Men's basketball: UNT looks to revitalize zone

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North Texas took a few teams by surprise this season when the Mean Green went to what at times looked like a mean 2-3 zone defense.

There might not be a bigger challenge for UNT heading into a game against Old Dominion tonight at the Super Pit than finding a way to get back to the point where its zone is a weapon once again.

UNT (11-12, 2-7 Conference USA) is in the midst of a season-worst four-game losing streak as it faces the Monarchs (11-13, 5-4).

There are plenty of reasons for UNT’s struggles, none bigger than the Mean Green giving up points in bunches. UNT has given up at least 90 points in two of its last three games and enters tonight’s game ranked 15th out of 16 teams in C-USA with an average of 75.8 points per game allowed in league play.

That ranking comes as a bit of a surprise considering the impact the zone made earlier in the season. UNT allowed 66.4 points in a span that saw the Mean Green win six of nine games, beginning with the 11th game of the season.

UNT allowed 78.1 points per game in its first 10 game before turning to the 2-3 as a way to address is defensive deficiencies.

“There is no doubt people are preparing better for it,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “When you get into conference play, people know what you are doing defensively and offensively and they execute better. Our zone has been good to us. We will continue to work on it and tweak it. We will be pretty good in it moving forward.”

UNT believes most of its problems are a result of being pounded on the glass and giving up too many open jump shots.

Tulsa outrebounded UNT 43-26 and scored 20 second-chance points in a 94-63 win in the second game of the Mean Green’s skid. Louisiana Tech took advantage of UNT’s inability to rotate to open shooters, hit 10 3-pointers on 23 attempts and pulled away from the Mean Green late for a 90-75 win Saturday.

“Coach has talked to us about covering the gaps and getting better at rotating in the zone,” UNT guard Brandan Walton said. “We are looking at film and figuring out what we need to do.”

While UNT struggled to get to shooters in its loss to Tech, it has not done a bad job overall in league play. UNT ranks eighth in 3-point field goal defense at 32.9 percent.

What has been a bigger concern is rebounding out of the zone.

UNT ranks 14th in C-USA with an average deficit of 4.6 rebounds per league game.

A game against ODU could offer UNT a chance to get back on track. The Monarchs have lost three of their last four games but do have one of C-USA’s top scorers in Aaron Bacote, who is averaging 16.5 points.

UNT’s backcourt duo of Jordan Williams and Alzee Williams lead the Mean Green, averaging 12.7 and 11.8 points a game, respectively.

UNT’s game against ODU is the opener of a two-game homestand that will conclude with a game against East Carolina on Saturday. ECU also is 2-7 in conference play heading into this week’s games.

UNT sees the homestand as a golden opportunity to turn its season around.

“We are on a four-game skid,” UNT guard Maurice Aniefiok said. “It’s time for us to start turning it around. It’s now or never.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.


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