UTEP vs. FIU: Three Questions Before Tipoff
Following a series sweep at UAB, the Miners will hope to bounce back and get some confidence as they host the bottom team in the C-USA East Division in Florida International.
Both contests have a 7 p.m. tip-off at the Haskins Center.
Who: UTEP (8-10, 4-8 C-USA) vs. Florida International (9-12, 2-10 C-USA)
When: Friday, 7:00 p.m. MT
Where: Don Haskins Center, El Paso
Listen: 600 ESPN El Paso (MinerTalk following the game)
Here are three questions before tipoff.
What about the elephant in the room?
As ABC-7's Erik Elken reported on Thursday, UTEP head coach Rodney Terry received a one-year contract extension that will pin him as the Miners' head coach until the 2023-24 season. This was uncovered after our news partners were seeking clarification on the salary reductions this year by UTEP's two highest paid coaches -- Terry and football coach Dana Dimel. Both Terry ($200,000) and Dimel ($71,000) will take a combined $271,000 salary reduction this year as a result of budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Turns out the extension moved forward in October, yet Director of Athletics Jim Senter never released anything to the public.
The fan reaction was torn. Yesterday on SportsTalk, some fans thought this was a smart idea by UTEP to be proactive on and pointed out that the university can't afford to hire another coach. Most were frustrated and furious, while some even went as far as saying they would pull their donations from the university.
Terry won 20-or-more games four of the seven years he was at Fresno State. At UTEP, he's 33-46 overall (.418 win percentage), including a C-USA record of 15-33.
So what does this mean for this series?
The Miners, who sit at 4-8 in the conference, have a must-win weekend ahead of them. Amid the slumping, inconsistent play, and now after the Terry extension news, these two games feel extremely important to the team.
Regardless of what you think of the extension, here's the bottom line. Senter can decide to do whatever he wants with contracts. But the fact that this was uncovered in an investigation piece by ABC-7 instead of UTEP commenting directly on this makes the situation much more murky. And as the Miners have lost seven of their last nine games, this couldn't have come at a worse time.
What should we make of Souley Boum's overall performance this year?
UTEP's leading scorer this year and main focal point offensively is Souley Boum, who averages 17.9 points (37% FG, 37% 3pt FG) over 35.2 minutes per game. Fans have questioned his shot selection and even questioned Boum's role this year. Despite the outside noise, the team uses him as their primary scorer.
In fact, Boum scored 20-plus points over five straight games, coming the first UTEP player since Randy Culpepper (2011) to accomplish that feat. He's eighth in C-USA for free throw percentage (81.3%), sixth in 3-pointers made (41) and sixth in 3-pointers per game (2.3).
Still, it feels like the offense could do more to get others involved. Sophomore forward Kristian Sjolund flashed his skills over the UAB series, scoring a career-best 15 points on 5-of-5 3-pointers made. Sophomore guard Keonte Kennedy (8.3 ppg) has flashes of brilliant play when he's able to put his head down and drive to the basket. Throw veteran players like Bryson Williams (15.5 ppg) and Jamal Bieniemy (9.5 ppg) into the mix and on paper, the Miners should have a much more efficient and consistent offense than they currently have now.
"I feel like I've been making improvements over the course of my college career," said the junior guard this week. "I feel like I can play even better than I am right now. I've put in the work and you'll see more improvement from me. I'm not satisfied at all."
UTEP ranks 10th in scoring (70.4 ppg) in C-USA and has the second-worst field goal percentage offense in the league (0.421).
Love him or hate him, Boum is the focal point of this offense and if UTEP hopes to win consistently, they'll need him to score and be efficient.
Can UTEP finally get the series sweep they've been desperately seeking?
Florida International enters this game on a four-game road losing streak. They've also lost nine straight C-USA games going into Friday. The Panthers have struggled this year and have dealt with COVID-19 complications that has set their team back. However, expect the Panthers to have their full squad this weekend and be hungry after their series sweep last weekend to the hands of UTSA.
The visiting Panthers will rely on four players in Antonio Daye Jr. (18.0 ppg), Radshad Davis (13.3), Eric Lovett (10.8) and Tevin Brewer (9.3) to account for their offensive presence. Daye has made or assisted on 47 percent of all FIU's field goals over the past three games, including 25 made field goals and 12 assists over that stretch.
FIU is 0-7 score less than 66 points, while the Miners are 0-9 when they score 68 or fewer.
All of these stats make one think that this is a golden opportunity for UTEP to get a series sweep, which it is. But for a Miner squad that hasn't had a series sweep all throughout C-USA play, the feat will be harder to come by.