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The Big Preview: Virginia and North Texas in the NIT Second Round

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 10 ACC Tournament - North Carolina v Virginia Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wednesday’s win kept the Virginia Cavaliers’ season alive and moves them to the NIT second round. This time out, they get the second-seeded North Texas Mean Green, who knocked off Texas State in their NIT opener.

UNT were down seven with one minute remaining against Texas State and managed to force OT and get the win. The comeback was mostly Texas State’s doing, as they fouled UNT on a three two different times in the final minute, and also committed two late turnovers.

The Mean Green finished 25-6 this year, 16-2 in Conference-USA. The win with defense. They finished with the #1 scoring defense in the country, giving up just 55 points per game. Virginia was seventh, at just over 60 points per game. The Mean Green were also the slowest team in the nation, supplanting Virginia for that title. This game will be played at a snail’s pace, just as both teams like it.

So yes, both teams play slow. But beyond that there isn’t a ton in common between these two teams. UNT scores most of their points on three pointers. They rank 81st nationally in percentage of shots taken from beyond the arc, and 61st in three point percentage. Combined that puts them 71st nationally in percentage of points scored on three pointers. On the other hand, Virginia ranks 10th in the nation in percentage of points coming on two-pointers.

Virginia is very strong in the paint, and they also have multiple players who can get into the paint and score. They’re also very good at moving the ball for good shots, ranking 17th nationally in assist rate. UNT ranks 228th in that category. A lot of their points come off isolations or screens.

One of the more interesting things about this North Texas basketball team is that their leading scorer, Tylor Perry, does not start. Just 5’11” 182, Perry is a 41% shooter from downtown and adept at getting to the rim and drawing contact.

He is going to see a steady diet of Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman, two outstanding defenders who match up well with the diminutive Mean Green PG. Perry comes off the bench but still plays starter minutes. He doesn’t start because he’s just not a great defender, although he does lead the team in steals.

This is not entirely Perry’s fault. He gets screened and nobody really provides help.

This one is Perry’s fault, and he gets caught ball-watching and isn’t in position to cover the back screen.

And this Perry knocking down a huge three to start their final minute comeback.

In their first round game, 6’2” Mardrez McBride scored 24 points on 8/18 shooting (6/13 from downtown). Another wing, 6’5” Rubin Jones, had 15 points on 4/9 shooting (3/6 from downtown). McBride was just under 40% this year and Jones made 35%.

This is McBride. Notice how he was drifting into the backcourt before his team had even taken a. There will be no fast breaks in this game. The defense lost track of him and he ended up with a wide open three. This won’t happen against Virginia.

UNT often has three players 6’2” or shorter on the floor. Even the 6’5” Rubin weighs just 190, and will be giving up size to Armaan Franklin. One of Virginia’s weaknesses this season was lack of size on the perimeter. Too many teams with bigger guards were able to either shoot over Virginia’s defenders or bully them in the post. This was evident against Duke, when Virginia had 5’9” Kihei Clark guarding 6’5” Trevor Keels. That will not be the case in this game, and that is a benefit for the Wahoos.

Along with not having a size disadvantage on the outside, Virginia has a pretty significant size advantage on the interior. Kadin Shedrick (6’11” 231), Francisco Caffaro (7’1” 242) and Gardner (6’6” 246) have significant size advantages over anybody on UNT. In a game that is likely to be slow and physical, Virginia should be able to dominate on the glass and in the paint.

UNT’s top frontcourt player is Thomas Bell. The 6’6” Bell is their second leading scorer, and leader in usage rate and FGA. He’s tough to handle inside and can also shoot it a little (he’s under 30%, but he does not hesitate to shoot). Bell plays the “four” for the Green, which means Jayden Gardner would be on him. Is Gardner quick enough?

This is what Bell can do. He’s a slasher, and he’s usually quicker than his man. He gets to the stripe a lot, but he is a poor FT shooter (54%). Bell is also a solid defender inside, but he’s giving up 40 pounds to Gardner.

The key for this game is going to be outside shooting. UNT boasts three outstanding shooters who each shoot a lot of threes. Virginia has struggled defending the three this year, some of which is due to poor luck but much is due to the previously mentioned lack of perimeter size.

On the other end, Virginia does not shoot many threes, and that’s a good thing because they are terrible at it (and worse over the past few weeks). If Virginia can knock down even one or two early threes, it’ll help keep the UNT perimeter defenders honest, and that will open things up for Gardner and company inside.

At a glance, this is a battle between two teams with similar profiles. But that is just due to tempo and pace. The teams are vastly different in terms of style and whichever team is able to play to their strengths better will come out on top. UNT, of course, has home court advantage. But the Hoos have several things going for them as well, most notably their interior size. If Virginia can keep UNT from going off from downtown, they should be successful.