There might not be a better Cinderella candidate than the UT Arlington Mavericks. This team could have won NCAA Tournament games a year ago, had it not been upset by Texas State in the Sun Belt tournament. A 27-win team that made the NIT quarterfinals last season is a senior-laden group with one final shot this season.
Here are three takeaways that could make the Mavericks the darlings of March.
UTA isn’t afraid of anybody
Winning on the road is nothing new for this group of Mavericks. Last year they took down a top-25 Saint Mary’s team, won comfortably at Texas, and opened the NIT with a blowout win, 105-89, over these BYU Cougars.
BYU might not be as good as their brand would suggest this season, but winning in front of thousands of opposing fans in a massive gym is never easy. Whoever comes out of the Sun Belt is going to get a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament — it’s been that way since Western Kentucky was a 9 all the way back in 2002 — and that means playing a good team, with good support, far from home.
Senior leadership makes it easy
Of the 10 players who’ve seen the floor for UTA this season, seven are seniors, and all but one of those seven played for Scott Cross last season. That lone newcomer, 7-footer Johnny Hamilton (10 points, five rebounds) transferred in from Virginia Tech. Had he stayed healthy last year, he’d have faced even scarier competition than this tough-scheduling UTA team will see.
Coach Cross not only has a deep, experienced roster, but he’s got two stellar seniors leading the way.
Forward Kevin Hervey (23 points, nine rebounds) is the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and point guard Erick Neal (21 points, 10 assists) is a two-time all-Sun Belt honoree.
The Mavericks are just downright good
BYU is one of the most fast-paced teams in college basketball, but just couldn’t get going for the first 20 minutes. The game ended with 72 possessions, not too far off the mark for the Cougars, but it was more frenetic than fast-paced.
At one point the Cougars missed 16 straight three pointers, in their own gym. Meanwhile, the Mavericks were lighting it up. UT Arlington connected on 12 of 20 shots from long range.
They play like a team of veterans, moving the ball flawlessly (10 turnovers) on one end and staying connected defensively on the other.
Don’t let the final score fool you, this was a blowout. UT Arlington put on a clinic offensively and made a BYU team with postseason aspirations look as hapless as they come. Which is exactly what the Mavericks did to the Cougars in the NIT last season. If all goes well, the Mavericks will get a shot to do it to somebody else, on a much bigger stage, the next time March rolls around.