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UTEP Basketball 2016-17 Season Preview

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Rebuilding, reloading, and/or retooling? What are the Miners expectations for 2016-17?

Quick review of last season

Record: 19-14 overall, 10-8 in C-USA play

Best wins: vs Colorado State, vs LA Tech, vs Marshall

RPI: 215

One of UTEP's best offensive teams in recent memory was a possession away at a C-USA Tournament semifinal bout last season.

2015-16 was the definition of a roller coaster season with a red-hot start that garnered national attention, followed up by a rough December in where UTEP went 2-5 after a 7-0 start.

Conference play hit and UTEP basketball was again a wild roller coaster ride with some exciting wins, and puzzling losses, and the consequences of not having a consistent big man struck over-and-over.

Tim Floyd has been on record saying last year's team was the worst defensive team he's ever coached, but produced an explosive group that scored at will in conference play.

Key Departures:

Lee Moore: 15.4 points per game, 5.4 rebounds (Pro)

Earvin Morris: 13.4 points per game, (Graduated)

Hooper Vint: 8.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds (Graduated)

Brodricks Jones: 1.3 points per game (Transfer)

Tevin Caldwell: 2.8 points per game, defensive glue guy (Graduated)

Christian Romine: (Transfer)

Josh McSwiggan: (Transfer)

The biggest loss was the Miners' senior leader Earvin Morris, but Lee Moore could have possibly been labeled as a surefire C-USA MVP candidate heading into this season.

Hooper Vint had his best season as a Miner last year, and UTEP hopes Kelvin Jones can fill that void mixed with a healthy Matt Willms.

Josh McSwiggan will always be one of the biggest What If? players in UTEP basketball history and looked to be a perfect fit for this current team, but opted to transfer.

Four players: Romine, McSwiggan, Jones, and Moore were expected to make strides this season, but now UTEP will look for newcomers to replace their expected production.

New Additions

Chris Barnes, G, freshman

Deon Barrett, PG, freshman

Tim Cameron, G, freshman

Kelvin Jones, C, freshman

Adrian Moore, G, freshman

Isiah Osborne, G/F, sophomore

Based off UTEP's two exhibition games, the freshman rotation seems to be figuring itself out, but the season is long and nothing is set in stone as of yet.

Kelvin Jones will be forced to play 12-15 minutes per game based on how Matt Willms holds up with his foot. Jones is certainly raw, but shows flashes of a high ceiling and will be a work in progress all season.

Chris Barnes is starting to emerge as the main freshman off-guard to crack the rotation. Barnes has a solid frame that can withstand physicality, and his lefty stroke and offensive game will continue to grow.

Deon Barrett looks be another freshman who will see significant minutes backing up Dominic Artis at point guard. UTEP has some options with Trey Touchet and Omega Harris running the point, but Barrett's steady, and growing basketball IQ could help him earn minutes as the season goes along and as he adapts to physical and mental rigors of the D-1 game.

Tim Cameron is an explosive athlete that does not lack confidence, and is still learning the different tempos Floyd likes to play with i.e. Omega Harris' freshman year. Adrian Moore is another explosive athlete that could be red shirted, but it's hard to project his exact role at the moment.

Once conference play rolls around, the rotation will shorten, so from now until December each of these freshman guards should get a chance to earn minutes for when it counts the most.

Key Returners

Dominic Artis: 11.9 points per game, 170 assists

Omega Harris: 12.3 points per game, .440 3-pt FG %

Terry Winn: 10.0 points per game, 6.4 rebounds

Paul Thomas

Matt Willms

We've talked extensively of what Artis, Harris, and Winn bring to the table, but how much will Paul Thomas improve, and can Matt Willms play an entire season?

Tim Floyd has said Thomas is UTEP's most improved player so far and the former four-star prospect should see a huge production jump in his second year.

He certainly could have benefited from a red shirt year last season, but his offensive game is expanding, and he's playing with a renewed confidence that will help him reach is potential.

Watch for PT to start knocking down 12-16 foot jumpers, and use his length on the defensive end, but will certainly need to rebound to maximize his minutes.

For Matt Willms it's all about staying healthy.

Willms has looked okay in the Miners' scrimmage, and in the lone exhibition he's played. Conditioning and getting into game shape is his next step as he currently has a minute's limitation.

Artis, Harris, and Winn are All C-USA talents, but improvement from Thomas, and clean bill of health for 25-plus games out of Matt Willms could be major factors in the win column at the seasons end.

Team Strengths

  • Speed
  • Athleticism
  • Guard play
  • Guard depth
  • Dominic Artis
  • Terry Winn
  • Omega Harris' 3-point shooting

The thing that has stood out the most in UTEP's two exhibition games is the potential for stellar guard play along with the speed UTEP will have in the backcourt.

Omega Harris and Dominic Artis will have the ball in their hands a whole bunch this year, and that could be a good thing for UTEP.

