There’s a blessing and a curse for athletic programs located in major metropolitan areas and UT-Arlington is no exception.
The Mavericks are in a unique position as the rare Texas university participating in Division 1 sports that is not fielding a football team at the moment. That means the Mavs’ men’s basketball program has taken on the role of being the university’s flagship sports team.
In 1963 the Mavericks were a founding member of the still extant Southland Conference, but it took until the 2007-08 season for the program to make its NCAA Tournament appearance. The Mavs were a 16-seed and lost to Derrick Rose-era Memphis in the opening round, although I think the official record has the game as vacated *heavy eye roll*.
By the 2013-14 season, the program had moved up to the Sun Belt Conference and by their 4th season the Mavs won the league regular season title and made the 2017 Postseason NIT. They finished that year as the 75th rated team in the country according to KenPom, easily the best mark in program history.
Somewhat surprisingly, a year after that league title the school fired longtime head coach Scott Cross. Not only did Cross have the most wins in school history (225), but he had easily the highest winning percentage (58.4%) of any head coach and was responsible for 3 of the program’s 4 total NCAA/NIT appearances.
That’s certainly a statement of what UTA leadership expects from 2nd year head coach Chris Ogden as he tries to put his stamp on the program. Ogden played for the Texas Longhorn basketball program under Rick Barnes and was a longtime assistant of Barnes, before his most recent stop at Texas Tech as an assistant to Chris Beard. You could do worse for coaches to learn under.
Last season the Mavs finished in a 3-way tie for 2nd in the Sun Belt season standings and lost to Georgia State and current Tulane coach Ron Hunter in the SBC tournament championship game.
The Mavs are currently 2-6 against Division 1 competition this year, a record due in large part to a brutal non-conference schedule that featured a west coast swing to play Gonzaga, Oregon and Nevada. It is worth noting one of those 2 wins was a 73-59 victory over Tulsa.
Diminutive senior Brian Warren came into the season as the leading scorer from 2018-19, but he’s really struggled badly (25% on 3-point FGs) shooting from deep and that’s greatly reduced his effectiveness. To this point, sophomore David Azore has been the Mavs’ most effective offensive player.
Azore has been effective at getting to the free throw line and both Warren and Azore are shooting above 80% on freebies. This will also be Azore’s first game back in his hometown as he prepped at Clear Brook High, about 30 minutes from the Fertitta Center.
Size may be an aspect of this game the Cougars can exploit, as the Mavs only play 1 regular above 6 foot 7: senior Jabari Narcis. On the whole Narcis has been more effective than his junior year and has a good outside shot (45.2% on 3-pointers) for a guy listed at 6 foot 9. But he went missing in the Mavs’ last 2 home losses, to UC-Santa Barbara and North Texas, where he took 4 total shots.
Looking at team statistics, its hard to find areas where the Mavs are exceptional. They take care of the basketball (47th in Turnover % and 27th in Steal %) and make their free throws.
There also aren’t many areas where the Mavs have noticeably struggled, although they haven’t been very good on the balance when it comes to rebounding- maybe the most exceptional aspect of this Houston Cougar team so far.
I am interested to see how the Cougars defend the Mavs on the perimeter, a weak spot for this Cougar team. The Mavs haven’t shot a great percentage on 3-pointers (240th nationally), but they’ll take a ton of them and force the Cougars to respect that tendency.
As of Wednesday morning, KenPom has the Cougars as a 15-point favorite and with a 90% win probability, which passes the smell test.
I expect the Mavs will make the Cougars work more than Alabama State or HBU did, but I like how the Coogs match up and expect after tonight this Cougar team will be 2-0 against the Sun Belt.