Five Storylines for UTEP Basketball Ahead of Marshall Home Game
The UTEP men's basketball squad (14-9, 7-4 C-USA) will prepare for their next home matchup against Marshall on Super Bowl Sunday, with a 1 p.m. tipoff at the Haskins Center.
Our coverage on 600 ESPN El Paso will start at 12:30 p.m. with Voice of the Miners Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen getting listeners ready on the Countdown to Tipoff show. There will not be MinerTalk following the game due to our coverage of Super Bowl 56. The game will be televised locally on the El Paso CW.
Here are five storylines to monitor heading into this weekend:
1. Golding & staff hit the recruiting trail
Since the Miners didn't go through the usual Thursday-Saturday game format, it allowed the coaching staff to leave town and hit the recruiting trail. Specifically, head coach Joe Golding and assistant Earl Boykins left town to recruit for the future.
The squad is also in an interesting situation with their roster beyond this year. The only player that for sure won't be back is Alfred Hollins since he's a graduate transfer. The rest of the roster will be eligible to come back next season. However, in college basketball, the entire country is seeing roster turnover now more than ever.
"It's a new era that we're living in," Golding explained. "It doesn't make them a bad person either if they leave. They leave for all kinds of reasons. They leave because they don't have the role they want. They leave for professional reasons. They leave for families. There's all sorts of reasons. Now they have the opportunity to do that and we have to adjust to that. They have the right to transfer and immediately play. We're going to learn to adjust as coaches but you have to adjust because it's not changing."
The Miners have one sure-fire JUCO transfer that will join the team for the 2022-23 season in Jonathan dos Anjos, who is currently averaging in double figures scoring at Florida Southwestern State College. San Diego State transfer Che Evans Jr., who is practicing with the team currently, will join the squad next season if he isn't eligible for the remainder of this year.
According to Verbal Commits, UTEP has shown interest in three other JUCO players and 10 high school prospects. Here is a list—by position—of players they have shown interest in. Note, small forward Khalfani Hill (Canada HS) verbally committed to UTEP under Rodney Terry back in 2020 and it's unclear if he is still going to be a target under the new staff.
- Point guards: Jamal Sumlin (Cleveland, OH / Class of 2022); Akeem Johnson (Fresno, CA / Class of 2023); Dusty Stromer (Los Angeles, CA / Class of 2023); Aasim Burton (Philadelphia, PA / Class of 2024)
- Shooting guards: KJ Lewis (El Paso, TX / Class of 2023); Deshawndre Washington (JUCO / Northwest Florida State College); Patrick Chew (Phoenix, AZ / Class of 2022); C.J. Luster (Denton, TX / Class of 2022); Emmanuel Okitindo (Congo / Class of 2024)
- Small forwards: Dorian Finister (New Orleans, LA / Class of 2022); Tyler Harris (Newark, CA / Class of 2023)
- Power Forwards: Amadou Traore (JUCO / Chipola College); Dario Domingos (JUCO / New Mexico Junior College)
It's also unclear how valid this list is, though there are gems in the group that Verbal Commits lists.
"We won't know what our roster will look like a month from now—who decides to stay, who leaves or what happens out there," Golding said on his radio show. "You're constantly recruiting every position and be prepared when it comes down to the end of the season."
2. Attendance for Sunday following Golding's gift to El Paso
I'm curious to see the final attendance for this UTEP basketball home game on Sunday.
As Steve Kaplowitz wrote last week, ticket prices have become pretty expensive for Miner home games. This week, UTEP athletics announced a $30 family four-pack discount pack for Sunday's game.
Golding announced on Wednesday that he would buy 30 different families the four pack of tickets for Marshall. The tickets were taken instantly on Thursday morning.
"This community has been unbelievable to my family," Golding said. "They've taken us in from day one. They've been great to my wife and my kids. We feel like El Paso is now home for us and we wanted to give back to the city. We felt no better way would be to buy 30 four-packs and let 30 families come to the game for free."
Now, being that it's Super Bowl Sunday, I wonder if the Miners will be able to draw a decent crowd. They have won six of their last seven games, with their next three matchups after Marshall being on the road.
The season high in attendance this year was the season opener against Western New Mexico when the Miners drew 6,751 fans. Since C-USA play started, the largest attendance was their home game against UTSA (5,023).
3. Jamal Bieniemy's hot streak continues
After 23 games, it's clear that Jamal Bieniemy is the most valuable player on the Miners' roster. He's playing at a first-team All C-USA level right now and he continues to be a versatile point guard for the squad.
Since C-USA play started, Bieniemy is averaging 18.2 points. He is coming off a weekend in which he combined to score 57 points, including a career-best 36-point game against Rice. He's averaging 15.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game.
"He said, 'I just want trust from a head coach.' I said, you have trust until you don't earn that trust," Golding said about JB. "He's earned that trust from me each and every day. He understands the game really well. He works hard. He's one of the hardest-working guys out there. The game rewards hard work. I'm so happy with him."
"Just getting more familiar with the offense and knowing where my shots will come," said Bieniemy. "Putting in the extra work before and after practice and just believing in myself."
4. Tydus Verhoeven's meeting that led to an increase in offensive production
Forward Tydus Verhoeven has seen a surge in offensive production down low over the past five games. Verhoeven had a conversation with the coaching staff about getting him more involved in the post. He's averaging 10.4 points in the last five games, while shooting 50% from the floor this season.
"We're a better team when we play inside out and that showed this weekend and that showed when we got on a streak," Verhoeven said. "Got to continue getting better at it and get more balance."
The Miners are running a two-big rotation as Verhoeven typically starts and Ze'Rik Onyema comes off the bench in relief. His teammates trust Verhoeven taking shots down low and playing inside out.
"Tydus continues to be aggressive and make plays," Bieniemy said. "We trust him. Our bigs have been working all year and it's paying off."
Oh, and UTEP is 9-0 all-time when Verhoeven scores in double figures.
"That's a pretty neat stat, I don't really play no mind to it," Verhoeven laughed.
5. Marshall scouting report
The Thundering Herd (8-16) have lost 13 of their last 14 games dating back to non-conference play, while they sit at 1-10 in C-USA play. They are coming off a heartbreaking 72-71 loss to Florida International on Thursday in which they committed 20 turnovers.
Taevion Kinsey is the familiar name that Miner fans might remember. He is among the C-USA leaders in points (19.9), while others like Andrew Taylor (13.8) and Obinna Anochili-Killen (12.8) also chip in with double digit scoring averages.
Despite the record, the Miners aren't taking this matchup lightly.
"High offense, high energy team," said Bieniemy on Marshall. "Lot of bigs, lot of size and we'll have to be ready to play."
The Miners are coming off a 66-58 loss to North Texas on Monday, which snapped a six-game UTEP win streak. They are 9-4 at home and recently split their road series with a loss to the Mean Green and a win against Rice (72-70).
"Last game [against North Texas], we wanted to get it really badly, but it's hard to do that when you turn the ball over, especially playing against a good team on their home court," Boum said. "I wouldn't say it's all bad. We stole one on the road."
Boum, who has been with the Miners for three seasons, says that the entire culture of the team has been the difference for the group in this recent stretch.
"I feel like we're playing really hard all together and we all bought into the coach's system," Boum said. "We're all bought in. We're playing for each other. We're flying on offense and defense and believing in each other."