Rubin Jones, North Texas Mean Green

The North Texas Mean Green won the 2023 NIT Championship but must overcome significant coach and conference changes.

The North Texas Mean Green has an uphill battle this year. After winning the NIT last year, this team went through some massive changes. The first thing to happen was Grant McCasland, the team’s head coach, accepted to be the head coach of Texas Tech. His assistant coach, Ross Hodge, was promoted to head coach, so the style of play for North Texas shouldn’t change much.

The following things happened when the players left. Only two players are returning from last year’s starting five. Tylor Perry and Abou Ousmane transferred, while Kai Huntsberry, Tyree Eady, and two non-starters graduated.

Coach Ross Hodge had quite the undertaking. He immediately went to work. Working the transfer portal, North Texas brought in some talent as the team moved from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. This change will be interesting for the school and team.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach:  Ross Hodge (1st season)

2022-23 record: 31-7 (16-4)

2023 postseason finish: NIT Champions

Notable departures: Tylor Perry (Transferred to K-State), Kai Huntsberry (Graduated), Abou Ousmane (Transferred to Xavier), Jayden Martinez (Graduated), Tyree Eady (Graduated)

Notable nonconference games: vs. St. John’s (Nov. 16)

Projected Rotation

PG: John Buggs III (6-3, 185, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 39.6 3P% (UTSA)

SG: Jason Edwards (6-0, Rs.-So.)

2022-23 stats: 21.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 40.7 3P% (Dodge City CC)

SF: Rubin Jones (6-5, 184, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 6.7 PPG,  3.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 37.9 FG%

PF: Aaron Scott (6-7, 190, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 7.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 58.4 FG%, 40.8 3P%

C: Robert Allen (6-8, 230, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 4.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.2 APG (Ole Miss)

6: Moulaye Sissoko (6-9, 250, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.2 APG, 71.2 FG%

7: C.J. Noland (6-2, 229, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 3.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.6 APG (Oklahoma)

8: Terrance Dixon Jr. (6-8, 200, So.)

2022-23 stats: 8.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, 1.0 BPG (Kilgore JUCO)

9: Rondel Walker (6-4, 170, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 1.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.7 APG (TCU)

10: Matthew Stone (6-4, 220, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 2.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG

11: Christian Moore (5-11, 170, So.)

2021-22 stats: 2.4 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, 46.7 3P%

North Texas Mean Green MVP: Jason Edwards

The incoming talent from JUCO, Jason Edwards, looks to make a splash for the Mean Green. North Texas’s success when converting players from JUCO/Division II/NAIA into star players for their team is easy to see. The most recent is Tylor Perry, a Coffeyville player, who immediately impacted the group and moved into a more significant conference. Edwards is probably the most dominant player to join North Texas, as he was on the first team for Dodge City in 2023.

Jason Edwards comes in and is set up to have an immediately dominant role. Coming off his KJCCC Player of the Year and his KJCCC All-American honor, he scored 765 points last year to average 21.9 points per game. Edwards led his team to a solid 25-10 record. He did so much for his Dodge City team: he averaged 3.9 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists per game, and shot an incredible 40.7% from 3-point range. Speaking of his 3-point shooting, he finished last year making the seventh most 3-pointers (96). While there is room for growth, Edwards is an impressive player and exemplifies Mean Green exceptionally well. In the 35 games played with Dodge City, he scored 20+ points 27 times, four of which were over 30 points.

North Texas Mean Green make-or-break player: John Buggs

With the loss of Tylor Perry and Kai Huntsberry, North Texas is looking for guards to step up and expects Jason Edwards and John Buggs to fill the void. Buggs will likely fill the Huntsberry role as he is the more senior presence.

After suffering two different ACL injuries, Buggs has had to adapt his game and show incredible attrition as he became an impact player for UTSA. He is learning to play differently, has shown he can still score, and is an older player. Buggs’ medical red-shirt/exemption allowed him to enter his junior year at 22 years old. His experience around the game, different coaching styles, and talent should be an asset to this team. Having been around all of this, Buggs has experiences that many of his teammates don’t have. Returning and showing up in his first actual year playing basketball in 2022, he scored 10.9 points per game. Buggs did so, shooting 39.6% from 3-point range but also affecting the game by distributing the ball (1.2 assists) and grabbing rebounds (2.1).

Having so much experience around basketball, the worry is that he will struggle in a new style of play. North Texas has a very different standard of basketball. Buggs will be thrust into a leadership role and may have to adjust his play to fit the Mean Green better. While he is a combo guard, based on this team, he will likely be asked to run the point. The transition could be difficult, but it would be massive for North Texas if Buggs could do it effectively. This role is set for Buggs. He needs to step in and take control of it.

Key analytic: Adjusted Tempo

Last year, North Texas was impressive in its statistics with seven categories where the team was 40th or better. However, there is one statistic that stood out. It should be no surprise, but North Texas was at the top in slowest play or adjusted tempo. The Mean Green grinds their opponents by playing slow and being efficient when shooting. In 40 minutes of play, better known as a standard game length, North Texas had 59.2 possessions or 1.48 per minute.

This slow pace of play kept the Mean Green in most of its games. Its worst loss was early in the season against Saint Mary’s, where the final score was 63-33. Outside of that, its second-worst loss was to Rice, with a 72-60 final score. The highest-scoring game for this team was against UAB, with a final score of 82-79. North Texas made it to 80 points in just two games last year.

North Texas Mean Green 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 4th in the American Athletic Conference

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 64

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