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Sun Belt series part one: UNT men’s basketball
On Saturday, the Mean Green men’s basketball team will enter its last season as members of the Sun Belt Conference.
While UNT will head to Conference USA at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, two current CUSA members Tulane and East Carolina announced Tuesday they will join Southern Methodist, University of Central Florida and the University of Houston in departing for the Big East Conference in 2013.
The Mean Green has some history to settle in its final season in the Sun Belt. Senior guard Roger Franklin said there are a few teams he’s circled on his schedule.
“Louisiana-Lafayette; they beat us twice, and then we beat them in the tournament. I think they’re ready to settle the score,” Franklin said. “Western Kentucky, of course, Arkansas State, basically any of the teams that we lost to.”
In UNT’s 12 Sun Belt seasons, it holds a record of 194-170 overall and an 83-92 record in the conference. The last time the Mean Green failed to win at least 50 percent of its games was in 2003 under former head coach Johnny Jones.
Some of the high points for UNT in the conference include a 16-9 conference tournament record, two conference championships – one in 2007 and the other in 2010 – and 13 all-conference players.
A dark spot on the Mean Green’s Sun Belt resume is that in conference it only holds a winning record against Troy, Florida International and Florida Atlantic. The other seven conference teams post winning records against the Mean Green.
UNT has been to the championship round of the Sun Belt Conference tournament three years in a row. This year, the Mean Green is the favorite to win the conference. Benford said winning the title won’t be easy.
“I think this league is underrated, to be honest with you,” Benford said. “You’ve got really good coaches [and] some quality players, we’re looking forward to the challenge this year.”
While other Sun Belt coaches predicted in the preseason that UNT would finish atop the division, Benford said Middle Tennessee is “the team to beat.”
Still present in the returning player’s minds is the upset loss in the conference championship game last year against Western Kentucky. UNT led by 13 points with 13 minutes left to play, until Western Kentucky took and held the lead with just more than one minute left to play.
“That was tough,” sophomore forward Tony Mitchell said during the season’s first press conference. “I felt like that game was my fault, to be honest with you. It’s motivation. It’s a blessing in disguise. At the same time, have to look past that and keep moving forward.”
Conference play begins for the Mean Green at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Super Pit against Louisiana-Lafayette. The two teams last met in the first round of last year’s Sun Belt conference tournament. UNT won 65-62.
Part two of the Sun Belt series will be in Friday’s edition of the SCENE.