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Florida A&M at UTEP Game Preview: Floyd will test new lineups to help front court

UTEP is off to a strong start but with one more cupcake before the competition level rises.

Tim Floyd and the Miners continue the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic portion of the out of conference schedule with the 2-2 Florida A&M Rattlers Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m. in the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP comes in at 3-0 for scheduling purposes, and 2-0 for RPI purposes and will face a young Florida A&M squad, and second year head coach Bryon Samuels.

The Rattlers have two lopsided wins against Johnson University, and Thomas University, and lopsided losses to D-1 foes Southern Illinois, and Houston.

Seven of Florida A&M's top eight top scorers so far are freshman and sophomores.

6'6 Junior Malcolm Bernard leads the team with 16.3 points per game, while freshman forward Isaiah Omoregie has averaged 14.0 points per game to start the season.

The turnover prone Rattlers have average 18 turnovers per game, but have forced eight steals per game.  While their pressure on defense reflects decent athleticism, they are allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent from the field.

The big story for UTEP has been injuries as athletic trainer Tony Cordova's injury report piled up over the weekend.

Brodricks Jones will have surgery on a torn meniscus in the coming days, Tevin Caldwell could possibly return Friday, and results on Matt Willms are a few days away according to the El Paso Times.

"We're going to go compete it, we're going to fight it." Tim Floyd said of the early season adversity.  "We got a lot of new guys out there on the floor."

UTEP will look to get solid front court minutes from freshman Terry Winn, Paul Thomas, and even possibly Christian Romine as UTEP looks for front court depth.

"Christian Romine will no longer be red-shirted." Floyd said.  "He'll be back at practice like he has been but he'll be hearing his voice more in practice.  We're going to be counting on him."

To possibly try and hide UTEP's lack of front court depth, Tim Floyd hinted at starting more four guard lineups in order to protect UTEP's big's, mainly Hooper Vint.

"Having Hooper Vint as your only big guy out there it alters the way we have to go approach playing."  Floyd said.  "Playing more zone, playing more conservative defensively, we'll figure it out."

Floyd continued explaining on how UTEP could help themselves out by staying out of foul trouble with a four guard lineup.

"Flaggert is going to give us the ability to go play four guards at times."  Floyd added.  "We may have to start that way so that we have Terry, Paul, and Hooper to all play inside with Terry being a small and undersized five at times."

Meanwhile the backcourt has flourished in the early going.

Earvin Morris, Dominic Artis, and Lee Moore have reached double figure scoring numbers in all of their games played so far, with Artis putting up early conference MVP type production.

Artis has averaged 8.7 assists in UTEP's first three games, and is on pace to break Filiberto Rivera's singe-season assists record from the magical 2004-05 season.   Not only that, it appears he is finding his game legs, which has helped his shooting, and ability to penetrate and get to the free throw line.

UTEP will need top notch guard play going forward once the competition stiffens, but at this point it appears to be a strong identity that can translate no matter who mans up on the opposite side.

What we're watching for

Continued chemistry  and confidene growth

Thanks to play of Artis, this team is gelling, and finding themselves on both ends, but more so on the offensive end.

Artis is starting to get a feel for his teammates, and has shown the ability to find the open shooter against a man or zone, and is facilitating in an highly efficient manner in the open floor off turnovers.

Throw in extended minutes from a capable Paul Thomas, and the raw Christian Romine forces UTEP to expedite the process in getting these two frosh big men to produce offensively in a consistent manner as the chemistry growth continues.

This also means getting guards like Trey Touchet, and Jake Flaggert going in spots they are getting comfortable in shooting wise.  Thus easing some scoring load of UTEP's developing big three in Morris, Artis, and Moore.

The drop off when two of those three are off the floor is evident, but building chemistry with sheer confidence may get others going this week.

How will UTEP protect the paint?

It might not need to show up in a big way on Tuesday, but one of things the coaching staff is probably trying to figure out is how to protect the paint, rebounding included, with UTEP's front court issues.

Will it be a zone? More pressure above the three-point line?  And who steps up in the front court to help out in the rebounding department?

Both Terry Winn and Paul Thomas showed great effort, and in-tune focus on the defensive end, and in rebounding against Alcorn State.

That is half the battle in getting these freshman to learn on the fly, and also buy in to what helps win games for this particular team instead of filling up stat sheets with scoring numbers.

Credit to both for showing the detail, but its got to be done at least 25-or-more times this season, plus a few points by their name.

How does CTF juggle the lineups now?

He may not show his full cards tonight, but it will be interesting to see how Floyd keeps guys out of foul trouble by a rotation for the two games in Corpus with NMSU looming right after.

The guard rotation has been pretty simple, but you have to think the front court adjustments could be pretty exotic going forward.  The staff adjusted to an elite taller lineup with out guard depth, now the tables have flipped.

Will we see two big's in at once? And for how long? Will playing small even be an issue with the potential guard play?

Also, how will Terry Winn adjust to playing center as that figures to be from the outside looking in at the coaches meeting room as a zone based lineup on the defensive end.

One more step in figuring all that out gets underway at 7:05 tonight.