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UTEP Basketball: Three things we learned from the WKU-Marshall road trip

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UTEP has found an offensive identity

Matt Willms was the center piece of UTEP’s offense over the weekend, but UTEP’s emphasis of pounding the paint also opened up slashing chances for guys like Omega Harris, Dominic Artis, and Paul Thomas, making scoring look easy at times this weekend.

Willms scored 52 points on 24-for-31 shooting, and slammed down 5 dunks, helping UTEP scored exactly 100 points in the paint in their two games this weekend.

Over the past five games UTEP has scored 202 points in the paint which is an average of 40.4 per game, and have drastically improved their turnover issues due to this emphasis of going inside.

UTEP was patient averaging a little over 19 seconds per possession in the past two games, and handed out 29 assists with smart ball movement and patience. Artis also handed out 12 assists on the road trip.

Improved basketball IQ, and emphasis on getting the ball inside to the post adding in constant movement leading to cuts and dives mixed with around the rim execution hid the fact UTEP shot 3-for-24 from 3-point land on this road trip.

Performances like Willms’ and the execution of what looks to be a new found identity should keep UTEP competitive going forward as it seems UTEP finally found a consistent offensive identity.

Dan D’Anotni commented after the game that Marshall could not match UTEP’s physicality or size, something we haven’t seen out of a Tim Floyd team since the Cedrick Lang, and Julian Washburn days.

Add in UTEP’s physical edge and adapted physical nature of play as of late. And also the development of Kevlin Jones just doing the little things and adding muscle that allows Floyd to play Willms and Jones effectively which put the Herd away down the stretch.

This will be greatly tested this coming week though as UTEP faces two of the top premier interior defensive teams in the conference, but its good to see UTEP’s big men on the right path of development.

Artis’ leadership has improved UTEP’s all-around level of play

When UTEP was on the ropes early on against WKU, one of the factors that played into UTEP’s near comeback was Artis’ near triple-double.

Fast forward to Saturday, Artis was smart, efficient, and picked apart Marshall’s horrible defense by scoring 24 points from mostly inside the 3-point line as he only took one 3-pointer on Saturday.

Artis seems to be improving his teammates play with his continued high level of play which I feel is a product of Artis’ infectious leadership that starts with his off-court worth ethnic.

Artis made a jumper early on in the first half in where UTEP radio color announcer Steve Yellen commented was a gym rat shot which is the perfect of example of how Artis continued work ethnic during UTEP’s tough season has seemed to carry over to his teammates.

Having played over 100 career D-1 games, and scoring over 1,000 points means a lot, but his poise, work ethnic, and clutch play has UTEP in the middle of the C-USA standings after it looked like UTEP would struggle to even make the C-USA Tournament.

Upcoming home stand is crucial in a lot of ways

UTEP will play their next four at home, followed up by four on the road meaning this stretch could either make or break UTEP’s stretch of improvement as of late.

UAB and Middle Tennessee are first up, and both are clearly the most complete teams in the conference in terms of depth and personnel.

UTEP’s win against Marshall might turn a few heads, but has UTEP’s recent improvement make an upset against either UAB or Middle Tennessee possible?

The Miners still have plenty of weaknesses, but a core of Willms, Harris, Thomas, and Artis is developing, with three of the four having eligibility left for the future and this good stretch of basketball from all four is very encouraging.

UTEP has a shot at finishing in the middle of the standings, but this next stretch will truly tell how far not only how far this team has grown, but also how far UTEP’s developing core has grown into reliable winning pieces going forward.