Twenty-seven games. That's all the UTEP basketball team was able to get out of Derrick Caracter's tenure as a Miner. CBS Sports Gary Parrish technically broke the story but we've known for some time that DC wouldn't return for his senior season.
Towards the end of the season, he was arguably our best player. He almost single-handedly won the Marshall game. He slammed home the monstrous "Six Second Slam" that clinched the UAB game in the season finale. In the NCAA Tournament he was the only Miner that didn't go quietly into the night as Shelvin Mack drained three after three down the stretch. Maybe, he was too good down the stretch. After the New York Times profiled his resurgence into the good graces of college basketball I knew he'd ride the momentum into the NBA Draft.
So, he's gone.
Great Britten: The Miners can sustain his loss if Tony Barbee's replacement can keep everybody currently on the team in El Paso next year. Caracter's starting spot should go to Claude Britten. Britten showed tremendous promise last season as DC would often find himself in foul trouble. Claude is a capable scorer but has never been asked to play starter minutes.
- Size Matters: At 280 pounds, I'm not certain that Claude can stay on the court 25 minutes a game over the course of a thirty game season. When he's fresh, he's polished on offense and active on defense. Still, he could probably benefit by losing 10-15 pounds this off-season so that he will be in better condition for increased playing time
- Wayne's World: UTEP is also lucky to have another 6'10 center returning to El Paso: Wayne Portalatin. The emergence of DC left Wayne on the bench for most of the 2009 season. But, he has potential to be a solid backup to Britten. Portalatin is athletic for a big man and he hustles on both ends of the court. He's not as polished on offense as Britten is, but he's more than capable of giving the Miners quality minutes and not being a liability at all on defense.
- The New Generation: Britten and Portalatin are both seniors, so the next Miner coach has to work hard to guarantee that Tony Barbee's signees stay on at UTEP. Barbee had commits from some very solid post players. John Bohannan, out of Texas state runner-up Lancaster High, might be the most ready to contribute right away.
- Bohannon: The 6'9 post player was sensational against the "fictional" National High School Champion Houston Yates in the Texas State Championship Game. ESPN reported that he "dominated inside" after pulling down 23 rebounds and scoring 12 points. As opposed to Britten, Bohannon needs to gain weight. At 190 pounds, he doesn't have the strength to bang in the middle yet.
- Korcheck and Curry: Barbee also signed Matt Korcheck (6'9, 200 lbs.) and Darrious Curry (6'7, 200 lbs) before he left for Auburn. Curry is projected to be a small forward in college. Korcheck was ranked the #29 center in the country according to Rivals. It's essential that UTEP's new coach reach out to Korcheck.
So, losing Derrick Caracter hurts. He probably could have used another season in college to improve some basic fundamentals he has problems with. He tends to get in bad position for rebounds and definitely has issues giving up dumb fouls. But, on offense he has tremendous footwork for his size and he elevates his game against top-tier talent. Tony Barbee undoubtedly left the program with better talent than he had when he arrived, though. With Britten, Arnett Moultrie, and Jeremy Williams returning, UTEP should be okay. But, if the Miners next head coach can't hold onto Korcheck and Bohannon, 2011 could be a disaster of a season.