UTEP Men’s Basketball Needs Leadership for CUSA Success
Tonight, the UTEP men's basketball team begins their conference play at a familiar foe. The Miners will travel down I-10 to battle the Aggies and new head coach Jason Hooten. Our coverage on 600 ESPN begins at 6:30pm with the Countdown to Tipoff and it will wrap up late tonight with MinerTalk.
UTEP head coach Joe Golding is in his third season and he is still in search of putting a consistent winner on the court. After racking up 20 victories in year one with the Miners, UTEP finished a disappointing 14-18 last season and they are currently 8-6 as they prepare for NM State tonight. The two biggest questions plaguing Coach Golding are leadership and half court offense. That is a big reason why this group has been so inconsistent. At times they look like they can win CUSA and play in the NCAA Tournament. Other times, however, they appear to be a terrible shooting team that cannot make any adjustments against inferior opponents.
Back to the two questions that I mentioned earlier, beginning with leadership. This UTEP team is not a young and inexperienced group. Quite the opposite. The Miners have four seniors and another seven juniors (counting two walk-ons) on their roster. That is the kind of veteran team that you would expect natural leadership from. Unfortunately, that has not been the case on a consistent basis. Coach Golding has challenged guys like Zid Powell, Tae Hardy, Calvin Solomon, and Otis Frazier III to help guide this team through the next few months of conference play. Some of them are more introverts than alpha dogs, which makes things a lot more challenging to the coaching staff. UTEP needs Powell, Hardy, and Frazier to want the basketball in the final minutes of a close game, rather than settle for a bad shot attempt as the clock is winding down. Hopefully, leaders will emerge on this team.
As for the half court offense, this is an even bigger concern. The Miners love to run the floor and they are at their best when they are in transition. The flip side of that is their half court offense, which at times can be painful to watch. Coach Golding has spent the last two seasons attempting to add shooters to their roster and thus far, he still lacks any perimeter threat. UTEP's shooting struggles are so obvious that most teams elect to play zone defense, daring the Miners to make an outside shot. Baylor Hebb was brought to El Paso to be that guy, but he has been eligible for just a handful of games and he does not appear to be the solution to their problem. Former juco star Corey Camper was also billed as an outside gunner, but he is shooting just 38% from the field and 29% from 3. Powell's 24% shooting from downtown and Frazier's 27% from beyond the arc show just how bad UTEP has been. Their best 3-point shooter is Hardy, who is a respectable 38%.
Tonight will be a good test for the Miners. NM State is just 6-9 this season and Coach Hooten is also searching for answers to help resurrect his program. Crazy enough, the last time UTEP won a game at the Pan Am Center was in 2010. The losing streak in Las Cruces is currently 11 games. Will it be 12? That depends on whether or not the Miners can fix their deficiencies on the court.
UTEP beats Austin Peay, 71-63
Gallery Credit: UTEP Zay