UTEP Men’s Basketball Prepares for Pivotal Home Stretch
Three straight wins for the UTEP men’s basketball team is a step in the right direction for a growing program under first year head coach Joe Golding.
It brings up the question, can this team maintain the steak going into a huge week at home against two C-USA schools from Florida?
The Miners (11-8, 4-3 C-USA) host Florida Atlantic on Thursday (7 p.m.), followed by a Saturday matchup against Florida International (7 p.m.). Both games can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso with Jon Teicher and Steve Yellen, with MinerTalk following the broadcast, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency.
"Two games really isn't a winning streak," said Golding during his weekly radio show. "Three games is a winning streak. We're excited to come back home. We need our fans right now. These are two huge games for us. We're playing the team that's leading the East division in Florida Atlantic."
Update on Keonte Kennedy’s injury
Though things have been quiet on the topic of Keonte Kennedy’s availability, Golding talked about the best case scenario for his return to play this year.
"We're probably still off, I don't want to put a time," Golding said. "He went to a doctor last week. I think we're about two weeks away from getting the boot off. Then, we'll do some rehab. I think best case scenario is middle to the end of February."
Kennedy has been out for the last seven games due to his lingering injury. He has been seen courtside in a walking boot and a walking scooter. Prior to his injury, Kennedy was averaging 13.3 points for the Miners following a brilliant month of December.
Not only is Kennedy extremely valuable to the Miners’ offense, he’s also known as the team’s best overall defender. He led the Miners with 25 steals before he was out with the injury.
If the Miners indeed get Kennedy back before the C-USA Tournament, this could be a scary, under-the-radar team in March.
Florida Atlantic scouting report
On the other end, the Owls will bring a three-game win streak to the Haskins Center on Thursday. FAU (11-8, 4-2 C-USA) has been rolling as of late under head coach Dusty May, coming off back-to-back wins over Marshall and Western Kentucky.
They are 10-3 at home but a rough 1-5 on the road.
The Owls knocked the Miners out of the 2021 C-USA Tournament in the first round.
Through the three-game win streak, the Owls averaged 81.7 points which includes a 96-point game against Charlotte last Monday. Guards Michael Forrest (14.1 ppg), Alijah Martin (13.7 ppg) and Bryan Greenlee (10.2 ppg) lead the way for the squad in scoring. Forrest averages almost three 3-pointers per game, while Greenlee leads the team with 3.5 assists per game.
"You watch this team on tape and they're extremely well-coached," Golding said. "[FAU] has a great team this year. It's a team that shoots a lot of 3-pointers. Their guards are terrific. They're very efficient on the defensive side and make it difficult to score."
Golding emphasizes 'playing for the Miners'
As the new coaching staff continues to instill their philosophies and as they continue to instill the new culture at UTEP, names on the back of the jerseys might not be a thing with this group.
Golding revealed that as the new uniforms come in for the team, they will omit players' names on the back of the jerseys.
"I'm proud of all of the guys," Golding said. "The culture that we are trying to build is it's not about yourself. It's about the team. It's about the team in front of your chest. I don't know if people have noticed this but it's a big thing to me. We've always had our names on the back of our jerseys but for these new ones, I said I we aren't going to put their names on the back of the jerseys. We're going to play for the Miners. You've seen incredible growth from the guys for this stuff."
Eligibility is still up in the air for Ché Evans Jr.
After this weekend's games, there will be only nine games left in the season for the Miners, along with the C-USA Tournament in March. As the season winds down, the likelihood of San Diego State transfer Ché Evans Jr.joining as a mid-year transfer seems less likely.
The update this week is there still isn't an update from the NCAA. Since the freshman wing didn't play all season at SDSU, he is eligible as a one-time transfer. But as the Miners wait to hear back on the NCAA appeal, the staff might also have to decide if they want to burn a year of his eligibility for less than 10 games this year.
If I had to guess, I think they look to the fall for Evans to officially join the squad.
Still, the idea of Evans Jr. joining the team next year is exciting in itself. He will join Florida Southwestern State transfer forward Jonathan dos Anjos as the new transfers for the 2022-23 season. Dos Anjos is the second-leading scorer at FSW (JUCO) this year, averaging 12.5 points on 55% shooting from the floor.
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