There's excitement in the air for Miners men's basketball—can't you feel it?

Rodney Terry enters his second year at the helm of the program and his new bunch looks more talented than a UTEP squad has looked in years. This team will feature four returning starters and seven Division I transfers.

Playing time will be a battle among players in practice.

And for Terry, turning around an eight-win program (2018-19) to a possible C-USA Title contender will be a special storyline to watch.

Let's take a deep dive into this team:


 

2018-19 Season Recap

  • Overall record: 8-21 (0-13 away)
  • C-USA record: 3-15 (14th out of 14 teams)
  • Leading scorer: Evan Gilyard (13.6 points per game)

Last year was about setting the foundation for the UTEP men's basketball program, or as Terry would describe it, "[putting] a motor in the car." The team relied on four active freshmen that played significant minutes each game, plus a couple of players from the Tim Floyd era. In addition, the Miners had five players—Souley Boum, Tydus Verhoeven, Anthony Tarke, Kaden Archie and Bryson Williams—sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.

The freshmen that played were raw but they had undeniable talent, starting with All C-USA Freshman Efe Odigie. Through his first year, Odigie averaged a double-double (12.7 ppg/10.1 rpg) and racked up 11 double-doubles for the Miners. Their guard duo in Jordan Lathon (10.9 ppg/5.0 rpg/2.7 apg) and Nigel Hawkins (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) blasted through the gates as a likable backcourt combo. Kaosi Ezeagu (3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 block per game) was raw last year but provided some great support down low.

The Miners will also return walk-ons in senior forward Ountae Campbell and junior forward Gilles Dekoninick. Both of them joined Terry in his move from Fresno State to UTEP and served as off-the-bench players for the team last year.

The Miners lost leading scorer Evan Gilyard (13.6 ppg), who transferred to NMSU but probably would not have been in the future plans for the program at guard considering their loaded backcourt in 2019-20. They also lost sophomore guard Kobe Magee (transfer) and senior forward Paul Thomas (graduated).

In terms of their coaching staff, UTEP lost both top assistant coaches in Lamont Smith and Brian Burton, whom they replaced with Arturo Ormond and Kenton Paulino, while promoting Nick Matson to assistant coach.


 

2019-20 Team Preview 

  • Starters returning: Efe Odigie, Nigel Hawkins and Jordan Lathon
  • Eligible newcomers:  Kaden Archie (TCU), Souley Boum (San Francisco), Daryl Edwards (LSU), Anthony Tarke (NJIT), Tydus Verhoeven (Duquesne), Bryson Williams (Fresno State), Eric Vila (NW Florida JC) and Deon Stroud (Prop-48)
  • Sitting out 19-20 (per NCAA transfer rules): Keonte Kennedy (Xavier)

All the built-up anticipation for this 2019-20 squad will soon be on display for us to witness. Terry and his staff assembled a deep team that will be loaded in the frontcourt and features a tactical backcourt.

Bryson Williams (Fresno State) - Redshirt Junior Forward 

Terry knew how special Bryson Williams was at Fresno State, which is why he made it a priority to take the 6-foot-8 forward with him when he moved to UTEP. He's an adaptable forward that can dominate as a two-way player for the Miners.

In two seasons at Fresno State, Williams made 58 starts in 65 games played (2016-17, 2017-18) and averaged 14 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game during his sophomore season, which earned him All-Mountain West third team honors. There's not a player more important than Williams for UTEP this year.

Kaden Archie (TCU) - Sophomore Guard

Kaden Archie joined the Miners last season as a mid-year transfer from TCU, where he played in 10 games (2.1 ppg, 15 rebounds and 10 steals) and will be eligible for the Miners in December. In high school, Archie was rated a four-star prospect and ranked the No. 3 player in Texas.

Archie averaged a whopping 18.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals and .9 blocks per game and led Midlothian High (TX) to a 28-11 record and to the semifinals of the 5A state tournament, which was the high school’s first state tournament appearance. When he joins UTEP this year, expect him to play the 2-3 for the team and contend for a starting spot.

Souley Boum (San Francisco) - Sophomore Guard

Souley Boum raised eyebrows after his valiant effort during his true freshman campaign at San Francisco. Boum received West Coast Conference All-Freshman team honors after ranking second on the team and 25th in WCC for points per game (10.9). He also set a San Francisco record for free throws made as a freshman (121).

Boum can play a big role in UTEP's backcourt this season as a savvy, talented guard that can shoot, defend the perimeter and provide some experience to the team.

Daryl Edwards (LSU) - Grad Transfer Guard 

Because of his experience at LSU, one has to imagine that grad transfer Daryl Edwards will have an expanded role at UTEP for this upcoming season. Edwards played in 32 games with 16 starts through the past two seasons at LSU, where he had bursts of big scoring games.

Last year, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard played in just nine games before being sidelined with an injury. He had previously committed to play for Nevada upon his transfer from LSU but re-routed to UTEP during the summer. He will be an essential veteran presence in the Miners' backcourt this season, serving as the team's anticipated starting shooting guard.

