Roller coaster, up-and-down, inconsistent, a wild ride?
Just a few things some can consider labeling the 2015-16 UTEP Men's Basketball season which featured two six game win streaks, a five game losing streak, and no postseason.
UTEP allowed the most points per game in a season since the 1961 season, and it could be pinned on a number of things. Tim Floyd did not have a rim protector, UTEP struggled to guard on the perimeter, and the lack of a rebounding machine led to a mountain of second chance points in some games.
Free Throw Shooting
UTEP has seen their free throw percentage dip the past three seasons, as the Miners shot 66% percent from the line this season. At times, particularly at home, it's not an issue, but other times it proved to be a difference in some losses. A team with good enough shooters like the Miners had this season, UTEP should be flirting near 70% on the season. This is an area that needs major addressing, UTEP has shot under 68% from the free throw line the past three seasons.
Getting swept by NMSU
A split is expected, and a UTEP sweep is welcome, but getting swept by NMSU shouldn't be an option. Both losses exposed UTEP's weaknesses, and showed just how far behind the Miners are from that school up the road. This series can sometimes propel you, or bring you down, we saw how far it brought down the Miners early in December.
UTEP went 2-9 in true road games this year, losing seven straight at one point. Something that was a strong point a few years ago became something this young UTEP team just could not figure out. Pin it on the lack of ability to shut teams down on the defensive side if you want. Good defense and rebounding usually can travel anywhere.
Lack of bench production
Six players averaged at least 8.8 points per game or higher this season, but other than that the only player to average three points or more is Matt Willms who only appeared in two games this season. Jake Flaggert, Tevin Caldwell, Trey Touchet, Paul Thomas, and Brodricks Jones each had their flashes of good play. But the production needed in a 8-10 man rotation was just non-existent.
UTEP set schools records in 3-pointers made in a season, and set an identity that when the 3-ball falls, all will be right in Miner Land. It wasn't a live and die by the three mantra, but when it fell, the sun shined brighter in Miner Land. The good is a team full of good shooters lived up to expectations in this area, and most of the 3-pointer producers return in 2016-17.
Winn became a physical enforcer, and improved his defense down the stretch of the season. His touch around the rim also improved, and you figure he will start to work on his free throws and maybe a mid-range jumper. The stardom potential for Winn is very high, expect Winn to become more consistent, and a better defender in the coming years.
School Record Scoring
UTEP tied the school record by scoring 80 points or more in four straight conference games from Feb. 4-13. Overall the Miners scored 80+ points in eight of their last eleven games. UTEP has scored 80+ points 15 times this season. It's the most 80-point games for the Miners since 2003-04 (15). The 2000-01 squad set the school standard by scoring 80 or more on 16 occasions. UTEP ended the season averaging 77.4 points per game, its top scoring offense since 2003-04 (77.5 ppg).
Big Time Offensive Performances
On the Marshall-WKU homestand Feb. 4-6, UTEP had a 30-point scorer in consecutive games for the first time in seven years. Dominic Artis tallied a career-high 33 points against Marshall. Earvin Morris followed up with a personal best 32 points versus WKU. The last time UTEP had a 30-point scorer in back-to-back games was March of 2009 when Stefon Jackson did so in three consecutive contests (30 versus UAB and Southern Miss, 38 against Houston). Prior to the Marshall game, UTEP hadn't had a player score 30 in a contest since the 2010-11 campaign. The last time the Miners had two different players score 30 points in a game in the same season was 2008-09 when Jackson and Randy Culpepper achieved the feat. Lee Moore and Earvin Morris each scored 28 points to help UTEP wrap up the Corpus Christi Classic against Colorado State.
UTEP's guards were big keys this season, and set the offensive tone early on in the season. Not only could they shoot and score, they showed the ability to do it all in certain stretches from rebounding, to assists, to steals, and leading comebacks.
Well UTEP didn't get a big man how can recruiting be a positive this season? UTEP signed a winning point guard in Deon Barrett who seems to be able to do it all. And upgraded their athleticism with a potential perimeter defensive stopper in Tim Cameron. UTEP could also add a big man in this class, but Barrett and Cameron will add value down the road.
Losses to UTSA, Norfolk State, and Washington State
Take those two losses away (Norfolk, and UTSA), and the Miners confidence could have been a different story. The Washington State loss was by the far the ugliest of the three as a team UTEP had pretty much owned the past two season just wiped the floor with the Miners. Losses to Norfolk State, and UTSA are just unacceptable.
Allowing 50+ rebounds in a game
It happened a few times this year, once UTEP was able pull out a double overtime team, but the rest of those games fully exposed the Miners. Those were ugly moments that deflated this teams confidence.
Lack Of Physicality
At times, it was men among boys. UTEP's lack of front court depth allowed teams like NMSU, Old Dominion, UAB, and other physical teams bully around the Miners. This also goes back to the rebounding issues, but more so on the defensive end as teams seemingly drove past UTEP for easy layups. Physical toughness is something UTEP's core will need to find in the off season.
Overall it wasn't pretty, but a light of hope for the future is most of the producers from a pretty much brand new team in 2015-16 are slated to return next season. Roster stability seems be something we will finally get to see this off season which is a breath of fresh air.
If UTEP can find away in the off season to improve their defense, physical toughness, and add an inside presence, the expectations will (should) be high for next season.
But, next season is almost eight months away......