#96 UT Arlington Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

UT Arlington Mavericks
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #96
Conference Rank: #1 Sun Belt
The 2015-2016 campaign was supposed to be a rebuilding one for Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks had lost most of their backcourt and had a lot of questions heading into the year. Instead of rebuilding though, Coach Scott Cross’ team reloaded and finished 13-7 in Sun Belt play and reached the CIT. Their postseason success was limited in the conference tournament and the CIT, but the Mavericks won 24 games and return just about everybody. Perhaps the most important returning player if Kevin Hervey. He missed over half of last season, but the 6-7 forward averaged 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds. He is a beast in the paint and has the ability to step outside and knock down three-pointers. UTA managed to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country, even without the services of Hervey for half the year, and with him they will be even better.
2015-16 Record: 24-11, 13-7
2015-16 Postseason: CIT
Coach: Scott Cross
Coach Record: 177-139 at UT Arlington, 177-139 overall
Who’s Out:
With the top six scorers back, UTA returns a lot of talent. Kennedy Eubanks and Nick Pallas are the most significant departures. Eubanks started seven games last season when Hervey was out and averaged 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds on the year. Pallas was another forward who was a part of Coach Cross’ deep regular rotation. Little used Courtney Austin is the only other departure, but losing Eubanks and Pallas does raise some potential depth issues in the frontcourt.
Who’s In:
The Mavericks did address those depth concerns though with this group of newcomers. Incoming freshman DJ Bryant figures to battle for minutes off of the bench at the point guard position and Scott Muirhead joins the fray after redshirting last year, but Erkam Kiris and Link Kabadyundi will have to play a larger role in the frontcourt. Kiris is a 6-8 forward from Turkey who can shoot the ball and stretch the defense. Kabadyundi has the size and experience this team needs in the paint. The 7-1 center spent a season at TCU before heading to Blinn Junior College. He may not be able to score a ton at this level, but Kabadyundi will be a nice addition due to his rebounding and defensive abilities.
Who to Watch:
UTA returns all five players who were regular starters when Hervey was out. Jorge Bilbao will rejoin Hervey in the frontcourt. He averaged just 6.9 points per game, but was a beast on the glass with 7.1 per contest. Kaelon Wilson stepped in for Hervey, at least when Coach Cross wanted to play smaller. Wilson, a 6-2 junior, is an effective slasher and rebounder whether he starts or not. On the year, Wilson averaged 10.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. Jalen Jones is another strong rebounding guard. Jones is only 6-3, but he averaged 5.2 rebounds and added 12.7 points. Like Jones, Drew Charles is a quality outside shooter. Charles will do most of his scoring from beyond the arc, but he can get to the basket on occasion as well. Point guard Erick Neal is less consistent with his shooting, but he is a very dangerous overall scorer. He averaged 12.7 points per game and can attack the basket with ease. Neal also dished out 6.2 assists and is emerging as a great floor leader for Texas-Arlington.
Final Projection:
This is the year for UTA to do something special. The Sun Belt has had some very good teams lately, but most of them have already taken a step back or should take a step back this season. That leaves the door wide open for UT Arlington to make a run at an NCAA Tournament appearance and a Sun Belt regular season championship. This is an experienced team and all of the pieces are in place. As long as the injury bug stays away, Coach Cross can again run a ten man rotation and that amount of depth will make it very difficult for any team in the Sun Belt to keep up with the Mavericks.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Erick Neal, Junior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Drew Charles, Senior, Guard, 9.4 points per game
Jalen Jones, Senior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Kevin Hervey, Junior, Forward, 18.1 points per game
Jorge Bilbao, Senior, Forward, 6.9 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 78.9 (43rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 69.1 (102, 4)
Field-Goal Percentage: 42.5 (246, 6)
Field-Goal Defense: 39.6 (20, 2)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.8 (38, 2)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.6 (268, 6)
Free-Throw Percentage: 69.6 (176, 7)
Rebound Margin: 8.4 (12, 1)
Assists Per Game: 16.9 (13, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.8 (273, 9)