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November 1, 2012

UTEP's Much Improved Backcourt

Following last season's 15-17 record, there were a number of things that didn't go the Miners' way.

One of the major reasons for the sub .500 record was the scoring contributions from the backcourt, there were some flashes of brilliance during the season, but more often than not the offense struggled at key times during some close games that could have meant more than a handful of wins.

Over the offseason the Miners lost one of their top scoring guards (11 points per game), Michael Perez, due to a transfer to Nevada. However, the UTEP coaching staff did an admirable job of filling the scoring void left by Perez by bringing in some talented perimeter players to El Paso.

It goes without saying that sophomore Julian Washburn made quite an impression as freshman leading the team in scoring (11.5 ppg) last season and had some great moments in his first year under head coach Tim Floyd. He was arguably the best offensive and defensive player on the floor for UTEP throughout the season.

Washburn will still be a focal point for the offense, but with the newest additions to the team there will be less pressure for him to carry the scoring load similar to last season.

Miner fans will need to remember three names: Twymond Howard, [Konner Tucker and McKenzie Moore.

Starting with Tucker, the 23-year old graduate student from Sam Houston State, the Miners now have the luxury of another experienced leader in the locker room and an excellent shooter all the way out to the three-point line.

In addition to Tucker, UTEP will have one of the highest-rated senior recruits to ever don a Miner jersey after signing Howard last fall. Howard, a 2012 Parade All-American from Pearl, Mississippi is an extremely talented all-around player that could have an immediate impact similar to Washburn. Like Washburn he will have his ups and downs, but his upside is through the roof as he continues to learn the offense.

Last, but not least on the list is Moore, the uber-talented sophomore guard from Pleasant Hill, CA (City College of San Francisco). He will not be eligible until mid-December due to transfer rules, but he could have the biggest impact to the team when he hits the floor prior to conference play. Moore not only has the ability to score points in clutch situations, but can do a great job facilitating the offense while finding open teammates.

While the newcomers will be important to the success of the team the returnees will also need to make their mark during this upcoming season.

At the point, senior Jacques Streeter will need to play a larger role as a leader on the floor with the graduation of Gabriel McCulley and play at a more consistent level, especially finishing in the paint. With the new offensive options along with the holdovers this could be a banner year for Streeter going into his final year.

Backing up Streeter is sophomore C.J. Cooper; Cooper had some bright moments during his first year playing as a true freshman, but struggled to find his shot. He will need to take advantage of the minutes coming his way in what could be a make or break year for the second year player, especially once Moore find his way on the court.

Lastly, another sophomore who will need to step up his game is Jalen Ragland. Similar to Cooper, he had a tough time adjusting to the physical rigors of division one basketball and could not get going offensively in limited minutes. With Howard's addition to the team Ragland could find himself languishing on the bench without some significant improvement.

Some could look at the backcourt as a log jam with the amount of backcourt options at Floyd's disposal, but there are no guarantees when it comes to inconsistent play or injuries and the coaching staff will have no problems making the necessary changes. Aside from Streeter and Tucker this is still a very young backcourt, but the talent and depth could carry this team a long way this season.

Josh Puga can be reached at show@minerillustrated.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @jpuga1966 . Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.


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