Meet North Texas, the next NCAA men's tournament team America can fall in love with

Pete Thamel
·5 min read

In the aftermath of No. 13 North Texas’ overtime upset win of No. 4 Purdue in the first round of the NCAA men's tournament on Friday, Louis Hamlet attempted to navigate the nearly three blocks between Lucas Oil Stadium and the team hotel.

Louis Hamlet is the father of North Texas star point guard Javion Hamlet, and he found the sudden fame that often accompanies iconic NCAA upsets. Both Louis Hamlet’s ornate sweatshirt decorated with the image of his son and his attempt to video the postgame celebration with his iPad went viral on Saturday.

So after North Texas held on, 78-69, Louis Hamlet felt the salutes of stardom, as his dad vibes went viral on Twitter and he got stopped nearly 20 times in person.

Go Mean Green!

Proud of your Son!

Saw you on TV!

Everyone in America will get to see North Texas again on TV on Sunday, as it'll face No. 5 Villanova with perhaps the best chance to be the underdog story that America falls in love with. The NCAA men's tournament win marked the first in UNT school history, and another will nudge the school into another stratosphere in terms of attention.

And North Texas has made it clear the Mean Green are aiming higher, as Villanova remains vulnerable with star guard Collin Gillespie injured.

“It’s like they almost don’t really want to celebrate,” said UNT coach Grant McCasland. He added: “Everybody’s excited, but there’s a resolve to what we’re doing … the belief in that locker room is that we came here to play for it all.”

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: The North Texas Mean Green celebrate their victory over the Purdue Boilermakers in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
The North Texas Mean Green celebrate their victory over the Purdue Boilermakers in the first round of the NCAA men's tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 19, 2021, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Can North Texas win it all? Of course not. Can it advance further? Absolutely. After winning four games in fourth nights in the Conference USA tournament and erasing a seven-point lead at the end of regulation against Western Kentucky in the title game, it has been at this single-elimination game for a while.

UNT is led by 6-foot-4 redshirt senior Javion Hamlet, who has the name from Shakespeare, a teardrop game from the 1980s NBA and the kind of backstory built for March. He had zero scholarship offers out of Whitehaven High School in Memphis, as recruiters somehow avoided the school located on Elvis Presley Boulevard. At his fourth college following a quick hitch at Buffalo and two JUCOs, Hamlet has won both Conference USA Player of the Year in 2020 and the MVP of the league tournament this season.

He serenaded the crowd of mostly Purdue fans with a message that doubles as a warning for Villanova: “Don’t ever doubt me ... .Don’t ever doubt Javion Hamlet.”

What does this dream run mean?

Well, it should continue to eradicate some of the systemic classism that continues to pervade how the sport chooses at-large teams for the NCAA men's tournament. This marks the fifth time in the past six NCAA men's tournaments that a team from Conference USA won a game. North Texas in 2021 joins Marshall (2018), Middle Tennessee (2017 and 2016) and UAB (2015) as Conference USA teams to win in the tournament. It’s the type of consistent performance that should give the league more consideration, just like my colleague Jeff Eisenberg pointed out the Missouri Valley’s 18-10 NCAA men's tournament record since 2013 should change how that league is viewed.

But Conference USA hasn’t gotten multiple bids in the NCAAs since 2012, when Southern Miss snagged an at-large. Could a Sweet 16 run by UNT help disrupt a monopoly of allowing any major conference team in the tournament that can place light traces of a fog on a mirror?

“We finished with five teams in the KenPom Top 100,” North Texas AD Wren Baker told Yahoo Sports late Friday, rattling off UAB, Marshall, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. “I’m not saying they would have, but those teams were all capable of winning a game in the NCAA tournament. They passed the eye test.”

For mid-majors, they need more than the eye test. They often lack opportunity to play high-major programs, especially with the trend of expanding power conference league schedules to fill television inventory. And that means nearly a decade of watching major conferences like the Big Ten trot out nine teams, even when the early postseason referendum appears unfavorable. “This is a tribute to our league and how tough it is,” McCasland said.

For the teams in Conference USA, the victory also means a cash infusion for the conference. The NCAA informed Yahoo Sports on Friday that the value of a unit this year is $337,141, which is the complicated payout method the NCAA uses to distribute the tournament money. That $337,141 will be multiplied by five because it’s paid out over five years. (Normally it’s multiplied by six, but it’s less because of the cancellation of the 2020 tournament.)

So Conference USA was already guaranteed $1.68 million paid out over five years for its automatic bid. This win delivers an additional $1.68 million, as would all the subsequent wins. That’s transformative money for leagues that lack billion-dollar television deals.

“When the tournament didn’t happen last year, that was a more significant hit for our league than a Power Five league,” Baker said. “Because of the scope and size of our budget, we really depend on those revenues. To come back this year and help us and every team in our conference, we take a lot of pride in that.”

Could North Texas rake in another win and another round of cash for Conference USA? Perhaps Louis Hamlet, the endearing awkward dad of March, summed it up best to a Dallas TV station this week.

“The dream is not over until you say it’s over,” he said.

For now, the dream is alive. And the world is wondering what Louis Hamlet will wear on Sunday to see the Mean Green chase history again.

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