UT Rio Grande Valley played some exciting basketball last season.
The Vaqueros played fast, made a lot of three’s and averaged nearly 80 points per game (78.3). The problem was they let their opponents play even more exciting basketball.
Their defense finished last in the WAC in KenPom adjusted efficiency — and 318th in the country — as they surrendered 1.13 points per possession. No game might have summed up UTRGV’s season more then when the Vaqueros torched a good New Mexico State defense for 101 points on Feb. 18, but gave up 107. All without overtime.
When asked earlier this summer how his team could improve on defense, second-year coach Lew Hill talked about experience first, but rebounding wasn’t far behind.
“The guys will have gone through it for a whole year. The starting point will be different. We’ll also be really, really demanding on defense,” he said. “There’s also the combination with rebounding. Last year we got good stops but couldn’t finish it with a rebound. Rebounding and defense go hand in hand, and we need to get better at both. Our full court defense was pretty good, we got steals and turnovers. But the half court defense needs to get better.”
In that vein, UTEP transfer forward Terry Winn, who is now eligible, may be a big part of a defensive upgrade in Edinburg. Hill gushed about him earlier this month.
“He's what we're missing,” says Hill. “He's the tough guy. He's the tough guy. He's the glue, he's the rebounder. He's the force. That's what we need. Every basketball team needs one."
Winn had an eventful career at UTEP. He played in one game in 2014-15 as a freshman before taking a redshirt due to an injury. He then had a great 2015-16 season, landing on the All-CUSA freshman team after averaging 10.0 points and 6.4 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game.
Last year, he left the team after appearing in three games. A public spat with Miners’ coach Tim Floyd followed over Winn’s alleged response to a benching early in the season against Western Michigan.
"You know, he had quit us twice as a freshman, and at some point you move on and you give the guys that you've got in your program that are really quality, good people - not that Terry isn't, I wish him the best, I wish him well - but we needed to focus on the guys that we have," said Floyd.
Floyd sent Winn home during the Charleston Classic Tournament approximately two weeks ago. According to Floyd, Winn then did not show up for a practice a few days later.
"He had a choice whether or not he was gonna come to practice on Tuesday and didn't come to practice on Tuesday, and at that point, we decided we needed to move on," said Floyd.
Winn had a different take on the situation, and talked about it at length with the The Prospector.
Winn also said he had no problem coming off the bench against Western Michigan and that he has often come off the bench during his career.
“For some apparent reason, (Floyd) felt as if I had an attitude about the (Western Michigan) game when I didn’t. We won the game and afterward I told numerous teammates that it may have been a great idea that I come off the bench,” Winn said.
“In shoot-around, (Floyd) comes in still assuming that I had an attitude about being benched the previous game and goes off on me from the jump, saying ‘I’m selfish’ and ‘a distraction’ and it’s about ‘me, me, me.’ I just laughed him off and simply said, ‘Coach, I’m trying to win the game. Man, let’s prepare for this game in a couple hours, not argue,’” Winn said. “He kept cursing me, saying this and that. I brushed it off with a smile and kept saying, ‘Coach, I’d rather not argue.’”
“There’s a lot of fake stuff going on in that program. No one really cares about your best interests as a player,” Winn said. “Just not the best of player-coach relationships—with you one day, against you the next—as if they never knew you. But, I understand. It’s a business. Nothing personal.”
Winn then landed at UTRGV, where his former prep school coach Jai Steadman is an assistant. And for a team that was led in rebounding by a 6’2’’ combo guard last season (Nick Dixon, 5.1 RPG), he’s the ideal addition.
The 22.8 percent defensive rebounding percentage he posted in 2015-16 was acres above last year’s team leader Dan Kimasa (13.1 MPG, 18.1 DR%) and its starting center Mike Hoffman (19.3 MPG, 15.9 DR%). Both are back for their respective senior years, providing UTRGV with frontcourt depth it didn’t have last season.
The Vaqueros also add 7’1’’ center Johnny Crnogorac, a JuCo transfer that spent a redshirt season at Ole Miss in 2014-15. Hill is looking for him to contribute across the board.
“He just needs to get stronger and protect the rim,” adds Hill. “When he's open for three, we want him to shoot the ball. He's a really good 3-point shooter, a really good 17-foot shooter. But most of all, he's got to rebound and protect the basket."
With a star guard in Dixon and potential on the perimeter, UTRGV has reason for optimism in Hill’s second season. And with Winn in the fold, the Vaqueros should be able to shore up an area in which they struggled a year ago.