North Texas-Virginia NIT Preview: First to 40 wins

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It’s hard for Virginia fans to believe this, but there is a D1 team that plays slower, and it’s the Cavaliers’ second-round NIT opponent, North Texas (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN+).

Think Virginia scoring 43 in a quarterfinal loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament last week was bad? The Mean Green (25-6), the regular-season champs in Conference USA, got bounced from the C-USA tourney by scoring 36, and shot 24.1 percent in the process.

There may be icicles on the scoreboard before this one is over.

North Texas, under fifth-year coach Grant McCasland, is really good on the defensive end (.919 points per possession, 15th in D1, according to KenPom.com), so-so on offense (1.053 PPP, 131st nationally), and otherwise just plain slow (59.2 possessions, 358th).

They’re the kind of team that frustrates the bejeezus out of teams in March, because who else plays that style of basketball?

You know, other than Virginia.

Really no notable wins on the schedule – their best, from an NET perspective, was a conference road win at UAB (NET: 46), which went on to take the C-USA’s automatic bid.

They also lost a pair of neutral-site games in November to Kansas (71-59) and Miami (69-63), but November was an eternity ago.

Rotation

Four guys average double-digits in scoring: 5’11” junior Tylor Perry (13.5 ppg, 2.5 assists/g, 42.4% FG, 41.9% 3FG), 6’6” senior Thomas Bell (12.5 ppg, 6.9 rebs/g, 47.3% FG, 29.7% 3FG), 6’1” senior Mardrez McBride (10.9 ppg, 41.6% FG, 38.0% 3FG) and 6’10” sophomore Abou Ousmane (10.0 ppg, 6.0 rebs/g, 49.8% FG).

Perry is the team’s sixth man, but still averages 29.4 minutes per game. 6’5” sophomore Rubin Jones (8.2 ppg, 2.2 assists/g, 41.2% FG, 34.5% 3FG) starts at point, and also gets minutes at the two and three spots.

The other starter is 6’1” senior JJ Murray (4.0 ppg, 3.6 rebs/g, 38.9% FG, 31.9% 3FG).

6’7” freshman Aaron Scott (4.1 ppg, 4.1 rebs/g, 50.0% FG, 26.1% 3FG) fleshes out the seven-man rotation, getting minutes at the four and five spots.

The offense

About half the offense is spot-ups (28.4 percent) and pick-and-roll (21.1 percent).

The guys to watch for in spot-ups are Perry (94 usages, 46.5% FG, 66.3% AFG, 1.255 PPP) and McBride (186 usages, 40% FG, 56% AFG, 1.081 PPP).

In pick-and-roll, Perry (157 usages, 39.4% FG, 48.2% AFG, .987 PPP) is the primary guy on the front end. Bell gets the bulk of looks on the rolls (107 usages, 42.3% FG, 48.7% 3FG, .897 PPP).

Ousmane is the primary low-post threat – shooting 45.2 percent on post-ups (155 usages), 60.9 percent on lane cuts (87 usages) and 36.7 percent on offensive rebounds (41 usages).

How Virginia matches up

This is a good matchup for Virginia, honestly. Virginia bigs Kadin Shedrick (7.0 ppg, 5.1 rebs/g, 2.0 blocks/g, 64.0% FG) and Francisco Caffaro (4.4 ppg, 4.7 rebs/g, 52.5% FG) should fare well with Ousmane down low.

6’6” power forward Jayden Gardner (15.3 ppg, 6.5 rebs/g, 50.6% FG) has a strength advantage over Bell and Jones at the four spot.

And Virginia’s point guards, Kihei Clark (10.2 ppg, 4.3 assists/g, 39.8% FG, 35.9% 3FG) and Reece Beekman (8.1 ppg, 5.0 assists/g, 44.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG) match up well physically with Perry, Jones, McBride and Murray.

This is my assessment. KenPom.com has North Texas winning 58-53 (68% win probability), BartTorvik.com has it 54-51 North Texas (69% win probability), and the ESPN BPI has North Texas winning 57-54 (78.2% win probability).

The algorithms are probably smarter than me.

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