We knew UT Arlington was going to look different this year. At least, we knew they were going to look different on the court. Last year’s Mavericks team featured seniors as seven of its top eight scorers, so a bit of a rebuild was to be expected from the 2018-19 rendition of the team.
What we didn’t expect, however, was that there would be a new head coach steering the ship. Scott Cross had been a staple at UT Arlington since being hired in 2006, and he was coming off of a third straight 20-win season before he was unexpectedly fired in late March.
The shock and surprise has been talked about ad nauseum, but this quote from UTA athletic director Jim Baker sums up his rationale:
In order to align the program’s direction with the University’s objectives, I believe new leadership and energy surrounding the program is needed. We will begin a national search immediately.
It’s been reported that Baker has dreams of becoming the next Gonzaga, as far-fetched as that may seem, so that leads us to now. Baker went on to hire Chris Ogden, who was coming off of his second season under Texas Tech’s Chris Beard after serving as an assistant under Rick Barnes for nearly a decade.
So what can we expect from UTA in Ogden’s first season?
Well, it’s probably not going to be pretty. As mentioned above, nearly all of their key contributors from last season’s team are gone. According to Bart Torvik’s T-Rank analytics site, UTA ranks 349th out of 353 in percentage of returning minutes with just 15.4%. Davion Turner is the most notable name, and even he only played in about 15 minutes per game last year.
In Torvik’s percentage of returning possessions, they rank even lower at 351st out of 353 with just 9.1% returning. Ogden will essentially be building the team from scratch. It’s going to be rebuild in the truest sense of the word.
He’ll most likely rely on Turner for leadership in the locker room and on the court. He’ll be tasked with filling the void in the frontcourt that was left by the departures of Kevin Hervey and Johnny Hamilton.
Another name to keep an eye on is Edric Dennis. The junior transfer from Jackson State will be eligible after sitting out last season, and he’s probably going to be given the keys to the offense. He showed that he is a capable scorer when he averaged 14 points per game in his lone season with Jackson State.
DJ Bryant will be another player that Ogden will look to for some stability. He appeared in every game last year for the Mavericks, but it was merely in a bench role. He’ll have to fill Erick Neal’s shoes as the lead guard, which is a tall task for a shorter player.
Outside of those three, there isn’t much of a track record of experience. Jabari Narcis will give them frontcourt minutes, but the rest of the roster is filled with other JUCO transfers and freshman.
All of this points to a bumpy ride for Ogden in his first season. They project to be in the bottom half of the Sun Belt, a significant change after a stretch of 20-win seasons. We can’t judge Ogden based on this first season. There has to be a grace period for him to get his guys in, establish a culture and start to build the program in his image.
But that first season is going to be rocky. If you’re a UTA fan, stay the course. Hope that Baker is right and that Ogden is the one that can get them back to the NCAA Tournament.
Just don’t expect UTA to become Gonzaga.
Editor: A previous version of this story included Deon Barrett. It has been fixed to account for his departure.