UTEP Basketball Faces Toughest Three Game Stretch in Non-Conference Play
NM State, Kansas and New Mexico highlight the tough three-game stretch that the UTEP men's basketball squad will endure over the next nine days.
This stretch is by far the toughest set of games that the Miners will experience. Under first year head coach Joe Golding, this will be an excellent opportunity to gauge how far along this team is up to this point.
They regained their leading scorer this week in junior Souley Boum (20.7 ppg), who is back from COVID-19 protocols. Junior guard Christian Agnew, who was also in COVID protocols and sidelined during the two-game stretch last week, is back in action as well.
Fans can listen to UTEP vs. NM State on Friday night starting at 5:30, with Voice of the Miners Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen calling the game. MinerTalk will follow the broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso.
If UTEP comes out looking better on the other side of this three-game stretch, it could give the Miners some added momentum to close the non-conference slate and begin C-USA play.
Battle of I-10: 'We don't like those guys, those guys don't like us.'
For a full game preview of the Battle of I-10, check out Steve's latest story on the keys to the game. Similar to the Miners getting back Boum and Agnew from COVID-19 protocols, NM State coach Chris Jans will also be back on Friday after a stint with COVID-19 forced him to miss the Aggies' last two matchups.
Joe Golding on the keys to NM State:
"The first will be rebounding," Golding said. "Any time you play a coach Jans team, they're older, they're more mature and they're stronger. We've got to compete on the glass. We've gotten better, but still challenging our guys."
"Second thing is middle drive. We have to do a good job on ball screen and not let the ball go into the middle."
"Third thing is transition defense and make them play against us in the half court. On offense, we have to have more discipline in what we do. We have to run our sets better. We have to spread the floor. Hopefully we can hit some shots. It'd be nice to turn them over and get some points."
"The most important thing is our crowd. Being a big rivalry, they had a big crowd in their game. I know our crowd is fired up about this game and I know they'll support us." - Joe Golding before Battle of I-10
Boum is one of the few Miners that was on the 2019 squad that last defeated NM State at the Haskins Center. He fully understands how important this game is to the community.
"Since I've been here, El Paso and Las Cruces just don't get along," Boum said. "When we play those guys, it's going to be a hard-fought battle. Chris Jans coaches those players hard. It's a real rivalry. Hoping we can get this win. It's not any regular game on your schedule. You get up for this game."
Sophomore guard Keonte Kennedy, who is averaging 9.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game, compared this matchup to some of the best rivalries in the country.
"This game needs to be publicized more," Kennedy said. "When I was at Xavier, Xavier-Cincinnati was a big rivalry. Getting here, it's the same thing. We don't like those guys, those guys don't like us. I don't like any opponents. It's one of the best rivalries and it needs to be publicized more."
A look ahead to (#8) Kansas
UTEP's back-and-forth contest nine months ago against Kansas makes this fall rematch that much more interesting. Last time the two squads met, the Jayhawks were ranked No. 13 and this time, they are again a perennial Big 12 title team.
Kansas (5-1) has enjoyed a mostly successful season thus far, besides their upset loss to Dayton. They will face St. John's on Friday night. Kansas standout Ochai Agbaji has hit 41.7% of the 3-pointers he's attempted this year. While UTEP is great about causing turnovers on defense, Kansas protects the ball on their side and only turns the ball on 14.4% of its possessions, which ranks 17th in the country.
UTEP will travel to Kansas on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
First look at New Mexico
First-year head coach Richard Pitino took over a Lobos program that was in a bit of disarray from last year. They went 2-15 in the Mountain West last year and fired previous coach Paul Weir. This year, the Lobos (5-3) have experienced both the highs and lows of establishing a new foundation.
They started off 4-1 on the year and only lost to Colorado up to that point. In Las Vegas, they dropped a pair of games to UAB and Townson. But they rebounded from the two losses with a significant 101-94 win at NM State this week. They will host NM State (Dec. 6) and Denver (Dec. 9) before facing the Miners at the Pit on Sunday, Dec. 12.
A KenPom rankings check in
UTEP is currently ranked No. 155 in KenPom, which is regarded as one of the best advanced analytic websites on college basketball. They have fluctuated between No. 150-160 this year.
The Miners have shown promise in defensive categories by KenPom's measures. They are 22nd in defensive turnover percentage (24.5), 22nd in non-steal turnover percentage (12.8) and 87th in adjusted defensive efficiency (97.1). Offensively, they have still been trying to find their identity. UTEP gets 49% of their points on 2-point shots, 28.7% from 3-point range and 21.9% from the free throw line.
NM State is No. 114 in KenPom, while Kansas is No. 5 and New Mexico checks in at No. 246.
UTEP Rebounds in Second Half to Route Florida A&M