Anthony Tarke (NJIT) - Redshirt Junior Forward/Guard

Chatter around the gym suggests that combo forward/guard Anthony Tarke could be a significant addition to the Miners' depth this year. He led NJIT in scoring (15.7 ppg) and was second on the team in rebounding (6.2 rpg), earning him first team All-Atlantic Sun Conference honors in 2018.

Tarke, who is 6-foot-6, 220-pounds of pure muscle, might serve as an upgrade from Ountae Campbell from last year, where he comes off the bench, plays physical defense and serves as an all-around player for the team.

Tydus Verhoeven (Duquesne) - Redshirt Sophomore Forward

I'm excited for Tydus Verhoeven to join a loaded frontcourt and find his place among some really talented players because Verhoeven is a talented and athletic big man that is here for the long haul.

At Duquesne, Verhoeven started the final 27 games of the 2017-18 season where he broke the program's freshman blocked shot record (71) and became the eighth freshman in the 42-year history of the Atlantic 10 to lead the league in blocks (2.22 bpg overall/2.33 in A-10 games only).

Eric Vila (NW Florida JC) - Redshirt Junior Forward 

If healthy, Eric Vila could be the anchor down low for the Miners this year at the center position. He towers at 6-foot-11 and incorporates a ton of different elements to his game—outside shooting, defending the paint and rebounding on both ends.

At the Junior College level this past season, Vila ranked third on the team in points per game (10.9) and total points (360), while leading his team in rebounds per game (7.3) and total rebounds (241).

Deon Stroud (Prop-48) - Freshman Guard

In the midst of all the recruiting and all the transfers coming into UTEP, some may have forgot about Deon Stroud, who was a Prop-48 last year and wasn't able to practice with the team. I'm here to tell you that Stroud, who is athletic as hell at 6-foot-5, is the real deal.

He was rated as a three-star prospect by ESPN, averaging 20.5 points per game, 10 rebounds per game and seven assists per contest at Trinity International High School. Stroud can fly out of the gym, and while his skills might be raw, he could be a spark or x-factor for this team down the line.


 

Starting Five Projections 

  1. Jordan Lathon
  2. Daryl Edwards
  3. Bryson Williams
  4. Efe Odigie
  5. Eric Vila

Or

  1. Jordan Lathon
  2. Nigel Hawkins
  3. Daryl Edwards
  4. Bryson Williams
  5. Efe Odigie

And when Kaden Archie gets eligible, it could look like:

  1. Jordan Lathon
  2. Daryl Edwards
  3. Kaden Archie
  4. Bryson Williams
  5. Efe Odigie

Coming up with a few different starting five's was the hardest task of this preview. It really depends on what Terry wants—speed, strength, physicality, emphasis on the big men or shooting heavy.

Knowing how Terry operated through the first season, he seems like a coach that will prioritize defense and playing inside-out over anything else, hence starting three forwards and two guards. But you also can't count out starting two guards, two forwards and a combo guard/forward.


 

Schedule breakdown 

 

UTEP Schedule

The schedule features a plethora of key games, including home games against New Mexico, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and New Mexico State, along with a huge road game against Houston.

This Saturday, the Miners will face 2019 national runner-up Texas Tech in an exhibition game for a very special cause on Saturday, Oct. 12 in the Don Haskins Center. All proceeds will be donated to the GECU Foundation in support of the victims of the tragedy in El Paso.

Regionally, the home-and-home against NMSU will intensify this year with the Battle of I-10. Small forward Trevelin Queen will be one of the key leaders for the Aggies this season and if Chris Jans gets his older Aggie bunch to get rolling early on, they could quest to an easy NCAA Tournament berth. But Jans doesn't simply want to get to the Tournament; he wants to win games with NMSU in March.

This year will be particularly interesting for the New Mexico Lobos, who will play at the Don Haskins Center on Nov. 19. New Mexico has a load of top-level recruits and transfers who are eligible this year, so expectations on head coach Paul Weir will be high this season. They have Zane Martin, a well regarded 6-foot-4 guard, Ohio State transfer JaQuan Lyle and Texas A&M transfer JJ Caldwell. You also cannot forget about forward Vance Jackson, who might be one of their best prospects to date.


 

Best Case Scenario 

UTEP finds its identity right off the bat and starts to pile early wins together to assert their presence leading to C-USA play. The frontcourt has the potential to be the best in the conference, and if the backcourt can play up to their level, this team should win 20-plus games this year.

If this Miners team is hot in January, look for them to compete against the league’s best and make a nice run in the tournament. A C-USA championship is a bold prediction—even for this talented bunch—but an NIT appearance should be obtainable.

Worst Case Scenario

The bottom point for this young team and could lead to confidence issues or growing pains. If this team cannot get the right rotation figured out or struggles to find their identity, losses could pile up like last year and the Miners could find themselves in some trouble. Missing the C-USA Tournament for back-to-back years seems pretty unfathomable but would be the ultimate rock bottom for this squad.