Category archive: North Texas Mean Green

Some news and notes on this Wednesday afternoon:

• Team USA's two exhibition losses to Lithuania have caused some concern stateside, but the Lithuanians are considered the favorites heading into the U-19 World Championship tournament in Latvia this week.

The Americans lost 101-72 to the U-20 Lithuanian team and then 108-75 to the U-19 team, which got 23 points out of the Toronto Raptors' No. 5 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas.

The Americans start pool play Thursday against Egypt and play Serbia and China before the second round begins. Medal round games begin on July 9.

"Lithuania is the best team and we didn't play well,'' said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who is the chair of the junior national team and helped select the squad in Colorado Springs earlier this month. "We're not as strong as we'd like. But we're better than we've played so far.''

Boeheim said UConn's Jeremy Lamb, expected to be a star on this squad, hasn't played as well as expected yet. In the two exhibition games, Lamb is shooting 22.2 percent on 3s and 35 percent overall. He's averaging 9.5 points a game. Butler's Kyhle Marshall is even worse, shooting 23.1 percent overall.

Boeheim also singled out Tony Mitchell, the former Missouri recruit who is headed to North Texas. Mitchell has taken only four shots, making one.

"They've gotten off to a slow start,'' Boeheim said. "They've struggled more than we thought they would.''

The surprise has been the play of Creighton's Doug McDermott, son of Bluejays coach Greg McDermott. The rising sophomore has been the most consistent player so far, averaging a team-high 13.5 points a game. He is shooting 61.1 percent from the field. Memphis' Joe Jackson is at 12.5 ppg on 40.9 percent shooting and Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 11.5 points a game but is shooting a woeful 26.9 percent (taking a team-high 26 shots) and 16.7 percent on 3s (2-of-12).

It's perhaps worth noting that the foul calls on the road were noticeably different, with the two Lithuanian teams taking a combined 88 free throws to the Americans' 54.

"We knew this would be a tough tournament,'' Boeheim said. "We [also] don't have some guys who chose to go to summer school. That happens.''

Duke guard Austin Rivers or Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger both chose to stay home rather than play. Clearly, Sullinger would have had a major impact on this team had he decided to play. The U.S. team got outrebounded by an average of 12 boards in the two games.

This is the same tournament in which the Americans won gold in New Zealand in 2009, the first time the U.S. had won the gold medal since 1991. Pitt's Jamie Dixon coached that team, assisted by Purdue's Matt Painter (who will coach the University Games team heading to China in August) and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery. New George Mason coach Paul Hewitt is coaching this squad in Latvia, assisted by Saint Mary's Randy Bennett and Jacksonville's Cliff Warren, who was an assistant under Hewitt at Georgia Tech.

• The Washington Times reported on Shaka Smart's new deal with Virginia Commonwealth. The eight-year contract is worth $1.2 million annually. VCU got creative by bumping up his salary from $325,000 to $450,000 and adding in a supplemental income of $700,000 that is paid quarterly. Smart could have gone to a power-six job -- possibly NC State -- but stayed put with the Rams. The Final Four run pushed his package over $1 million, a significant bump for a school like VCU but also a necessity in order to stay competitive at an elite level. That's what Gonzaga and Butler have had to do to keep their respective coaches content.

• A number of college coaches are gearing up for 20 days on the road next month by finalizing their nonconference schedules now. One school that needs a quality nonconference slate is Marshall. Thundering Herd coach Tom Herrion fancies his team to be an NCAA tournament squad and a real challenger to Memphis in Conference USA. The Herd return Damier Pitts (16.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) at the point, whom Herrion said should be considered the top point guard in C-USA, along with last season's freshman of the year in the league in DeAndre Kane (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg). MU has four starters returning and brings in a recruiting class that has two highly rated JC transfers in power forwards Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon. Shooting guard Justin Coleman, a one-time Louisville commit, is also eligible after sitting out the year. He was never able to get eligible for the Cardinals.

So what did Herrion do for his schedule? He is playing at Cincinnati in a multiple-team event that has three home games against low-level teams in Alabama State, Jacksonville State and Northwestern State. He will play the annual game in Charleston against West Virginia. That gives him two Big East opponents, one road and one neutral. The Bearcats will be a top-25 team in the preseason, and West Virginia will always be in play for a bid under Bob Huggins.

Herrion also did a home-and-home with perennial Atlantic Sun favorite Belmont, bought a home game against MAAC favorite Iona, has home games against MAC favorites Ohio and Akron and will play at UNC Wilmington out of the Colonial. Herrion is trying to grab a successful team from the A-10, Missouri Valley or CAA -- someone like an Old Dominion or Creighton. He'll need at least one more of those games.

Scheduling is an art form for these coaches. And if a school like Marshall can't get elite home-and-home games out of region, then it has to be creative by plucking some of the best mid-major schools for home-and-home series. That can be a plus for power-rating points. The C-USA schedule helps Marshall too, since the Herd will play perennial contenders Memphis and UAB twice as well as UCF, Southern Miss and upstart East Carolina in the unbalanced schedule.

"Now we've got to go out and win games,'' said Herrion, whose team was 22-12 (9-7 C-USA) in his first season as head coach in Huntington. "We've got to get another projected NCAA team. But we've got to go out and win those games. I do think we can be an NCAA tournament team. But we can't come out of Conference USA with six or seven or eight losses and expect to be.''

• Texas fans are probably down about losing three underclassmen to the NBA, but having a trio of three first-round players (Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph) can come in handy. The Longhorns now have the most first-round NBA draft picks (eight) of any school over the past six years. Kansas and Kentucky are tied for second with seven. If you push it back to 2000, Texas is third with 10 but just one behind North Carolina and Kansas for the lead. Connecticut, Duke and Kentucky have had nine in that span. The Longhorns have also had six lottery picks since 2000, which is tied for fifth with Arizona. Kansas tops that list with nine, followed by UConn and Duke with eight and North Carolina with seven.

