Five Ways the Miners Can Get Back on Track After Road Skid
After a tough weekend that included back-to-back road losses UAB (76-63) and Middle Tennessee (75-72), UTEP (6-11, 1-5 Conference USA) is left to regroup as they sit in last place in the latest C-USA basketball standings.
They will have a chance to steal some league wins at home this week, as they take on Old Dominion on Thursday and Charlotte on Saturday in the Don Haskins Center.
2018-19 Men's Basketball Standings
Continue giving Lathon & Hawkins opportunities
Before we go into what isn't working, how about what is working for the Miners: their backcourt in Jordan Lathon, Nigel Hawkins and Evan Gilyard.
Gilyard is a night-in, night-out scorer at 17.2 points per game. His defense has improved, while opponents have begun to force him into tough scoring situations. We get the drill with him.
But the two that have become vital two-way players are Lathon and Hawkins, both of which should be focused on their development on this team. Now, it's about consistency with the two.
Had both Lathon and Hawkins not been in foul trouble against Middle Tennessee, the Miners may have won their road game against the Blue Raiders. And as of now, Hawkins is the team's C-USA leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and Lathon is No. 3 on the team in conference scoring (11.3 ppg).
Beyond their scoring numbers, it's all the details they do on the court. Lathon became arguably the team's best two-way player overall, averaging 9.6 ppg, 4.9 rebounds per game and nearly a block and/or a steal per game. Hawkins is also one of the more efficient scorers on the team, shooting .465/.333/.852 through C-USA play.
So to Rodney Terry and staff, keep doing what you're doing with these two.
Get the best out of Paul Thomas -- off the bench
For weeks we've beamed about Paul Thomas' increased struggles and it seemed to have rattled the coaching staff enough to pull him as a routine starter. Saturday's game was Thomas' first time not in the starting lineup for UTEP this season, as Ountae Campbell filled his spot at the forward position.
Thomas is shooting 20 percent (5-of-25) from the floor, averaging 22 minutes and scoring 2.7 points during the first six C-USA games.
Despite benching the team's lone senior, the Miners still need some production out of Thomas off the bench. He's averaging 3.3 rebounds per game, but if he gets off the bench and grabs more, that would make a difference for the Miners.
In limited action, though, Thomas must limit fouls and turnovers, which continues to hurt the Miners. He leads the team in fouls and has 36 turnovers on the season.
Coming off the bench might even prove to be the best thing for Thomas, who has struggled now for the past two seasons. If he comes off the bench, scores points, grabs some boards and plays good defense, then he can become valuable for this team instead of being a headache for UTEP.
Create better looks on offense
In three of the Miners' last five games, UTEP has shot less than 40 percent from the floor and are among the worst in C-USA in various shooting categories: ninth in field goal percentage (.433), 13th in scoring offense (66.6 ppg), 12th in free throw percentage (.647), and their best category being in 3-point efficiency, where they are fifth in C-USA (.347)
Coach Terry's defensive mind probably wouldn't put too much emphasis as we do on this, but the Miners could focus on field goal attempts per game to improve their recent shooting woes.
For example, the Miners shoot less than three 3-point attempts per game compared to the top three shooting teams in the league (North Texas, Southern Miss and Old Dominion), which seems reasonably fixable.
Small tweaks, such as shooting more attempts, could really go a long way for the Miners on offense.
Give more meaningful minutes to players off the bench
No matter how much they may lack depth, the Miners have been inconsistent when it comes to their bench. Some nights they score lights out and give some strong relief minutes for their starters. Other nights they are simply nonexistent.
UTEP's 17 points off the bench against Middle Tennessee was vital to their team, especially with four players having fouled out. But they scored a combined eight points off the bench against Rice and UAB.
The solution to this might be to give guys like Kobe Magee and Kaosi Ezeagu more shot attempts. Magee is one of the more efficient scorers on the team, shooting 39 percent on the floor and 33 percent from 3-point range. Ezeagu's inside buckets are seemingly 50-50 makes, so why not feed it inside to the big man?
Regain confidence with some wins
Winning solves a lot of things, right? The saying resonates with this team too, no matter the team's "never too high, never too low" mentality.
When the Miners beat Rice on the buzzer-beater finish, it gave the Miners added confidence and reassured them that they can compete with anyone in C-USA. Although, losses to UAB and Middle Tennessee were reminders that they can lose to anybody in the conference.
Home games are especially important for this bunch. If they can split the two home games this week -- hell, if they can win both of them -- it would make the world of a difference.
Being last in the conference and having lost five of their first six games in the league is no clear indicator of how this team really is. This is the same team that hung in with Marquette, New Mexico and NMSU in non-conference play. But inconsistencies have piled up and defenses are starting to adjust to UTEP.
UTEP must adapt as well.
Winning will help them ease up a bit and play with a little more confidence as a whole. And come Thursday and Saturday, we'll see just how this young team will come out with their backs against the wall.