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UTEP basketball: Miners look for 2-0 start against Texas State

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UTEP starts a lengthy stretch of games starting with the Texas State Bobcats on Saturday.

Chad Perli

The best way to find out about what you have for a basketball team is a stretch of five games in eight days after a week of practice to correct things that went on in your two exhibitions, and your "season opener."

UTEP starts leg one of an early heavy stretch of games with the Texas State Bobcats Saturday night in the Don Haskins Center.

"We have a lot going on right now and it will be good for us," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "It will expose our depth. Hopefully we have some."

Texas State and UTEP haven't hooked up in hoops since 2006.   The Bobcats have a couple of nice frontcourt players returning from a 14-17 season last year, and could pose some challenges for Tim Floyd and his young group.

"It will be an extremely well coached team and a team that has been together," Floyd said. "They've added some players. Certainly nothing like the teams that we played in our exhibition games. We're going to see a team that's going to challenge us. They've got a big guy that's their best player, guards that are going to take the ball off the wing and they run very efficient offense, very patient offense. And from what I understand [Kaspar] is doing a few new things that haven't been exposed that we're going to see for the first time on Saturday."

Texas State's leading rebounder and scorer from a year ago Emani Grant returns, but did not play in Texas State's opener and his status for Saturday is in question due to an injury.  Grant posted 12.7 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game last season and is the best athlete on their roster.

Anthony Roberson is a 6'5 guard who added seven points and eight rebounds for the Bobcats in their season opener but is dealing with the flu and may also miss Saturday's game.

The Bobcats opened their season with a 84-49 rout of UT-Tyler in where they got off to a hot start from the field in the opening minutes.

6'7 junior Kavin Gilder-Tilbury led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds on 6-of-10 shooting in the season opening win.   Gilder-Tilbury came on strong towards the end of last season averaging 16.3 points in the last four games, setting career highs in points with 20, and rebounds with nine last season.

Fellow 6'7 junior forward and JUCO transfer Maljhum McRea added 11 points and nine rebounds in his Texas State debut after he appeared in 31 games and averaged 12.9 points for St. Petersburg last season.

Texas State will come in with a new motion offense that will try to break down UTEP's man-to-man pressure, patience, and communication on drives and actions that lead to easy buckets.

Third year head coach Danny Kasper knows the Don very well as his Stephen F. Austin team came into the Don and upset the Miners in 2011.  Kaspar will bring in a tough defensive team that was a-top the Sun Belt in scoring defense last season, and the hope is the new motion offense will help get the Bobcats out of the Sun Belt scoring offense gutter.

Another player to be on the lookout for on the Texas State side is senior guard Evan Montalvo who led the Bobcats with 51 made three pointers last season and averaged seven points per game.

UTEP posted a 56% scoring percentage in their 84 possessions against Loyola (N.O) and averaged 14 seconds per possession, with 1.14 points per possession to open the season.

Dominic Artis who flirted with a triple-double had a +/- of 46, while Lee Moore had a +/- of 35 in UTEP's season opening drubbing.

Even though those two have only played two games together against inferior competition, the consistent production in any column on the stat sheet looks to be almost automatic from either of them game in-and-game out.

"Both of them do some really nice things and they're both playing hard," Floyd said of Moore and Artis. "They've both got some strength and size about them, physicality, and they're both anticipatory on the defensive end. Offensively, they both have the ability to get in the lane and they both have the ability to make a shot. They both pass the ball well. We really like what we're seeing from the backcourt this year early on."

Terry WInn, Earvin Morris, Christian Romine, and of course Omega Harris won't be available for the third straight week.

UTEP showed also off some depth against an undermanned NAIA team, and that rotation trend could continue to fully develop through the weekend.

"We're going to go about it a little bit differently," Floyd said of the preparation and possible rotations. "We're going to try to look at some of our depth. There will be guys that play a lot of minutes on Sunday that didn't play a lot on Saturday. We'll do dual preps during the week."

"Our guys won't be sure if they're working on who we're playing Saturday or who we're playing Sunday, because you never want to look towards the following game. But there will be things we certainly need to cover in preparation for the next one."

One thing UTEP will certainly look to fix is their turnover percentage as the Miners turned the ball over on 17% of their possessions against Loyola.  Another mark which doesn't seem to worrisome to the players or Floyd is the Miners struggles from beyond the arc in two exhibitions, and the season opener.

"One thing we're not doing well is shooting the three [3-for-15 on Saturday]," Floyd said.  "But I think that's maybe the best thing that this team does."

A strong point on Saturday that must carry over is the Miners focus, tenacity, and effort-led pressure on defense.  UTEP forced 21 Loyola turnovers, and held the Wolfpack to just 30.1 percent shooting.

Even against an outmatched NAIA team, that type of effort and energy shown by the Miners leads to elite defensive production and overall physical havoc no matter the competition.

A player who has quietly flown under the radar in UTEP's first three showings of the season could become UTEP's most important player come February and March.

Tevin Caldwell added an important nine points, and nine rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench for UTEP in the season opener.  Caldwell also added three steals to his stat line, and will be an important defensive and rebounding factor going forward.

"I love Tevin's energy. And I think when you watch Tevin, you're seeing a guy four inches shorter than Julian Washburn who is every bit as active," Floyd said. "That's why we redshirted a walk-on a year ago.  We are just thrilled with him. He is a key part to our team and we're distributing minutes. In a tight game, he's probably out there more than some other guys."

Certain pieces have come together and shown potential for UTEP with a month of practice, and three games against competition.  Over the next week we will certainly find out more about what the 2015-16 UTEP basketball team could be all about.