I'm telling you right now, you don't want to see North Texas in your bracket come the NCAA Tournament. Former Marquette assistant Tony Benford takes over a very talented roster led by future NBA Draft lottery pick Tony Mitchell as the Mean Green plays its final year in the Sun Belt before heading to Conference USA.
The former Missouri commit Mitchell made a huge splash in his first year at North Texas, averaging a double-double per night. Plain and simple, he is a major-level player competing against mid-major competition and should be even more dominating this season.
Besides Mitchell, the Mean Green returns all seven players from last year who averaged at least seven points a game. Chris Jones and Jordan Williams finished second and third, respectively, on the team in scoring, but were ruled academically ineligible for the final 13 games of the year. Their absence allowed shooting guard Alzee Williams to become a more prominent threat, and he made the most of his opportunities. Having all three of them on the court provides North Texas with a dynamic trio of scorers.
There is terrific depth in the backcourt as well, led by Brandan Walton who was the team's top three-point shooter and physical wing Roger Franklin. Both guys saw a lot of time in the starting lineup last year and might force Benford's hand to use a frequent four-guard look with Mitchell in the middle.
Add in JUCO transfer T.J. Taylor, who followed Benford to North Texas after originally committing to Marquette, and point guard P.J. Hardwick, initially a Mississippi State commit until Rick Stansbury left the program, and there are two more quality reserves in the backcourt who could easily start for most mid-major programs.
Assuming Benford uses a more prototypical starting unit, expect Jacob Holmen or Justin Patton to start alongside Mitchell in the frontcourt. Holmen was a valuable role player a year ago due to the solid range on his jumper, while Patton is a Grambling State transfer who was Second-Team All-SWAC after leading the team in scoring and rebounding as a junior. JUCO transfer Justin Coleman offers some true center size at 6-10, 245 pounds and joins the Mean Green after decommitting from Nebraska following its coaching change this offseason.
If I could buy stock in North Texas making some serious noise on the national scene and eventually becoming a Top-25 team, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Benford walked into a terrific situation having balanced scoring, experience, depth, size, and speed. I'm obviously really high on the Mean Green and really think it is a legit Sweet 16 contender if the current roster stays in place as it looks now.
Player to Watch: Tony Mitchell, F
Mitchell has appeared on several preseason All-American lists and for good reason. He could have easily left for the 2012 NBA Draft and been a lottery pick last summer, but decided to return to school. Two keys for Mitchell to take the next step with his game: becoming a more confident/consistent outside shooter and improving his ability to break down defenders off the bounce in isolation situations.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/9 at Creighton
11/13 vs. Kansas State/Lamar (at Kansas State/NIT Presason Tip-Off)