High-Scoring Miners Looking to Shore Up Defense in 2016-17

The 2015-16 UTEP men’s basketball team was one of the best in school history from an offensive standpoint.  The Miners scored 80 points in 15 games, one shy of the school record.  They set a new school standard with 223 three-point field goals.  They also recorded the fourth-most field goals in a season (896), the fifth-most assists (512) and the fifth-most points (2,554).

“All the goals going in, making all those shots … all I can say is I’m really glad you all enjoyed watching all that, but I really didn’t,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.  “We’re going to try to get to where we can guard and score next year.”

The Miners allowed 74.9 points per game this season, and 77.6 in conference games.  With a depleted frontcourt and no real rim protector, UTEP didn’t stand much of a chance at stopping people on a consistent basis.

“I do think just having a link on the back line would’ve changed a lot,” Floyd said.  “Just having Matt Willms back there to block a shot or change a shot … hopefully he’ll get healthy, and we’ve got another young big guy, Kelvin Jones, sitting out.”

The status of Willms, who had foot surgery in January, is one of the questions facing the Miners this offseason and into the 2016-17 campaign.

“We’re looking at September for the cast to come off,” Floyd said.  “He’ll go through two months of physical therapy.  So this will be his third summer since he’s been here without any basketball whatsoever, which is just absolutely murder on this young man.

“He wants to be out there trying to get better.  Big guys need to be in the gym working on their low post game and their skill level.  It’s really a shame, but at least we’ll have him in some form next year we hope.  Of all the basketball injuries that a guy can take on, his is the most challenging without a doubt.  We’re just going to keep our fingers crossed all summer.”

Willms would be one of 10 returning lettermen if the roster looks the same in November as it does now, making the Miners one of Conference USA’s most experienced teams.  As it stands right now, UTEP would return about 70 percent of its scoring and rebounding production next season.

UTEP will introduce at least four newcomers – sophomore swingman Josh McSwiggan who sat out this season, and freshmen Jones, Deon Barrett and Tim Cameron.  Floyd also said the Miners are hoping to land “another fine player” this spring.

“I don’t know exactly where we are going into next year just yet,” Floyd said.  “We are going to let the fellas exhale here for about three or four days.  We’ll get together and address who they were this year and who they were not, so that they can work on trying to improve their games over the course of the offseason.”

Floyd and his staff will also work to secure redshirt years for Willms – who, if granted, would be a junior in 2016-17 – and Lee Moore, who played in only a few games for his junior college team a year ago and could also have two years remaining.

“I feel like both of them are entitled to [the year back],” Floyd said.  “Certainly Matt Willms with the injury redshirt.  I think that one’s a no-brainer.”

The Miners had five players with double-figure scoring averages – Moore (15.4 ppg), Earvin Morris (13.4), Omega Harris (12.3), Dominic Artis (11.9) and Terry Winn (10.0) – this season for the first time since 1986-87.  All but Morris are slated to return in 2016-17.

A third team All-Conference USA honoree, Moore led the Miners in scoring, double-figure scoring games (27) and 20-point games (seven).

“He really had a great ability to get north south and take it to the rim and make plays,” Floyd said.  “We’ve got a lot of confidence in his three-point shot.  I think he’s just terrific, absolutely terrific.”

Artis did a fine job running the team, dishing out 170 assists, the 10th-top seasonal total in school history.  Harris shot 44 percent from three-point range, the fourth-best effort in school history and tops among sophomores.

“They both improved,” Floyd said.  “I would’ve loved to have had the frontline that we anticipated having this year with those guys.”

Winn earned a spot on the league’s All-Freshman Team and saved his best for last, putting up a season-high 21 points against Marshall in the C-USA Tournament quarterfinals.

“He redshirted [in 2014-15] and we really didn’t know what to expect, but I was really proud of him and I was proud of his emotional intelligence on the floor for the most part,” Floyd said.  “He became our best film room guy, our best guy asking questions, game planning and worrying about how we were going to guard different actions that the other team was running, which shocked me.  I didn’t see that at all a year ago.

