UTEP 2021-22 Schedule: Five Early Takeaways from the UTEP Basketball Slate
The first full schedule of the Joe Golding era has been officially released for the men's basketball team as unveiled by UTEP on Thursday.
The schedule features 17 home games and the season gets started on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
“We have set up a very exciting and challenging schedule for this upcoming season,” Golding said in a release. “We will be tested in nonconference play each night we take the court that will prepare us for conference play. I look forward to the challenging Conference USA schedule. We have the upmost respect for every player and coach in this league. I’m also looking forward to playing at home in the Don in front of the best fans in the country! We will need Miner Nation there to defend home court this season. The players and myself can’t wait for November 9 to get here!”
Here are five early takeaways from the schedule:
Miners tango with the Aggies early
Fans won't have to wait long for the Battle of I-10 basketball game, as the Miners are set to hit the road against the Aggies on Saturday, Nov. 13. Is the rivalry that much more sweet knowing that NMSU coach Chris Jans was a finalist for the UTEP head coaching vacancy? The answer: absolutely yes.
UTEP will go up against a new-looking Aggies squad, which capitalized on the transfer market over the offseason. They grabbed transfers like Nate Pryor (Washington), Mario McKinney (Logan College) and Ishan White (Polk State College). They also signed high school guard Kiran Oliver II (Shadow Ridge HS). Following their Nov. 13 meeting, the Miners and Aggies will square off at the Don Haskins Center on Dec. 3.
The two rivals did not play last year due to the pandemic and scheduling conflicts.
Golden Turkey Classic leads into Thanksgiving
A bit of a surprise here. We heard rumors of Pacific being on the Miners' road slate, but we didn't know it would be part of a mid-major invitational. The Miners will first play at Pacific (Nov. 19), then return home to host UC Riverside (Nov. 22), and close out the Golden Turkey Classic against Florida A&M before Thanksgiving (Nov. 24).
Pacific finished 9-9 overall last year in a pandemic-shortened season, ranking fifth in the West Coast Conference. UC Riverside ended the 2020-21 season third overall in the Big West league with a 14-8 overall record, including an 8-4 conference record. Out of the Mid-Eastern Conference, Florida A&M finished fifth in the league with an 8-12 record. The Miners will have a good opportunity to get some competitive games against other mid-majors during this stretch.
Kansas-New Mexico stretch is the most challenging
Revisiting the March 4 game, the Miners had a shot to knock off the No. 12 team in the country, but UTEP ultimately lost 67-62 to Kansas. Now, Golding will be able to go up against one of his coaching idols in Bill Self on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
Then, the Miners will have to follow up that tough matchup with another rivalry game at The Pit against new Lobos head coach Richard Pitino on Sunday, Dec. 12. Talk about a competitive stretch for the Miners before they return home to face McNeese State on Thursday, Dec. 16.
Sun Bowl Invitational features interesting mid-major competition
The Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational returns for the 59th annual tournament in El Paso this year with a field that includes UTEP, Bradley, Sam Houston State and NC Central. The Miners open the tournament against NC Central and then UTEP will take on the winner/loser of Bradley-Sam Houston.
NC Central struggled last season, finishing sixth in the Mid-Eastern Conference and went 0-6 in away games. Similarly, Bradley was among the worst teams out of the Missouri Valley Conference, ending the year in the bottom three of the conference and had a 12-16 record. Golding knows Sam Houston State very well from his days coaching Abilene Christian in the Southland Conference. In fact, Sam Houston finished right behind the eventual Southland champions in ACU last year, ending the year with a 19-9 record (12-1 home record).
The Miners are the reigning champs of their own invitational after the squad from 2019 beat UC Irvine 67-61.
The schedule is noble for a new group to prepare for C-USA
Many didn't know what to expect for the first schedule under new coach Golding. With the Miners returning four of their five starters from last year, there are expectations that the team will be competitive in year one under the new coaching staff. However, those expectations should not be confused with over-hyping this team into a sure-fire top-five team in C-USA.
This balanced non-conference schedule is sure to give the Miners games in which they can win, while also giving them challenging opponents sprinkled through home and away games.