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UTEP Basketball: What we learned from the Charleston Classic

Some thoughts and observations from the Miners initial tests of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Charleston Classic-Western Michigan vs Texas El-Paso Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Dominic Artis has been really good, but can still get better

Dominic Artis is playing like a man on a mission through four games and some exhibitions.

A mission to win at UTEP in his senior year, a mission to make his teammates better, and a mission to rekindle his forgotten NBA prospects.

But he could improve a couple of aspects that will rise his game to another level, and have NBA execs look his way once again.

Twice this season Artis and flirted with a triple-double, and has eight steals in four games, but being more efficient on the offensive end can turn DA from a really good player for UTEP, into a possible conference MVP.

Artis is shooting 49 percent from the field, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2-to-1, but watching the Miners' senior point guard, he can improve some small red flags into higher levels of production as the season moves on.

His strength and ability to get to the rim has already improved his scoring average. Now, finding ways to score more efficiently from outside the paint, and cleaning up some turnover issues will turn Artis into an efficient production machine as the season moves along.

A few turnovers this weekend were puzzling from the Miners' senior guard, but in his defense (if you will) he does have a lot on his plate in terms of what the coaches are asking him to do and run on both ends of the floor.

Artis has the potential to become a very, very special player who posts big numbers in his senior year. But the minor mistakes will stand out, but again they are minor, and Artis' work ethnic should will cover those over the next month.

Paul Thomas UTEP's best rebounder?

Statistically, he's UTEP leading rebounder so far, but is Paul Thomas developing into UTEP's best rebounder?

Consistency earns you a label, and Thomas has consistently rebounded well in all of UTEP's outings this season including the exhibition games. Terry Winn and Dominic Artis are UTEP's most proven rebounders, but Thomas is not far behind after watching him in the Charleston Classic.

The weight he put on in the off-season is clearly helping Thomas become more confident to contact as he's not shying away from contact at all, and has pulled in five rebounds in each game against D-1 opponents this season.

It's still early in the season, and UTEP is looking for a rebounders, and might find one if Thomas continues this pace into January.

This team can possibly improve their defense

Looking at the Wake Forest game, one could successfully argue that UTEP did not have a single successful defensive trip up the floor.

But on Friday, and for the most part on Sunday, UTEP improved their defensive marks by leaps and bounds.

It starts on the perimeter with the athleticism and quickness both Omega Harris, and Dominic Artis bring. In one instance Sunday, they both flustered a Mississippi State guard well above the three point line who had to maneuver his way around that pressure and when he dumped it off to his big man, UTEP's big man Matt Willms was able to affect his shot, and force a turnover.

UTEP can create some havoc with their guards via pressure, and a few excellent and well-timed gambles which has led to easy turnovers and layups quickly going the other end so far this year.

A healthy Matt Willms is again doing a great job of altering shots inside, and has also blocked a fair share of shots so far this season.

The athletes are there in the backcourt to create havoc before teams even set their half-court offense, the question will be can it all come together against athletic teams who have legit scorers, and ball handlers i.e. New Mexico, NMSU, UAB, Middle Tennessee, etc.…

As Kelvin Jones develops, his presence will help Willms' rest periods in protecting the paint, but overall it shows as bad as things were against Wake Forest, this team can improve defensively against lesser athletic teams the Miners can swarm.

When Omega Harris attacks the rim, good things happen

One of the biggest offensive takeaways from this past weekend was how easily things opened up when Omega Harris attacks the rim.

He's a freak athlete as we all know, and he's been using it to create a much needed dimension in UTEP's offense: the ability to blow by folks off the dribble.

Harris made buckets from around the rim seven times over the weekend, and a few times he did exactly what UTEP needed on that possession; getting to the rim for an easy bucket.

Soon, Harris will develop dynamics via the dribble drive and dish off his drives for easy dump offs to big men, kick outs for shooters, and has shown off a floater in the lane option.

Little by little, Harris' game is evolving and maturing, and in my eyes this is the biggest part of his basketball maturation.

Looks like UTEP will roll with a nine man rotation during conference play

Minus Terry Winn, UTEP went with an eight man rotation against Mississippi State, and you're not a complete homer to think if Winn plays, UTEP might win that one.

Having Winn come off the bench with Paul Thomas starting at power forward, and Jake Flaggert starting at small forward really gives UTEP some depth.

Winn will more than likely play 30 mins per game, but it gives UTEP a spark off the bench, and can also avoid Winn getting into early foul trouble which has been the case for most of this season so far.

Deon Barrett, and Trey Touchet are your backup guards, while Flaggert, Thomas, and Winn will make up the main forwards.

Obviously you have Jones and Willms at the center, but based off the Miners last two games, the following nine man rotation looks be the rotation Floyd will hang his hat on this year.

  • Artis---PG
  • Harris---SG
  • Flaggert---SF/G
  • Thomas----PF
  • Willms----C
  • Sixth man: Winn/and or Thomas, or Flaggert if Winn starts
  • First guard option: Touchet
  • Matchup guard/ we need a spark: Barrett
  • Kelvin Jones for Willms

What it does is essentially give Floyd options to red-shirt Adrian Moore or Tim Cameron, and gives Floyd a reliable nine (the past few years he's been riding with 7 or 8), with green options past the top-9 that could help, but still need time to develop.

But as always, Tim Floyd's rotations change almost on a game-to-game basis, but I feel he found something with those top-9 guys.

Overall thoughts

There's really only way to describe what went down in the Charleston Classic: encouraging.

This team could actually be better than what most originally thought, but there are still plenty of weaknesses certain teams will and can exploit as the year goes on.

Taking care of rock, and giving away possessions, and leaving points on the floor is the big one right now. UTEP still struggled closing out on shooters, and their communication on the defensive end will be a work in progresses all season.

UTEP's overall rebounding is still not out of the water, but a healthy Matt Willms, an active Dominic Artis, and an emerging Paul Thomas could also make this a struggle of the past.

But, there were moments of inexperience like giving up two double digit leads in each of half of the Mississippi State game, and nearly blowing a second half double digit lead against Western Michigan.

There were a heavy amount of good, and equally amount of bad things, but UTEP's overall performance was an encouraging one with all eyes on improving as a team in December.