“He was physically mature enough to play as a freshman.  I thought he played hard every single night and was our most consistent defender all year long, which is a real compliment to a freshman.  It probably would’ve been ideal for him to play with another couple of big guys.  I think he’s got a chance to improve and put up the kind of production that Vince [Hunter] put up for us a year ago, ultimately.  We might be able to get that out of him game in and game out.”

Jake Flaggert and Trey Touchet also saw extensive action this season.  Flaggert shot 41.7 percent from three-point range and led the team in charges drawn (18).  Touchet appeared in 30 games and has demonstrated that he’s a student of the game.

“He is a really conscientious young man,” Floyd said.  “He called me [after the season ended] and wanted us to pull out video of every one of his missed shots and missed free throws, so he could go back and watch film and study himself.  He is aware that now is the time that players get better, in the offseason.  He’s just a freshman.  He is going to grow and get better, but I think he served his role well.  He was a guy we could trust off the bench for Dominic Artis this year.”

The Miners played their three freshmen big guys (Brodricks Jones, Christian Romine, Paul Thomas) out of necessity this season.

“We wouldn’t have redshirted all three of them, but we probably would’ve redshirted two of them with a healthy Matt Willms and Josh McSwiggan,” Floyd said.

Thomas played in 22 games, Jones 16 and Romine 14 after his redshirt was pulled in late November.

“You saw flashes from these guys but they weren’t physically strong enough, and mature enough physically, to go in there and really bang around,” Floyd said.  “These kids will get bigger and better and I think they have futures.”

Of the incoming newcomers, only McSwiggan practiced with the team this year.  He was a member of the national team and the Under-14 national championship team in his native Great Britain.

“I don’t like him, I love him,” Floyd said.  “I think he’s going to be terrific.  Whoever beats him out better bring a sack lunch, because it’s going to be a full day’s work.  He’s a talent.  He can shoot it, he can run and jump, he’s an athlete and he can pass it.”

A native of Hobbs, N.M., Jones sat out this season.

“He’s 6-11, 245 [pounds], and he came in about 210,” Floyd said.  “He has lifted on a continual basis.  He has worked on his low post game on his own, because we can’t work with him.  I think he’s got a tremendously high ceiling.”

The Miners’ November signees, Barrett and Cameron, wrapped up their prep careers by winning championships.  Barrett’s Lancaster High School squad captured its second consecutive 5A Texas state title and Cameron’s Hargrave Military Academy claimed the post grad National Championship.

“Deon is the kind of guy that I’ve always liked having on a team, although we haven’t had one on this team since we’ve been here,” Floyd said.  “It’s really the role that I think Jacques Streeter [2011-13] should’ve played, the guy that comes off the bench with a great burst, great energy, great quickness, great speed, can rise up and make a shot and makes every pass with two hands.  He’s a little guy [5-10], but he’s the kind of guy that a player has a hard time staying between him and the basket.  He’s going to be fun for our fans.  I think they’re going to enjoy watching him.

“Tim is a 6-3 ½, 6-4 perimeter guy who is a better athlete than our perimeter guys, who I think are very, very good athletes.  But he is a guy that I’m hoping will be a shutdown stopper defensively, which we desperately need, and a guy that I think is going to dunk everything around the rim.  He shoots it well and he’s a high character kid.  I think we’ve got a keeper there as well.”

The spring signing period begins on April 13 and the Miners are looking to make another significant addition.

“We need a guy with hair on his chest,” Floyd said.  “We’ll try to find somebody with toughness.  We need somebody with length, somebody that can block a shot for us.  We need somebody that’s not afraid to throw their body in the mix.”

The 2016-17 schedule won’t be finalized until this summer.  The non-conference slate will be highlighted by a Dec. 3 matchup at long-time rival New Mexico.

The Miners will also participate in the Charleston Classic, an ESPN event in Charleston, S.C.  Joining UTEP in the tournament, slated for Nov. 17-20, will be Boise State, Charleston, Mississippi State, UCF, Villanova, Wake Forest and Western Michigan.  Villanova is a no. 2 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. ​