2007-2008 UTEP Miners Basketball Preview
UTEP Miners - Conference USA
2006-07: 14-17, 6-10, 10th
2006-07 postseason: none
After three straight trips to the postseason, UTEP ran into some problems under first year coach Tony Barbee last season. Winding up tenth in the conference is not where the Miners expect to be and they should be closer to the middle of the pack in 2007-2008. A lack of depth up front will no longer be a concern, but the UTEP does not have enough talent quite yet to look for a postseason berth.
Kevin Henderson spent the majority of his senior season coming off the bench, but he was second on the team with 10.8 points per game. Henderson did most of his damage from long range on the offensive end, draining two long balls a game. He also grabbed 5.9 boards per contest, ranking second on the team, but that says just as much about the frontcourts lack of rebounding as it does about Henderson’s work on the glass. The perimeter group lost Malik Alvin as well. The point guard led the way averaging 4.4 assists. The frontcourt lost their biggest scoring threat in Maurice Thomas and the promising youngster Dale Vanwright.
The frontcourt is in obvious need of some depth and finding a starter or two would certainly be helpful. With this group, they should be able to do both. Tavaris Watts sat out last season to concentrate on academics after transferring in from Hillsborough Community College. The 6-8, 210 pound forward can use his wide body to get position under the basket and he can step outside and hit the long ball. If he is not starting in November, he probably will be by March. The same goes for Manuel Cass. Cass was headed to DePaul before opting for some time at prep school and eventually landed in El Paso. Like Watts, Cass can play either forward position and the athletic lefty should make an immediate impact as a freshman. Centers Claude Britten and Wayne Portalatin will add a couple much needed big bodies off the bench. Britten, at 6-11 and 285 pounds, has a body that can battle with just about anybody in the paint in the conference. For now, he should be a decent rebounder and a solid shotblocker. Gabriel McCulley, Julyan Stone and Randy Culpepper will add some depth on the wings. At 6-6, McCulley can bring another rebounding threat to the perimeter and do a little scoring too. Stone is 6-6 as well, but is better suited to spend a majority of his time at the two guard spot. He is a good shooter, a solid defender and can rack up some boards and assists as well. Culpepper may be the most intriguing prospect in the quality group of newcomers. At 5-10, he is obviously undersized for a shooting guard, but Culpepper can flat out score. He will knock down the long ball with consistency and will create his own shot off the dribble. He is not really a point guard and he will have to work on his passing if the Miners want to turn him into a traditional show runner. Either way, Culpepper will be on the floor and put up some big numbers sooner or later.
Who to Watch:
Stefon Jackson and Marvin Kilgore form one of the best and underappreciated backcourt duos in C-USA. Both struggled at times with the long ball and finding a little more consistency in that department will be very helpful, but the duo will do plenty of damage. Jackson averaged a team high 18.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. The second-team all-conference honoree is also a nuisance on defense and the junior will be the leader of this team for the next two years. Kilgore is not as explosive of a scorer and the point guard needs to work on cutting back on the turnovers. The team ranked ninth in the conference in turnovers and it will be up to Kilgore to knock that number down. Darren Clarke has the experience to be starting at the shooting guard spot, but he is probably better suited to come off the bench and knock down some three’s. If the team needs a smaller lineup on the floor, Clarke will be the guy they look to until the newcomers on the perimeter are ready for big minutes.
Final UTEP Projection:
The backcourt has the returning talent, but the frontcourt will not have to entirely depend on the newcomers either. Jeremy Sampson and Victor Ramalho are not great scorers, but they will get some rebounds and be a presence on the defensive end. Sampson, at 6-11, is a serviceable shot blocker, but Ramalho is a little better on the glass. The seniors will not light up the conference by any means, but at least are experienced options who will see plenty of playing time while the newcomers spend the season refining their skills. And really the whole team will need a year or two to come around. Coach Barbee is rebuilding and this year’s recruiting class is a great place to start. In a few years UTEP will be back in the mix atop the conference standings and back in the postseason, but for now improving on last year’s record and developing the youngsters should be the goal. If everything goes well, the NIT is not out of reach, but the freshmen will have to grow up fast and the outside shot will have to fall with more consistency for that to happen.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Marvin Kilgore, Senior, Guard, 8.3 points per game
Stefon Jackson, Junior, Guard, 18.6 points per game
Tavaris Watts, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Manuel Cass, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Victor Ramalho, Senior, Forward, 4.0 points per game
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