The Mean Green men's basketball team will open the 2023-24 season at home against Northern Iowa on Nov. 7 and will begin conference play on Jan. 4, as North Texas will take on the Paul Mills-led Wichita State Shockers on the road.
The recent success of the Mean Green men's basketball team has been highlighted since they had an upset win over Purdue in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and two Conference-USA championships in 2020 and 2022. The team most recently cinched a 2023 National Invitation Tournament victory, where they defeated the University of Alabama at Birmingham 68-61 to win the championship.
UAB Head Coach Andy Kennedy spoke on the rivalry against North Texas at the American Athletic Conference Media Day, as well as the excitement of continuing the matchup as both schools head to the AAC for the 2023-24 season.
"Great respect for North Texas," Kennedy said. "Obviously, Grant McCasland moves on to Texas Tech based on the success that he had, a great run while he was there. Then Ross Hodge, who was integral in building that success, is now in the big chair, and I'm sure he's excited about that opportunity. We have a great rivalry with them — last year, they got the best of us, and we're looking forward to the two games we get against the Mean Green this year."
After leading North Texas to the 2023 NIT title and a maintaining a 135-65 record during his tenure with the team, former head coach Grant McCasland was hired by Texas Tech. After vacating the head coaching position, current head coach Ross Hodge stepped in. Hodge was previously the associate head coach and commander of the dominant Mean Green defense for McCasland before attaining the head coach position this year. Hodge said his team will always focus on defense, but playing faster on offense compared to years past could benefit the team this season.
"For us, it is always going to start on the defensive end of the floor," Hodge said during the media day. "We don't want to lose that identity. [...] So, we have definitely been spending a lot of time in practice working on and talking about converting off our defense when we do get opportunities, deflections, and steals to play with a little more pace and tempo while still trying to minimize mistakes."
North Texas ended the 2022-23 season with a 16-4 record in conference games and an overall record of 31-7. Between the likes of Hodge's defensive coaching capabilities and the team's core players, the Mean Green defense was the best in the nation in 2022-23, allowing only 55.8 points per game.
However, after being in C-USA since 2013, North Texas and five other programs announced in 2021 that they would join the American Athletic Conference. The AAC in 2023 will consist of North Texas, Charlotte, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Memphis, Rice, South Florida, SMU, Temple, UAB, UTSA, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State.
Returning senior guard Rubin Jones spoke on the culture around the Mean Green basketball team and how it influences their performance on the court.
"Regardless of who is playing and who's not playing, off the court, we are all a family," Jones said at the media day. "We don't really go our separate ways. We stay together on and off the court."
After a triumphant 2022-23 season and the introduction into the AAC, North Texas had to make some additions to its roster to replace players who left for the transfer portal or ran out of eligibility. Hodge and the Mean Green men's basketball team added many talented players for the approaching 2023-24 season. This roster includes Robert Allen, redshirt senior forward from Ole Miss, John Buggs III, redshirt junior guard from UTSA, CJ Noland, junior guard from Oklahoma, Rondel Walker, junior guard from Texas Christian University, Jason Edwards sophomore guard from Dodge City Community College, Terrance Dixon Jr., sophomore forward from Kilgore College and Alex Cotton, freshman guard from Hebron High School.
With the addition of the new team members heading to The Super Pit, North Texas also has some returning players for the upcoming season. Those returning include senior Rubin Jones, junior Aaron Scott, redshirt junior Moulaye Sissoko, junior Matthew Stone, sophomore Christian Moore, redshirt sophomore Grayson Allo and redshirt sophomore Chris Morgan returning for the 2023-24 season.
The team also added new faces to the coaching staff, including assistant coaches Johnny Estelle, Phil Forte and Jase Herl, who will enter their first season with the Mean Green.
Returning junior forward Aaron Scott said during the AAC Media Day that having a new head coach who has worked with the team in the past and understands the team's play style made the coaching transition smooth.
"Defense wins championships," Scott said during the media day. "We won a championship last year, so it is good to have the same mentality this year. Also, we are playing faster, and I think playing faster fits our roster."