of making a run,” UNT guard Tyree Eady said. “We felt like we were capable of making a run in March Madness. We’re going to compete and will try to win every game.”
The Mean Green do not believe that goal will be easy, despite being one of the top-seeded teams in the NIT.
Alcorn State won the SWAC regular season title for the second straight season this year before being upset in the opening round of the conference tournament by Texas Southern.
The Tigers, who are led by former UNT coach Johnny Jones, went on to win the SWAC tournament.
“We have a lot of respect for them because they play really hard and are a great defensive team,” McCasland said. “They have guards who can attack you, turn you over and rebound.
“You have to match their physicality and be strong with the ball.”
The Mean Green beat Texas State in the NIT last year before falling to Virginia. Both games went to overtime.
UNT had a chance to beat the Cavaliers but missed a shot at the buzzer.
The Mean Green are preparing for what they anticipate will be a tough game against Alcorn State and hopefully a long run in their first postseason game since falling to Virginia.
“Anyone playing now in March is a good team, no matter what conference they are in,” Eady said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. Hopefully, we will play another two games on our home court in front of our fans. We’re going to give them a show, compete and play together like we have all year.”
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