There are only six more games until UTEP wraps up their conference schedule and gets paired up within a group based on their pairings for the final four games of the season, which is reflected by the new Conference USA scheduling format.
Per the new scheduling system, UTEP will be placed in one of three groups based on conference standings through the first 14 games of C-USA play. They will fall among either two groups of five (1-5 and 6-10) or a group of four (11-14). During the final three weeks under this new schedule, UTEP will play within their respective grouping for the last four games of conference play. Home and away games within the groups will be determined by a preset formula, per the league offices.
So, obviously, the Miners (7-12, 2-6 Conference USA) would fall in the last group if the season ended today. UTEP will have to take on the current No. 5-10 seeds, whom all have winning records.
The Miners have an arduous road trip ahead of them with the likes of Marshall (Jan. 31) and Western Kentucky (Feb. 2) on their radar. UTEP could easily be 2-8 in C-USA after this weekend, which could also almost guarantee them a bottom four grouping. The Miners will return home to take on both Florida squads (FAU and FIU) and finish on the road against LA Tech and Southern Miss.
But with so much parity in C-USA, there's hope for the Miners.
Best case scenario for Rodney Terry and his bunch is if they can manage to split wins on both road trips and manage to beat both FAU and FIU at home. That would put the Miners at 6-8 overall, which might actually be good enough to put them in the No. 6-10 grouping.
A realistic case, though, is the Miners going .500 or worse through their last games. Marshall and Western Kentucky are two C-USA title contenders and they want nothing more than to blow past UTEP this week. Sweeping the Florida teams would be a major accomplishment. Finally, splitting their road trip against LA Tech and Southern Miss seems doable.
Like we've said, the Miners are beatable, but they can also beat anyone in the league. They are young, but they are also gritty and pesky. Sure, UTEP could probably dominate in the group of the bottom four (No. 11-14), should they be paired in the bottom of the league; but they should have their eyes set on the 6-10 seed of the conference.
And a side note on this scheduling mechanism: while it was an extremely ambitious and innovative model, C-USA looks to be, yet again, a one-bid league. North Texas at 18-3 has the cleanest record among the bunch, but what's the argument that they get in the NCAA Tournament if they don't win the C-USA Tournament? Unfortunately for the Mean Green, a win over New Mexico isn't going to cut it.
Long-shot hopes still hold true in this league in which anybody -- even UTEP -- could win and punch their ticket to the Big Dance.