A few weeks ago, I predicted the UTEP Men's basketball team would win between 16-18 games this season. I heard good things about some of the new recruits, but had no idea how much talent head coach Tim Floyd had brought to UTEP. I just remembered that Floyd kept saying he sacrificed quality for quantity during his first recruiting season because he needed to fill so many scholarships. After watching last night's 53-35 loss to Stphen F. Austin, it is obvious this UTEP team is light years away from competing on the court like Miner teams from the past 3 years.
In all fairness t0 Floyd and his coaching staff, this season is supposed to be a major rebuilding year. When former UTEP head coach Tony Barbee loaded up his roster for a run at an NCAA Tournament four years ago, he did not worry about losing 90% of his entire team after the 2010-11 season. He was only concerned with taking his team deep into the NCAA Tournament and hoping his team's success would help him land a major college coaching job. Once Auburn offered him millions of dollars to take over their basketball program, Barbee was packed and left so fast he did not return to say goodbye. Floyd inherited Barbee's talented veteran team, and led them to the C-USA Championship game and an NIT appearance. Now comes the challenging part of rebuilding a basketball program that achieved moderate success over the last four years.
The 2011-12 UTEP men's baasketball team has plenty of fresh faces and an equal amount of inexperience on the court. Seven freshmen including Julyan Washburn and Cedrick Lang have plenty of potential, and junior Division 1 transfer point guard Jacques Streeter is trying to get acclimated to his new roster of teammates. The Miners' lone senior, Gabriel McCulley is recovering from a leg injury and is not expected back on the court until the start of conference play. Early this season, it is obvious that this team is not yet ready to compete against some of the top teams in their conference. They struggle on both sides of the ball, and will need McCulley and Streeter to provide leadership for the younger players on the team. After losing to Eastern New Mexico (exhibition), UT San Antonio, and Stephen F. Austin, it is obvious that the Miners will struggle against better competition. Tuesday, they play Oregon on the road and then have almost a two week break before they host New Mexico State. Coach Floyd and his staff will continue working with them and hopefully, they start showing progress before they open up C-USA play at Marshall.
Even if UTEP struggles all season long, do not expect that to last into next season. Floyd has already recruited three players in the early signing period, and this group appears to be a much higher caliber of basketball player than the previous bunch. Throughout his college basketball coaching career, Floyd has never struggled winning games, evidenced by his .650 winning percentage and eight NCAA Tournament trips in 17 seasons as a head coach. It might take him a year or two , but Floyd will turn the Miners back into an annual threat to win C-USA and regularly return to the Big Dance.