The late signing period has got Miner Nation buzzing, and with good reason. With only days left in the period, and a scholarship available, the Miners snagged 7'0 C Matt Willms of Findlay Prep (Las Vegas, NV) on Monday to round out the 2012 class. The two star recruit joined G/F Twymond Howard, F/C Chris Washburn Jr., G Dustin Watts, and juco transfer PG McKenzie Moore as the newest members of the UTEP basketball team.
The class is widely considered to be one of the best in years, and brings plenty of talent and depth to a team with an extremely bright future. Thoughts of the Miners experiencing immediate success are floating around, but the task at hand is certainly no easy one. That said, it's time to take a deeper look into what to expect from the 2012-13 season.
The Miners were one of the youngest teams in the nation in 2011-12, and with only one scholarship senior this year, that trend should continue. Joining the class of 2012, are seniors Jacques Streeter and Tyler Tafoya, juniors John Bohannon and Malcolm Moore, and sophomores Julian Washburn, Cedrick Lang, C.J. Cooper, and Hooper Vint. Sophomore Jalen Raglend will redshirt, and its still unclear what role, if any, redshirt fresman Tim Jacobs, Kevin Perry and Mauricio Cheda will fill.
The additions of Willms and Chris Washburn Jr. add even more size and depth to a front court that already features blooming stars like Bohannon and Lang, and returns solid players like Malcolm Moore and Vint from injury. The group will now have a total of six players who are all capable of putting in significant minutes, and contributing.
The back court loses one of its most experienced players, and arguably its best shooter in Michael Perez, but returns Streeter at the point, and Cooper as a combo guard. Julian Washburn and Twymond Howard give the team the ability to be extremely long and athletic at the 2 and 3 spots, and throw in Watts and McKenzie Moore and the possibilities are endless. Though, Moore will not be eligible until December because of transfer rules.
All in all, the Miners will have at least a dozen players that will compete for playing time, and that can be used in a number of different combinations. The overall versatility of the team will allow them to the adapt to whatever styles their opponents might bring. How exactly they fit together though, is still an unknown.
The team is certainly capable, but an extremely tough task lies ahead of them. The non-conference slate, which hasn't yet been completed, is turning out to be one of the toughest a Miner team has faced in a long while, and the conference schedule won't be much easier either.
Highlighting the non-conference schedule are home dates with Oregon and UNLV, a home and home series with New Mexico State, a road trip to Colorado St., and the Old Spice Classic featuring Clemson, Davidson, Gonzaga, Marist, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, and West Virginia. Also, a home game against Oral Roberts is still in the works, and the field for the Sun Bowl tournament still hasn't been announced.
In conference, the Miners will be going up against an extremely competitive bunch from top to bottom. The West "division" of Conference USA is loaded with potential, and could have a couple of teams in the mix for the conference title. Houston brings in a young and talented team with arguably the best recruiting class in the conference. SMU welcomes Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
Rice fields an experienced squad, with star F Arsalan Kazemi entering his senior year. Tulane gets F Kendall Timmons back from injury, and welcomes back freshman of the year Ricky Tarrant. Tulsa returns five of their top six scorers, and adds some size to replace the graduated Steven Idlet and D.J. Magley. The Western teams make up 10 of the 16 conference games for the Miners, and its looking like every night will be a battle.
The East, as always, will also bring a handful of contenders to the table. Memphis and UCF return the majority of their 2011-12 squads, and should easily be the class of the division. Both Marshall and Southern Miss will have to replace multiple key players, but still return plenty to build on. And, UAB and ECU both lose what most would consider their best player, but return nearly everyone else from fairly competitive teams. In the end, it wouldn't be a surprise to see two or three of these teams in the premier postseason tournaments.
Needless to say, there won't be a single night the Miners can take off in the 2012-13 season. The team is as deep and talented as we've seen in a long time, but there's talent aplenty throughout Conference USA. The good news is, we've got a great coach in Tim Floyd that can add all the intangibles to a team with so much promise. There's no doubt the future is bright, it's just a matter of how quickly the team can bring it all together. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, and I, for one, can't wait! Go Miners.