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Preview Links: 2004-05 Preview Top 144 Reviews Writer Picks Team/Conf Previews


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.


Bookmark the 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


By Joel Welser


The 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 season.


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.


Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA


« Team #32 , Team #30  »


Email Joel Welser: jwelser_chn@ameritech.net

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