Efficiency on the offensive end in the past two games, albeit against weak competition, has been bolstered by solid guard play from UTEP's gelling group of guards who have adjusted quite quickly to the return of Omega Harris.
Omega Harris' return has been a huge boost, and has allowed guards like Dominic Artis and Lee Moore to rebound, and also find a rhythm inside the offense in where they are distributing the basketball at a high rate.
"I thought our guard play was very good tonight," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "It always looks better when the ball is going in the basket. You look at Lee Moore and Dominic Artis' assist-to-turnover ratio. The ball is just moving so well right now and as a result, this team that I told people could shoot it and you all thought I was crazy early, looks like we can shoot it because we are getting really open looks."
UTEP had 26 assists to just 12 turnovers, and scored on 52.6 percent of their 78 possessions last night, making it the second straight game UTEP has scored on over 50 percent of their possessions.
Showing the ability to score in transition, and in the half court, UTEP averaged 17 seconds per possession against UTRGV at different tempos off misses, forced turnovers, and return trips after allowing buckets.
UTRGV actually did a good job of getting back in transition to set up a zone, but UTEP's guards were able to pick apart a zone look for the second straight game with excellent ball movement, and also increased their open floor chances with stellar rebounding from guards.
"Second half it really opened up for us in transition." Dominic Artis said. "Lot of it is due to guards rebounding, so when we get the ball we can push ahead something we have been emphasizing. We've been scoring more points like we were earlier in the season so it's been helping us a lot."
Artis, Moore, Harris, and Earvin Morris combined for 22 rebounds, 49 points, and 22 assists against UTRGV. That production is almost given against a team like the Vaqueros, but continuing that into conference play for 18 games is a must for this group.
Making shots also makes things look a little more pretty like Floyd mentioned.
Venegas plays solid in limited minutes, draws a classic Floyd quote.
Freshman walk-on Ivan Venegas played the final four minutes of the game, in a segment where UTRGV had just cut the lead to fewer than 10 points, and played well in his limited minutes.
Venegas only grabbed two rebounds, and blocked a shot, but held is ground defensively and drew the quote of the year so far from Tim Floyd.
"He can't jump over a piece of toilet paper right now or run really fast." Floyd said of the 6'7 walk-on from Mexico. "But you know what he does catches everything around the rim, passes the ball very well, seems like he always rebounds outside of his area, can make a 15-footer, finishes a little bit around the basket, doesn't fully understand screen-and-roll defense or anything."
"But this kid has been a guy that I sit there and say you know what this the guy you see at the 35-and-older YMCA league playing against these 17-year old athletes and he kind of does some nice things and his team wins." Floyd said with a smile.
Venegas has scored just four points, and grabbed nine rebounds in just 13 minutes of garbage time this season, but Floyd says the assistant coaches have been pushing for him to get more of a look, and CTF has this ‘feeling' about him.
"I've just had this feeling about Ivan." Floyd said. "I watch our other freshman make mistake after mistake, which they should their freshman, and this kid just plays with poise. Our coaches keep saying why don't we look at Ivan? And the kids love him, we put him out there and I thought he handled himself really well, we're glad we have him."
Makes you wonder if we see more of Venegas in conference play with some long socks, goggles, and a head band.
Big man rotation
UTEP used seven different big men on Tuesday, something Floyd said will not happen very often, but was needed in a tune up game.
"I guess we looked at seven of them tonight." Floyd said of the front court rotation. "And that's too many, we can't do that every night because guys can't get into flow of the game, and we know that."
While no one has stood out over the last stretch of games, Christian Romine was fairly active on the defensive end in his four minutes of action. And Paul Thomas once again helped on the offensive boards, while Brodricks Jones was active defensively with five rebounds and a pair of blocks in his return from injury.
"Romine I thought he did fine, I thought what he did in terms of what we're asking him to do, defend, rebound the ball, try to front the post, try to protect and fill. He may have done that better any of our big guys tonight." Floyd said.
With Terry Winn, and Hooper Vint almost guaranteed to play the majority of the minutes barring any foul trouble, UTEP has some options during conference play, but no one has stood out according to Floyd to solidify must have minutes.
As of now, it looks like Paul Thomas and Brodricks Jones would be the main minute getters off the bench, but Romine and Venegas could possibly work their way in the rotation with solid practice performances.
Hooper playing with a heavy heart
Coach Floyd said after the game Hooper Vint is dealing with the loss of his best friend Chase Moreland who tragically died in Oklahoma during a hunting trip.
"Hooper Vint played well tonight and he was playing after losing a very close friend," Floyd said. "He played in a difficult place emotionally and mentally and I thought he handled it well."
Vint recorded his first double-double of the season, and pulled in seven offensive rebounds, leading to 12 UTEP second chance points.
Thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Vint family.
Out of conference grades
Here is how we grade things out over the OOC schedule
UTEP can score at will against lesser opponents, but have shown trouble in scoring against physical, and bigger teams. If the guard play continues to mold itself at a high rate, offense shouldn't be an issue. But physical team's like UAB, LA Tech, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion will test that notion to the fullest.
Floyd said this was one of the worst defensive teams he's coached a few games a ago, and while the effort is there, execution in a lot of areas is just not there yet. Overall stats show teams still shoot under 40 percent from the field and from behind the three point line on the season. The issue has been defending the drive, and protecting the paint as teams are shooting 45 percent from all shots inside the three point line. An issue that could become a problem during C-USA play along with of course, rebounding.
This team has the intangibles, but is a truly incomplete team with lack of front court production and depth. But guys like Artis, Harris, Moore, and Morris have the ability to take over games in masking those issue in some matchups. If a guy like Terry Winn can provide muscle, and double-double like production, those are extra intangibles that can carry this team for a decent run in conference play. Overall they may be behind defensively, but this young team is coming around slowly, let's see what happens against the upper echelon talent of C-USA to get a better feel on the overall make up. #BirminghamOrBust