Efe Odigie and a Tale of Two UTEP Basketball Seasons
What happened to Efe Odigie? This has to be one of the most baffling questions regarding the 2019-20 UTEP men's basketball season. The Miners' low post player was coming off of an impressive freshman season that saw him average 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and was named to the C-USA All Freshman team. During the offseason, Odigie dropped a ton of weight to get into better condition.
Everything was in place for UTEP's top returning low post threat to thrive in his sophomore year, but it has been exactly the opposite situation. Unlike the 2018-19 campaign, Odigie has found himself battling for valuable minutes with Eric Vila and Tydus Verhoeven. He is also not the team's top scoring option anymore, since Bryson Williams, Souley Boum, and Daryl Edwards have each become the Miners' top three offensive performers.
Odigie had been coming off the bench all season, but he finally worked himself back into the UTEP starting lineup against Southern Miss on January 9th. Miners fans were salivating over the opportunity to see the big man play alongside Williams. He remained in the starting lineup for the next two games, but he did not turn the opportunity into more playing time. Instead, he averaged only 10 minutes per game in each of his three starts. Last week, Efe was not with the team for their road game last Thursday against Rice. According to head coach Rodney Terry, the sophomore missed the team bus and he did not make it to the airport. Odigie is from Houston and the Rice game was his only opportunity to play at home in front of family and friends. He did rejoin the team in Denton but did not play in Saturday's loss to the Mean Green.
Statistically, Odigie is averaging 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 13 minutes per game. His 53.6 percent field goal percentage is second on the team behind only Williams. However, Efe has only played over 20 minutes in three games this season. Vila has been averaging nearly 25 minutes per game in conference play, with Odigie getting 12 minutes and Verhoeven seeing 9 minutes per game. When you dive deeper into his numbers and look at stats per 40 minutes, Efe averaged 18.7 points, 14.8 rebounds, and shot 48.6 percent last season but he's averaging 19.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 53.6 percent in 2019-20.
Miners fans have grown increasingly frustrated with the way Odigie has been used this season. He has been Bryson's backup but seldom has had the chance to play the 5 while Williams is at the 4. His defensive game is not as advanced as his offensive skills, and Coach Terry has preached that this UTEP team is at its best when they play great defense. There is no telling how many minutes Efe will see tonight against Middle Tennessee or during the final 10 games of the regular season. The one thing that is apparent is that the Miners need their best during this crucial five week stretch of conference games, and Efe Odigie could be a key contributor for UTEP if he is able to make the most of his opportunity.