BTH Gameday: UALR hopes to keep North Texas from breakout tonight

North Texas is a real head scratcher. They’ve got a likely NBA pick and a talented roster. But it hasn’t translated into victories in the first season under Coach Tony Benford.

Why? It’s anybody’s guess. But UALR (9-8, 3-3 Sun Belt) hopes to see it continue when the Trojans host North Texas (6-10, 1-4) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.

“There’s a reason every coach in both divisions picked North Texas to win our division,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said this week.
And in October, it certainly looked like North Texas was the team to beat in the West Division. They returned a roster of solid contributors, including likely future NBA selection Tony Mitchell. But it all came crashing down in the second game of the season, a matchup in the preseason NIT against NCAA Division II Alabama-Huntsville. North Texas lost that game and has never really been in sync since.

But with this much talent, it seems to be only a matter of time before the Mean Green start winning. And before it’s over, West Division teams may be thankful for the early season padding they’ve put between themselves and North Texas.


We don’t expect UALR freshman guard John Gillon to play tonight or Saturday. It’s hoped that he can return next week. North Texas is expected to be without guard Clarke Overlander and forward Jacob Holmen. Overlander has a knee sprain while Holmen has plantar fasciitis. North Texas is also without Brandan Walton and Chris Jones, both with a broken foot.


North Texas’ 6-8 sophomore Tony Mitchell averages 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds. But his numbers have been down as a whole in his sophomore season. He does shoot 47 percent from the field but has made just 16 of 50 three-pointers (32 percent). Probably more surprising is that he’s led the Mean Green in scoring in just 7 of 16 games. He has led in rebounding in eight consecutive games. Mitchell, who originally signed with Missouri but could not get declared eligible there, was a preseason John Wooden Award candidate, preseason All-American, preseason Sun Belt player of the year and the No. 3 inside-out player in the entire country by Athlon Sports.


Got to love North Texas’ official media game notes. They continue to list P.J. Hardwick as a starter tonight even though he’s been confirmed injured and out for tonight’s game. Then again they have players listed as reserves who are either injured or out for the season.


Deny Mitchell: UALR has to limit the touches of North Texas’ Tony Mitchell. He’s just too big, quick and physical for UALR to handle consistently. You can’t expect to win if you allow Mitchell to go off for 30 points and 15 rebounds tonight.

3D: North Texas shoots 25.5 percent from three-point range. UALR allows opponents to shoot 29.2 percent. Keep North Texas in the 20s tonight and UALR likely wins.

Rebound: For whatever reason, North Texas, with the exception of Mitchell, hasn’t been a great rebounding team. UALR has been a bad rebounding team. But UALR can’t allow North Texas to rebound three-point misses and get easy stick backs. Second chance points will be key.


UALR opened as a three-point favorite in Las Vegas and that swelled to four points this morning.


Predictions are in and UALR is the unanimous pick tonight. The experts pick UALR by an average of 6.8 points. You should definitely note OmniRankings' pick. They've been dead on with UALR games for the past month:
OMNI RANKINGS (7-1): UALR 71, North Texas 64
REAL TIME RPI (13-3): UALR 76, North Texas 62
JEFF SAGARIN (12-4): UALR 72, North Texas 69
THE SPORTS NETWORK (11-4): UALR 71, North Texas 64
CBS SPORTSLINE (9-7):  UALR 70, North Texas 67
BTH AVERAGE (11-5): UALR 72.0, North Texas 65.2