The Surprising Turnaround of UTEP Men’s Basketball
When the UTEP men's basketball team lost to Southern Miss in Hattiesburg on January 7th, the team had hit rock bottom. The Golden Eagles delivered the 12th consecutive loss to the Miners, and few fans expected head coach Tim Floyd to stop the bleeding. In the 26 days that have passed since that game, nobody imagined a complete 180-degree turnaround, but that is exactly what is happening in El Paso.
Last night, UTEP overcame a lackluster first half and battled back from an 11-point deficit to defeat the UAB Blazers 63-59. What made last night's victory even more special was that former Miners fan favorite Jeep Jackson was honored at halftime.
Suddenly, the Miners have won five of their last six games and are all alone in sixth place in the C-USA standings. Fans are starting to believe once again that UTEP has found the right solution to steer the ship in conference play. A big reason for their recent turnaround has been their defensive play. Assistant coach Bobby Braswell has implemented a point zone system which was created by Dean Smith at North Carolina. The defense can resemble both a 2-3 and a 1-3-1 zone and has been very effective for the Miners during this stretch. Coach Floyd, who does not like to play zone defense, has praised Braswell for the success that his point zone has brought the Miners.
Another big reason for the Miners' improved play has been their low post dominance. Suddenly, Matt Willms and Paul Thomas look like legitimate power threats in the block. Willms, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career at UTEP, has become a major force down low. In his last three games, Willms is averaging 22 points and 6 rebounds for the Miners. Thomas has been UTEP's most improved player and the sophomore forward is becoming a threat both offensively as well as defensively.
The Miners host Middle Tennessee tomorrow night, and the game will be their biggest test of conference play. The Blue Raiders are undefeated in league play and have a 20-3 overall record. Last night, Coach Floyd called Middle Tennessee a "Top-15 team in the country." A strong performance by UTEP tomorrow would go a long way. First, it gives them even more confidence heading into the final month of C-USA play. Second, it would get more El Paso fans back for the final four home games at the Don Haskins Center. The scariest thing about this UTEP basketball team is that we haven't seen their best yet. Hopefully, they are saving it for last.