Right now, UTEP's only consistent inside scorer is Terry Winn until Matt Willms gets his conditioning down, and as Kelvin Jones develops

That aspect will put the scoring load on both Artis and Harris to carry.

The need for efficient scoring from Artis was something of a weakness in the Miners' two exhibitions, but Artis has also shown sheer strength in getting in the lane, and getting to the foul line.

Harris could become automatic from long range off of Artis' penetration, but the question will be who UTEP will turn to when they need a bucket from inside the paint.

This is where Terry Winn comes in, and his added dimension of playing out on the wing could bring some diversity, and a physical lane driver to UTEP's offense.

Team Weaknesses

  • Guarding the 3-point line
  • Turnovers
  • Scoring, and scoring depth
  • Rebounding against bigger teams
  • Keeping the ball out of the lane
  • Lack of frontcourt depth

There are some weaknesses that have carried over from last season, and have shown up during the Miners exhibition series'.

One of biggest marks that will test UTEP's projected strength of guard play is limiting turnovers. UTEP might be a struggling defensive team once again, so giving away possessions might not be a good idea, and UTEP's leaders (Artis, Harris, Winn) will have to take pride in taking care of the rock.

You know what you’re going to get production wise from Winn, Artis, and Harris, but who steps up if one or more of the Miners 'Big 3' has a night off? Finding scoring production off the bench could be a major weakness early in the season as well.

The hope is a healthy Matt Willms, along with Winn and Kelvin Jones can shore up UTEP's rebounding issues against bigger teams. That will tested very early in the Charleston Classic tournament.

You also hope Willms' and Jones' presence can help keep the ball out of the lane, and eliminate easy layups which killed UTEP all year last season.

This list could grow with a young team finding their way early on in the season, but these marks standout a few days before the season opener.

Who is UTEP's top player?

Terry Winn and Omega Harris can be argued as UTEP's top player, but I feel this team will only go as far as Dominic Artis leads it.

Artis will see his shot volume rise, and could play almost 35-40 minutes per game.

The more efficient Artis is offensively, the easier it will be for UTEP to score. Arits also makes his teammates better, a thing Tim Floyd hopes rubs off on his fellow teammates.

Outside of the X's and O's part, this is Artis' last college go-round, and will have a chip on shoulder all year in proving he can lead this team to the postseason.

Key games on the schedule

11/17 vs Wake Forest (Charleston Classic)

12/08 @ New Mexico

12/13 vs NMSU

12/21, 12/22: West Star Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational

12/30 @ NMSU

1/5 @ LA Tech

1/26 @ WKU

2/2 vs UAB

2/4 vs Middle Tennessee

2/9 vs LA Tech

3/2 vs Old Dominion

UTEP only has a handful of RPI booster games on the out-of-conference slate, so it's almost safe to say RPI won't mean anything this year around these parts. And in terms of NCAA Tournament dreams, it's all about Birmingham in March.

But all the games listed are stepping stones, and measuring sticks on where this team is at.

The first test is obviously against a lower level ACC team in Wake Forest, but the December 7th road trip against New Mexico could tell us a lot about those Birmingham hopes.

The NMSU series is always exciting, but the Don Haskins Invitational has an interesting field with respectable mid-major tests.

UTEP drew some luck with conference contenders UAB and Middle Tennessee both traveling to El Paso for lone matchups with those two proven powers. Road wins at LA Tech, WKU, and even Marshall on the same road swing could do wonders for the confidence of this young team.

All in all, the schedule is weak, but the practice time in between OOC games, and the sequence of opponents could do this team good later in the season.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: Dominic Artis
  • SG: Omega Harris
  • SF: Terry Winn
  • PF: Paul Thomas
  • C: Matt Willms

We all know Tim Floyd's lineups will vary until January, but this lineup could be the most used this year.

Behind Artis will be Trey Touchet, and Deon Barrett, but I don't expect DA to see less than 35-minutes per game. Expect Floyd to use two point guards at times this year as those lineups were effective in exhibition play.

Jake Flaggert could spell Harris at shooting guard, but will certainly be a spot shooter at small forward and give UTEP defensive options on the wing. Paul Thomas will big part of the Miners' rotation this year, and can also slide down the SF if UTEP wants to go with a big lineup.

So many parts can be added with a variety of lineups using UTEP's guard depth, and speed. Going forward, UTEP's development of a conference play rotation will certainly become something to watch.

Overall season outlook

When asked what expectations UTEP fans should have for this group, Tim Floyd didn’t sound too sure.

"Just come and watch us grow that’s what I would say." Floyd said. "We'll obviously be better in March than we are in October. We just need to grow with these guys, and we will, it will be fun to watch."

If growing is another term for rebuilding, then that is what this 2016-17 season could be all about.

With three returning pieces who have all-conference talent, and developing role players returning along with the freshman, its hard predict what to exactly expect from this team.

UTEP should be able to take care of their OOC home games, but what sort of identities can this team build on for conference play?

Year seven of the Tim Floyd era starts Saturday against Louisiana College.