I was almost ready to post a UTEP and Conference-USA season preview last night before the game. In it those previews that ended up not happening (before last night's game at least), I would have tried to fight off my Miner bias as much as possible and remain realistic. I would have said stuff like "Tim Floyd's teams consistently start off slow," and "We have to remember that this is still one of the youngest teams in the country," and "With Mackenzie Moore and now Konner Tucker not joining the team until later in the year, we can expect another season where some losses will just have to be attributed to learning to play together. This is probably very premature, but after seeing last night's victory against a team that won 27 games last year, it's almost impossible to fight the Miner optimism we should have for this team. Let's quickly overview the bright spots in last night's game:
1. Chris Washburn, 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists, 1 block, in just 16 minutes
Before the season, I think I wrote somewhere that C-Wash might take the starting job from Cedrick Lang at the 4 position if he meets his potential. A lot of Miner fans were quick to come to Lang's defense, as I would expect from loyal Miner fans, but I was never knocking Ced when I wrote that. All I was saying was that Chris Washburn's potential ceiling is much higher than Lang's, especially offensively. We saw glimpses of that last night when he provided the necessary spark that led to the run that put the Eagles just could not come back from. Should he be the starter? Probably not yet. Lang is still a more developed player in terms of rebounding and who knows, maybe Coach Floyd has found a valuable 6th man spark. Either way, as a collective unit our bigs look solid.
2. Jalen Ragland's step forward?
His freshman year, Ragland played sparingly and scored a total of 42 points. He scored about 25% of his total point output last night with 10, but more importantly looked confident doing so. The kid is long and has a nice shot. A step forward in his game could not only really help the Miners while Tucker is out, but would really make depth a strength of this team. We'll see how he fares against tougher competition in the coming weeks.
3. The Miners caused 20 turnovers and allowed less than 50 points in a season opener
That's really all I have to say for that one. The Miners's defense was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but in the end the numbers don't lie. They were active in creating turnovers and pressuring the ball-handler and they stifled the Golden Eagles' offense in that second half.
4. John Bohannon poised for a big year
At the midway point in his Miner career J-Bo is only 56 points away from becoming the 75th member of UTEP's 600 points club. That means he has a shot to end up somewhere in UTEP's top 25 scorers of all time. Bohannon showed some really good signs last night, displaying sleek offense, solid defense, and working well with the other Miner big men. But he still lost a few rebounds he should have had and logged only 26 minutes.
Those are 4 of my biggest takeaways from game 1. I didn't even mention Jacques Streeter's great game that probably won't show up in the box score. Julian Washburn had a quiet night and the Miners still won by 20 points. That's when you know you have a solid team. On a night when the basketball program asked us to look back at our glory days in the 80's, it was really hard not to look forward to the bright future. This season will be a fun ride.