What to look for
UTEP finally ended their December woes with a resounding effort against a rebuilding Sam Houston State squad in their last outing before Christmas.
Using an early 23-0 run, the Miners defended, rebounded, and shot themselves out of a dark place with a much needed win that should instill confidence back into this young group.
The next step is continuing to build off that.
Dominic Artis was active on the boards, and took over offensively for a segment in the second half with aggressive dribble penetration. UTEP will only be as good as their guard play allows, and Artis provided one of the more efficient, and all around efforts since early on in the season.
His play helped UTEP shoot 12-of-26 from behind the three point line, and also helped UTEP get to the free throw line 28 times, and also cash in on 24 points in the paint.
Ball movement was a big key and the best it has been, the Miners assisted on 20 of their 28 made field goals, and were efficient in the open floor with nine easy fast break points.
Defensively, UTEP executed the basics against an undermanned team. Contested shots, help on drives, and more importantly, gang rebounding with guards involved were keys in UTEP's defensive effort.
But it was Paul Thomas who was UTEP's defensive MVP in their last outing. Thomas grabbed six rebounds, and blocked three shots, but more importantly gave UTEP a legit post presence against a much smaller team. Thomas kept things out of the lane, and also helped on the offensive glass early in the game
Tim Floyd applauded his effort afterwards, but how can that consistently translate against bigger teams is the next step in his growth.
At one point against Sam Houston UTEP's guards hauled in 23 of UTEP's 28 rebounds, a trend that certainly has to continue into conference play. UTEP's starting backcourt accounted for 22 rebounds against the Bearkats.
UTEP's front court will also be helped out depth wise with the return of Brodricks Jones.
"The adjustment we'll have is we're going to add a player back into the mix in Brodricks Jones, who might distort a little bit who we're trying to be because it's all new to him again." UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "But we have been working hard for four straight days, we have had six practices and we're looking forward to getting back on the court."
Look for UTEP to continue their defensive intensity, and tenacious rebounding efforts from their guards, in hopes of open floor chances which greatly improved against Sam Houston State.
Oh, oh, oh, Omega.
What an addition Harris has been for UTEP in the past three games.
He's averaged 18.3 points, is shooting 47.2 percent from the field, and is 12-of-22 from behind the three point line.
The growth we saw towards the end of last season has almost become full circle in Harris' first three games of this season.
"It's just growing in confidence and maturity in the game." Harris said. "Learning my speed, and learning what I can do with it, and seeing the open floor. Like coach Floyd said I have to play at different speeds if I want to be an effective guard."
Evidence of his growth is the 12 assists to five turnovers so far, as Omega has mainly played point guard during his return to the lineup. Harris' jump shot has also benefited from a mature approach of simply getting his feet set, and adjusting to tempos while running the point.
"He's shot it with his feet on the ground, and not shots that were not balanced." Tim Floyd said of Harris. "The thing he did best to me was at times he pulled it back. He's been a one speed player, great players can play in the full court, and half court if they need to get in the half court."
The start has been very promising for Harris who figures to become an every game factor from here on out.
Scouting UT Rio Grande Valley
It's been a rough stretch for the Vaqueros as they are in the midst of a five game losing streak, dropping all five games by an average margin of 14.4 points.
Rebounding has been the biggest issue as they are -6.8 on the year in rebounding margin, despite Shaquille Hines and Dan Kimasa each averaging six rebounds per game on the season.
Next to rebounding, taking care of the basketball has been another big issue.
Four Vaqueros have more than 20 turnovers on the season, but at the same time four players have more than 20 assists on the season.
Hines is their leading scorer averaging 14.8 points per game, but has shot 7-of-18 from the field in last two games only scoring 8 points in each of their last two losses.
Antonio Green is the biggest three point threat UT Rio Grande has at their disposal.
The freshman has been on somewhat of a tear from the behind the three point line lately. Green went 6-of-8 from three on December 21st against Utah State, and is 11-for-20 from deep in his last three games.
Green is shooting 47 percent from three point land on the year, only three Vaqueros have made more than 10 three pointers on the season.
Senior point guard J.J. Thompson is another player who can cause issues with his ability to penetrate and facilitate.
He's had more assists than turnovers in every game he's appeared in this season, averaging 4.8 dimes per game and is also 15-of-36 from three point land.
Depth is another issue, and something UTEP can expose, but which UTEP team comes out Tuesday night is the biggest question.
UT Rio Grande Valley (3-10) at UTEP Miners (6-5)
7:05 p.m. Moutain Time, Don Haskins Center, El Paso