Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball to face North Texas in Springfield Saturday

Mean Green one of the toughest tests yet for the Minutemen
Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

On Saturday, the Massachusetts men’s basketball team will face a familiar foe in the Hall of Fame Classic in Springfield: the North Texas Mean Green.

It’ll be the second time in as many seasons that the Minutemen (8-2) and the Mean Green (8-2) face each other. Last year’s contest was a battle of a great offense and a great defense. The defensive side took a comfortable win, as UNT kept a then Matt McCall-led UMass to its lowest point total of the season and won 66-57 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“They’re real good,” Minuteman coach Frank Martin said. “Two years ago they won their league [Conference USA] and went into the NCAA Tournament and then just thoroughly outplayed Purdue … They’re playing really good, they’re right in the middle of hitting their stride. Hopefully that second half in the Hofstra game spurs us to head in that direction too.”

Aside from the strong opponent, there’s something special about this game for Martin: it will be the 500th game of his career. He’s won 296 and lost 203 for a .593 win percentage. In his first year at the helm, Martin has drastically shifted UMass’ identity into a defensive-minded team, which makes for an interesting matchup against the Mean Green.

Defense and rebounding are the focus for both teams, but with different strengths and playstyles to complement it. North Texas comes in as the slowest basketball team in the country, ranking dead-last in adjusted tempo. On the other hand, the Minutemen like to speed it up, ranking 39th in the nation in the same category. Controlling the tempo of this game will be key for both teams, and not let the opponent play on their terms.

“I don’t have to change what we do, it’s our defensive principles that I developed from my high school coach because we had no shot clock down in Florida,” Martin said. “We had to figure out a way to speed [our opponent] up so they couldn’t play like that [slow].”

“One of the reasons our defensive principles are what they are is to try and force tempo on people without all the trapping and running around. I think if you start trapping and all that, you’re running at the problems, because they’re so disciplined offensively and they got shot makers, and they’re a very good offensive rebounding team.”

The rebounding battle will be key in determining the winner of Saturday’s matchup. One of North Texas’ biggest strengths is its offensive rebounding. It ranks top 20 in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, a big advantage considering the Minutemen are about average in defensive rebounding statistics.

Mean Green forward Abou Ousmane is key in this department. He’s in the top 22 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and has grabbed more offensive boards this season than defensive ones. Ousmane averages 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He looks to be a handful for Wildens Leveque, UMass’ best defensive rebounder and rim protector.

North Texas’ defense under Grant McCasland is consistently one of the best in the country, and this year is no different. If it manage to slow the game down it could spell trouble for UMass, who has struggled on the half court offense at times this season.

For the Minutemen, this opponent presents the same profile of the two teams they’ve lost to this season: Towson and UMass Lowell.

“You take into consideration that the two teams who have beaten us, they have one common theme, they return eight or nine of their players, so there’s a connectivity with who they are,” Martin said. “That’s hard to overcome with a bunch of brand-new guys trying to figure it out for the first time.”

Seven of UNT’s top eight minute-getters are returners from last year, with six of those being upperclassmen. Tylor Perry is the best of the bunch. The senior guard can take over any game; he averages 17 points and 1.5 steals a game while shooting 45.3 percent from three.

If UMass’ star guard Noah Fernandes doesn’t play — and his ankle sprain leaves his status at doubtful — the guard matchup will be heavily lopsided towards the Mean Green. Freshman Keon Thompson has stepped up with the absence of Fernandes. Along with some solid defense, Thompson has averaged 10.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and three assists per game in the last three games while shooting 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line.

The Hall of Fame Classic is scheduled to tip off at 3 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares.

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