UTEP hosts Louisiana College in their 96th season opener to tip off the 2016-17 season.
The Miners return three of the top-25 players in Conference USA, but have to replace a heavy chunk of their scoring that departed from last year’s team.
"It's an exciting time of the year," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "Two years ago we opened with New Mexico State and Washington State. This team was not really built for that, given the injury to Matt Willms a year ago and the fact that we are relying on some guys who have not played before. So we are going to go out against a Louisiana College team that I am somewhat familiar with."
Dominic Artis, Omega Harris, and Terry Winn all averaged double digit scoring numbers last season making them the first trio of double-digit scorers to return in 12 seasons, and only the ninth trio since 1950 to do so.
Artis, the Miners’ senior point guard, averaged 21 points per game in UTEP’s two exhibtion games in where UTEP averaged 83.5 points per game.
Winn averaged 16.5 points, and 9.5 rebounds in the pair of exhibitions, while Harris averaged 10.5 points per exhibition game.
UTEP will have the most freshman in C-USA with seven, 12 of UTEP’s players are either freshman or sophomores.
Louisiana College returns three of their top five scorers from last season including senior forward Raheem Regis who averaged 13.5 points per game last season.
This game is considered an exhibition for the Wildcats who dropped a 103-68 exhibition game to Louisiana-Monroe on Monday. They don’t have a player taller than 6’6, and will bring an up-tempo pace, and defensive style familiar to Tim Floyd.
"They are going to play very spirited, they are going to play hard," Tim Floyd said. "They are going to challenge us by putting five guards on the floor and try to drive our big 6-11 and seven footers who aren't used to guarding out on the floor. They have the ability to score a lot of points. They like to play an up-tempo style of play. They're going to trap us some out of zones."
Louisiana College head coach Reni Mason played for Tim Floyd at New Orleans from 1992-94. In the 1992-93 season, Mason averaged 7.5 points per game on the New Orleans team that won 26 games and went 18-0 in Sun Belt play.
UTEP has a lot of kinks to workout before the Charleston Classic next week, but Tim Floyd said UTEP would not take this run under the lights lightly.
"We purposely [scheduled the Charleston Classic] to challenge our team early in the year," he said. "We purposely opened it up where we are going to have about nine straight days to practice [after Nov. 23]. We think that can ultimately help our development as we move forward."
Things we want to see UTEP execute
- Take care of the rock
The Miners struggled with turnovers in exhibition play, and according to Tim Floyd have been working hard to clean that up. UTEP gave up 40 points off turnovers in the two exhibition games.
- Guard the three point line
Alaska-Fairbanks took 41 3-pointers, and only made 16, but had a more than a handful of WIDE open looks. Communication, particularly in transition could be exposed if UTEP’s struggles with Louisiana College’s up-tempo approach.
- Dominate the glass
UTEP will have the easy advantage on the boards, and probably own a +10 rebounding margin. But we want to see the energy, will, and aggressive approach to dominating the boards.
- Dribble penetration that leads to kick outs for 3
UTEP should have the speed and athletic advantage to create easy baskets, but with their personnel, this could become a lethal weapon down the road. No, its not the Tony Barbee dribble-drive offense, but Tim Floyd has said he wants to see this more. Guys like Jake Flaggert, Trey Touchet, and Omega Harris can benefit by this action.
Projecting UTEP’s rotation
PG: (1) Artis, (2) Touchet, (3) Deon Barrett
SG: (1) Harris, (2) Touchet, (3) Jake Flaggert, (4) Chris Barnes, (5) Tim Cameron (6) Adrian Moore
SF: (1) Winn, (2) Flaggert, (3) Paul Thomas, (4) Barnes (3-guard), (5) Cameron (3-guard)
PF: (1)Thomas, (2) Winn, (3) Ivan Venegas
C: (1) Matt Willms, (2), Kelvin Jones
What will happen?
UTEP hasn’t looked sharp in their two exhibition games, but that should change Saturday.
Artis, Winn, and Harris will get theirs, and that alone should carry UTEP to comfortable win. Floyd’s rotation will be interesting to watch, but I don’t feel it will be emptied until the game is in hand.
UTEP will dominate the glass, get to the free throw line, but if they can keep the Wildcats out of the lane, and off the 3-point line that should dictate how pretty it looks.
UTEP by 18.5