The much awaited UT Arlington coaching debut of former Tennessee and Texas Tech assistant coach Chris Ogden went very well Tuesday night at College Park Center in UT Arlington’s season opener.
As I’ve written many times before, season openers can be ugly turnover-plagued contests but this game was surprisingly December-like. The ongoing storyline for UTA this season will be the fact that only one current Maverick saw major minutes in the rotation last season. In 2017-2018 a couple of current players saw action in a reserve role, several did not play due to redshirt status, one was injured, and a few others were playing at the high school or junior college-level. Some were recruited by former coach Scott Cross, some were added to the roster by Coach Ogden.
So, how did a group of players recruited by different coaches with different levels of experience do in their first time in a regular-season game at the Division I level?
It was good, even great at times. The Mavs only turned the ball over 13 times and easily defeated UT Tyler 90-66. UTA played at a frantic pace on offense for much of the game, especially in the first half. Lots of turnovers and rebounds that lead to fast breaks. And very cool dunks.
The Mavericks attacked the basket all night and getting a ton of layups or good looks at high-percentage short jumpers. UTA shot 7-28 from outside and was 43% for the game overall, scoring nearly half of their points in the paint.
Here’s some very quick first-impressions based on the first 40 minutes of play against a NAIA opponent:
Brian Warren, a junior college transfer, started at point guard, and scored 11 points in 16 minutes. Returning Maverick DJ Bryant played slightly more minutes (23 vs. 16). The Mavs will be very deep at this position. Would the Mavs use a 2 PG lineup at times?
David Azore, playing in his freshman season after sitting out last year due to an injury suffered in the exhibition game against Oklahoma, scored 15, making 4-12 shots and 6-7 from the free throw line. A great scorer in high school, he made a lot of strong drives to the paint for difficult baskets inside in his college debut. He has good size at the small forward position and is going to be a nightmare matchup for defenders this season.
Jacksonville State transfer guard Edrick Dennis scored 20 points on 8-14 shooting (2-4 from outside, 2-2 FT, 4 assists) will be likely one of the Mavericks’ leading scorers this season. Really quick off the dribble and showed great range from all over the court.
Patrick Mwamba, the first NBA Academy Africa graduate to sign with an NCAA Division-I school, could be a future star in the Sun Belt. He played 20 minutes and scored 13 on 5-7 shooting, 3-5 FT, 4 rebounds and a team-high 5 steals. He also had several highlight-worthy dunks. Super-athletic with a ton of energy. It will be fun to watch his game develop over the next four years.
Rashad Davis, a junior transfer small forward, scored 13 points on 5-9 shooting including 2-5 outside. Got to the paint with ease and effortlessly drained the outside shot as well.
Jabari Narcis, A 6’9 230 lb. junior college transfer will get likely most of the minutes at center this year. He scored 6 points on 3-7 shooting and got a team-high 11 rebounds.
Again, just one game in, but for a roster that has only been playing and practicing as a team for a few months it was surprisingly smooth offensively. The Mavs roster is not overly tall this year, but it is athletic, strong and played very well on defense at times. Rebounding and scoring off steals and fast breaks will be important. The Mavs shot 80% from the FT line (21-26), which will be an key stat to watch this season if UTA continues to attack the paint like they did tonight.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with all the new players on this year’s team, but I am very optimistic about this season after tonight. At the pace they played tonight, it’s a fun style to watch and should only get better as the team gels and gains experience. This team could be in very good shape by February and early March when the conference tournament gets here.
Next up: Saturday vs. Northern Iowa at College Park Center. Tough test for the second game of the season.