Under Lew Hill, UTRGV just keeps getting better and better. Although the Vaqueros only had 14 wins compared to 20 from the 2018-19 season, they clinched the two-seed heading into the WAC tournament. That is the highest finish in program history. By winning eight of their last ten conference games, many thought that the Vaqueros had a real chance of making it to the championship game. The cancellation of the tournament saw a disappointing end to a great season. The future looks bright though in Edinburg, as Lew Hill and the Vaqueros have the potential to be even better in 2020-21.
Lesley Varner II, Jordan Jackson
Although this is a short list, these two accounted for nearly 42 percent of the Vaqueros points scored last season (combined 30.6ppg). Lesley Varner II was first team all-WAC selection. Jordan Jackson was a flashy player for the Vaqueros with a lethal jump shot and highlight-reel dunks. Replacing this type of production will be easier said than done for Lew Hill.
Javon Levi, Quinton Johnson II, Chris Freeman, Sean Rhea
This group will be one of the Vaqueros biggest strengths this season. Javon Levi is a potential WAC Player of the Year candidate. Levi is the reigning back-to-back WAC Defensive Player of the Year and was a second team All-WAC selection last season. He is the floor general for Lew Hill. He’ll also strive to be the first player to win the WAC Defensive Player of the Year award three different times.
Joining Levi in the backcourt is Quinton Johnson II, who claimed his spot as a starter when conference play began last season. With Jordan Jackson’s departure, expect Johnson II to help fill that void for the Vaqueros. Sean Rhea and Chris Freeman both started for Lew Hill in multiple games last season. These two showed glimpses of their potential last season, can they piece it together for a full season and step up for coach Lew Hill?
Jeff Otchere, Marek Nelson, Ricky “Doc” Nelson, Malik Lawrence-Anderson
Stony Brook graduate transfer Jeff Otchere was a terrific get for Lew Hill. Otchere was the American East Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 1.48 blocks per game. He could be the difference for how well the Vaqueros could do this season. Marek Nelson and Ricky Nelson (no relation, F.W.I.W) are both eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Malik Lawrence-Anderson joins the Vaqueros from Tyler Junior College where he shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. These four will all see significant minutes for coach Lew Hill.
Lew Hill – 5th season
Projected Starting Lineup:
G – Javon Levi, senior, 5’11, 175 lbs
G- Quinton Johnson II, redshirt sophomore, 6’4, 195 lbs
G/F- Chris Freeman, senior, 6’6, 190 lbs
F – Sean Rhea, redshirt junior, 6’8, 230 lbs
F – Jeff Otchere, graduate, 6’11, 240 lbs
Projected finish in WAC standings:
The battle for second place in the WAC this season will be a lot of fun to watch. The Vaqueros should be right in the thick of it all along with Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, and Seattle. If you thought things were crazy in the WAC last season, it could get even crazier this season.
What to expect:
Of the Vaqueros 16 roster players, 12 of them are upper-classmen. This team has loads of experience and returns four players who all started at various points last season. The Vaqueros ran a very steady rotation in 2019-20. With a couple of players now eligible and a few transfers who can play right away, the rotation schemes won’t look much more different this season.
Javon Levi and Jeff Otchere will wreak all kinds of havoc on the defensive end of the floor. The Vaqueros will be very tough to score on. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding this years Vaqueros team is can guys like Sean Rhea and Chris Freeman help fill the void left by Lesley Varner II and Jordan Jackson? UTRGV will be a hard-nosed, scrappy team this year, and that’s just how Lew Hill wants it to be.
If you want to hear Lew Hill’s thoughts about this upcoming season, be sure to listen to this podcast episode where chats with Kyle McDonald about the upcoming season. Be sure to follow WAC Hoops Digest on Twitter (@WacHoopsDigest) and myself (@t_creer54).