UTEP at ACU: Three Storylines to Follow Before Tipoff
Having lost four straight to Division I schools, the UTEP men's basketball team (6-4) is hoping to get their first road win of the season (0-2), as they square off against Abilene Christian in a key non-conference matchup ahead of the West Star Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational (Dec. 20-21).
Most recently, the Miners fell to Oregon, 71-49, in a game that was a three point advantage for the Ducks at halftime (28-25) until they simply overpowered the Miners in the second half. After starting the season 5-0, the Miners have lost four of their last five games.
The Wildcats (4-6) enter Sunday's matchup on a four-game losing streak to Division I schools too, including losses to Stephen F. Austin (79-74, OT) and Northern Arizona (78-76). They recently beat Howard Payne (Div. III) 120-69.
We will have a special MinerTalk watch party on Sunday, Dec. 17, at The District West (3233 N. Mesa), featuring NFL games and UTEP vs. ACU. Afterward, MinerTalk will be live on 600 ESPN El Paso, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency.
Here are 3 storylines to follow before Sunday's game:
1. Homecoming for Joe Golding and Staff
Joe Golding was reminiscent and nostalgic when talking about his former team in Abilene Christian on his radio show this week. He deemed that ACU "made him a man," as he coached there for 10 years and posted a 158-144 record, including a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and a signature upset win over Texas in the first round of the tournament.
Golding also maintained that he "hates" playing against friends, such as ACU head coach Brette Tanner, who coached under Golding through his tenure. This will be Golding's first time playing at Moody Coliseum, ACU's $50 million new arena that debuted in 2022.
UTEP staff members Reggie Miller (ACU player), Brandon Decker and Bryen Spriggs will also return to Abilene Christian for the first time since joining Golding's staff from the Wildcats. Not only was the game not in the control of the Miner coaching staff—this game is part of the WAC-CUSA Challenge—but this matchup is also a key non-conference game for the Miners. The ship isn't sinking for this team, but a loss could mark the first red flag on this year's group. However, as I alluded before, a win gives them much-needed momentum going into the Sun Bowl Invitational next Wednesday.
2. UTEP by the Advanced Analytics
By KenPom's standards, UTEP has started the year as an inefficient offensive team trying to find its way and a defense that has the upside to be one of the best in CUSA. Currently, UTEP is 312 (of 362 Division I teams in NCAA) in adjusted offensive efficiency (97.5), yet they're No. 67 in adjusted defensive efficiency (99.2).
The good: KenPom ranks UTEP has the seventh best team in the country for defensive turnovers (23.6% of possessions) and eighth in free throw rate (47.5%).
The bad: UTEP is fourth worst in 3-point scoring (23%, 360th) and in the bottom-ten of offensive turnover rate (22.8, 355th). When talking about the matchup on his radio show, Golding speculated that this game could be a hard-fought defensive war between both squads knowing how similar styles both teams have.
UTEP forces 18.4 turnovers per game and the Wildcats force 16.4 themselves. Both programs turn the ball over 13 times per game, UTEP committing 14.7 per matchup. Both schools are getting help from their respective benches, as UTEP (28 bench points per game) and ACU (26 points) are both in the NCAA's top-100 in bench scoring. They are also identical statistically in free throw attempts per game—UTEP leading the way at 25.8 per game, while ACU is at 24.6 per game. ACU's advantage is in the free throw percentage category, leading 72.8% to UTEP's 66.3%.
3. Baylor Hebb's status remains doubtful
On Thursday, the NCAA warned universities that student-athletes who participate in games during the 14-day temporary restraining order by a federal judge will lose a season of eligibility if the ruling is reversed.
The NCAA issued an eight-question document designed to help universities understand the issues coming from Wednesday's federal ruling. A hearing on the restraining order between the judge and the NCAA is scheduled for Dec. 27. Amid the back-and-forth, UTEP is not planning to risk the eligibility of Baylor Hebb, who is pending an eligibility waiver as a two-time transfer from Colorado State. Golding, who spoke about the situation during his radio show, was