UTEP-UNT Preview: Miners Facing C-USA Top Team in Mean Green
Amid a seven-game win streak and having the best start in program history, Grant McCasland and North Texas (15-1, 3-0 C-USA) are over the rebuilding process and have risen to the ranks of C-USA's best.
On the other side, UTEP (5-8, 0-2 C-USA) looks up to their Texas counterpart as a big brother of sort and a model that the Miners aspire to eventually become as a program.
North Texas rode a late-season win streak last year, which eventually led to a CBI title and spring-boarded momentum into this season with the majority of players returning to the squad.
And the Mean Green have the numbers to back their early success in 2018-19 -- they are the top team in C-USA in field goal percentage (48.4), 3-point field goal percentage (38.4), scoring margin (+15.3) and second in the league in scoring defense. McCasland's bunch also features six guys that are scoring in double figures, leaving the door open to a variety of scorers.
"They put some really good pieces around guys he inherited there," said first-year head coach Rodney Terry. "They gained some valuable experience last year, they won 15 games to get in the CBI tournament and once they got in the CBI, they were able to win some games. Anytime you win the CBI, it's a springboard for the next year.
Coincidently enough, both head coaches have a storied history together. Terry served as an assistant coach at Baylor in the late 90s, where McCasland played and later graduated from. McCasland told the Denton Record-Chronicle that Terry was among his "favorite coaches of all time."
“One of my all-time favorite guys," Terry said of UNT's McCasland. "We lived in the gym together. His nickname is 'rat' because he was a gym rat. Made himself a great player for us. We’ve had a long lasting friendship and he’s done many good things right now early in his career. Big fan of what he does."
And the role for the Miners on Thursday will be to embrace the underdog role and try to pull off an upset. They could model the success Southern Miss found against North Texas on the road Saturday, where the Mean Green was able to steal a slim 65-62 victory.
"We definitely are aware they are a 15-1 team,' said Evan Gilyard, who is the leading scorer for the Miners at 18 points per game. "We have confidence coming into this game. We're not looking at their record, we're looking at their actions, what they are capable of doing on the offensive end, so we can defend their actions and win this game on defense."
A big pregame note for the Miners is whether or not freshman guard Jordan Lathon will play. He missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury and his status is still questionable, per Terry.
But having Lathon will allow the Miners to dip into their bench a bit more and use a seven-eight man rotation, instead of being tight in terms of depth. Should Lathon play, expect him to come off the bench, especially since Terry stressed how he doesn't want to rush his comeback.
When talking the importance of depth, Gilyard said, "It's very important. We're low on guys, so for us to have everyone is a very huge piece with everyone contributing and having everyone on the same page."
Offensively for the Miners, they will hope to create more opportunities for freshman forward Efe Odigie down low in the post. Odigie has scored in double figures in all but one game for the Miners and is currently averaging a double-double at 15.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Tip-off for tonight's game is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN+ with 600 ESPN El Paso's Duke Keith on the call.