Beginning Monday, June 21st,
2004 CHN began unveiling 144 Team previews in 144 Days. CHN ranked the
nations top 144 teams, and is unveiling one per day leading up until the
opening day of the 2004-05 Season.
144 Teams in 144 Days home page, and check back
each day to see which team is previewed next.
#31 UTEP Miners
2003-04: 24-8, 13-5, 1st
2003-04 postseason: NCAA
Miners won’t sneak up on anybody this year. Billy Gillispie led the
surprise Miners to a tie for first in the WAC and an at-large bid to the
NCAA Tournament, but then Gillispie split for Texas A&M and assistant coach
Doc Sadler stepped in. The coaching change has hurt the recruiting for this
year, but the multitude of returning talent will keep UTEP atop the WAC.
Who’s Out: Two starters are
gone in Chris Craig and Roy Smallwood. Craig, a 6-1 guard, averaged 9.2
points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. His departure leaves a gap
in the off guard spot for the Miners. Smallwood scored 8.2 points and
grabbed 5.1 boards per outing. Little used Omar Duran, Darius Mattear, Josh
Johnston and Joe Devance will not be returning to El Paso for the 2004-2005
Who’s In: With four
returning players averaging over ten points per game last year, there is
little room for the newcomers to get a starting gig. It could happen for
junior college transfer Miguel Ayala or incoming freshman Vernon Carr if
returning player Giovanni St. Amant doesn’t emerge as a solid two guard.
Ayala is a solid shooter and a tough player and should have the best chance
of replacing Chris Craig. Point guards James Fontenet from Scottsdale
Community College and Kelvin Davis will add depth behind starter Filiberto
Rivera. With a frontcourt of center John Tofi, forward Omar Thomas and
swingman Jason Williams, there won’t be much room for the freshmen to make a
big impact. Stanley Branch and Nathan Nixon will compete with returnees
Thomas Gehrke and Brent Murphy for minutes off the bench. Branch, a 6-8 210
pound power forward averaged 12 points and 11 rebounds as a senior in high
school. Nixon, a 6-10 center, redshirted last year and should be ready to
play a few minutes when a big body is needed under the basket. Adding more
depth to the frontcourt is 6-10 center Will Kimble. The former Pepperdine
player suffers from the same ailment that Hank Gathers had, but is returning
to the college basketball scene at UTEP.
Who to Watch: Point guard
Filiberto Rivera, swingman Jason Williams, forward Omar Thomas and center
John Tofi will all be fun to watch. The foursome combined for 49.1 points,
19.9 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game last year. It will be Rivera at the
point who needs to find the other scoring threats. At his first year in El
Paso last season, after transferring from Southeastern Community College in
Iowa, Rivera averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 assists. The Puerto Rican native
has outstanding vision and decision making skills. He’s a true point guard,
but is a great scorer inside and out.
Projected Conference Rank:
Nevada and Rice won’t make it easy, but the Miners have the talent to end up
1st in the conference. UTEP had a 12 year drought before making
the big dance last year. Miner fans won’t have to put up with that again,
with the Miners making back to back NCAA Tournament appearances.
Team #32 ,
Email Joel Welser:
Chat About CHN's Top #144
Return to the
144 Teams in 144 Days home page