• St. John's is quietly putting together one of the top nonconference schedules in the country. The Red Storm will play at Duke, at Kentucky in the SEC-Big East Challenge, host UCLA, play in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer with Arizona, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, and open up Dick Vitale Court against Horizon upstart Detroit. That's all with a team dominated by freshmen. Kudos to coach Steve Lavin, who isn't afraid to challenge his team.

Jimmer Fredette had the game of the week with 43 points against San Diego State.

But Mickey McConnell of Saint Mary's had what is so far the shot of the week -- the one that beat Gonzaga late Thursday night at the Kennel in Spokane.

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Mickey McConnell
James Snook/US PresswireThe final two points of Mickey McConnell's 27 came at the most opportune time on Thursday night.

With the score tied at 71, McConnell hit a curling, one-handed runner with 1.2 seconds left to take down the Zags in front of a stunned crowd not used to seeing a loss in person. McConnell finished with 27 points and the Gaels won in Spokane for the first time under head coach Randy Bennett and for the first time since 1995.

"It was one of those things where we've been fighting so long to do this," McConnell said by phone Friday. "I knew I had to get it off. I wasn't sure how much time was left on the clock, but I knew I had to get it off in time. I knew when it left my hand that it felt good."

The Gaels were coming off a 19-point road loss at Vanderbilt. But now, with the win at Gonzaga, Saint Mary's is 6-0 in the West Coast Conference, a game ahead of San Francisco, two ahead of Santa Clara and a full three games ahead of preseason favorite and 10-time reigning champ Gonzaga (3-3).

"Until someone knocks them off for the regular-season title, Gonzaga is the top in the WCC," McConnell said. "This was a great win for us and our program and puts us in the right direction.

"This shows our toughness that we can pull this game out," McConnell said. "It shows what we're capable of doing. We still have confidence that we can play with anyone. We can play on the big stage on a given day with anyone."

Saint Mary's made the Sweet 16 last season with McConnell complimenting big man Omar Samhan. But Samhan is gone and so is an anchor in the post. So McConnell has to be the lead guard to shoot the Gaels to wins. SMC has a finisher inside in former San Diego forward Rob Jones, but if the Gaels are going to win the WCC and advance, then McConnell has to be the answer.

By the way, the senior guard from Saint Mary's is well-versed in all things Jimmer after Fredette scored 24 points and hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to beat the Gaels 74-73 in the South Padre Island Championship on Nov. 27.

"I saw his performance and it was ridiculous," McConnell said of Fredette's 43 against San Diego State. "The thing that impressed me is how efficient he is. He doesn't take a ton of shots and doesn't take bad shots.

"It's crazy to think how consistently a good scorer he is and he does it within the offense," McConnell said. "He's not forcing too much. What he's done in the past and what he did against us, it's hard not to give him a good look for him for player of the year. BYU has lost one game all year. He makes everyone on his team a lot better."

As for the Gaels, they have a game at Portland on Saturday and have two more difficult road games at Santa Clara and at San Francisco. SMC ends with Gonzaga on Feb. 24 and then Portland again on Feb. 26.

As for McConnell, he doesn't get the national attention that other WCC stars from, say, Gonzaga have received in the past, or even his former teammate Samhan, who was a bit of a ham and loved the headlines and the camera. But McConnell is quietly having one of the best seasons on the West Coast, along with Fredette, Derrick Williams and Klay Thompson.

McConnell is averaging 15.1 points, 6.4 assists, 47.3 percent on 3s, 52 percent overall and 89.1 percent at the line.

And more important than anything, he lifted his school and his teammates to a monumental win in Spokane.

• North Texas coach Johnny Jones said former Missouri recruit Tony Mitchell is on campus, enrolled and will be eligible to play in December for the Mean Green.

Mitchell was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and not admissible to Missouri earlier this week. The Texas native committed early to Kansas State and went to a prep school in Florida. He returned to Texas to go to school in Dallas and he decommitted from Kansas State and committed to Missouri. The prep school grades sent in to get him eligible through the Eligibility Center didn't clear, so he fell short of qualifying. Missouri appealed to no avail and officially separated from Mitchell this week with the final NCAA ruling.

"We thought we had a good chance of getting him out of high school," Jones said on Friday. "He's a special player. Mike [Anderson at Missouri] did a tremendous job on him. But unfortunately things didn't work out for him."

Mitchell is from the Dallas area out of L.G. Pinkston High, and Jones said his mother didn't want to pay out-of-state tuition. The 6-foot-8 Mitchell was ranked No. 24 in the ESPNU 100 for the class of 2010.

Jones said since Mitchell is a non-qualifier, he can't be on scholarship this season, but can be starting next year. And he'll be able to play after final exams in mid-December.

"I think he can have an impact in any conference," Jones said. "He could have gone to Missouri and been pushing for freshman of the year in that league. He has the ability to come in the Sun Belt and raise our team to another level, as well. He'll definitely be an impact in our league and have a bright future."

Jones said Mitchell would be considered a sophomore when he's eligible.

"I think he's one of the most highly rated recruits to come to our conference," Jones said. "It will draw a lot of attention. Along with him, our recruiting class will be a top recruiting class."

North Texas made the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010 and is 16-5 overall through Friday, knocking off lower-level teams in power conferences like LSU and Texas Tech. UNT was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, but is currently 5-3 and in second place in the West Division behind 6-1 Denver.