UTEP vs. LA Tech: 5 Things To Know Before Tipoff
The UTEP men's basketball squad, which is undergoing a three-game losing streak, looks to regain some confidence this weekend in another home league series on Friday and Saturday.
The problem is, LA Tech might be the best Conference USA opponent UTEP will have faced thus far.
Who: LA Tech (11-4, 4-2 C-USA) vs. UTEP (6-6, 2-4)
When: Friday, 7 p.m. MST
Where: Don Haskins Center
Listen: 600 ESPN El Paso (MinerTalk Following the Broadcast)
Here are five things to know before tipoff:
1. History favors LA Tech
In recent years, LA Tech has been the better basketball program between the two teams. They lead the all-time series against the Miners, 15-11, and have won back-to-back games against UTEP. The Bulldogs have beaten the Miners in five of their last seven meetings.
Look to sophomore Isaiah Crawford to be an x-factor for LA Tech in this series. He's shooting 31.9% from 3-point range and boats a 69.6 free throw percentage. He's their second-leading scorer at 10.9 points per contest. Kalob Ledoux leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 12.4 ppg, while guard Amorie Archibald can score and facilitate, averaging 10.8 points and totals 47 assists on the year.
"This is a team that plays really well together," head coach Rodney Terry said. "Their guard play has been pretty good this year. They're a team that sometimes plays small. They're a good, solid ball club."
2. Miners need scoring relief from supporting cast
Souley Boum, Bryson Williams and Tydus Verhoeven have accounted for 51% of the team's scoring this year, including 47% in the last four games. Boum likes to shoot the three, while Williams and Verhoeven work best as interior options. But, the team needs more scoring help from other players on this team.
Point guard Jamal Bieniemy has turned into a third scoring option, averaging 11.2 points per game. In addition to being a tremendous floor general, the Oklahoma transfer has scored 16 points or better in three of the last five games.
They simply need a consistent scoring boost from one—or two—of Keonte Kennedy, Kristian Sjolund, Christian Agnew and Verhoeven. This plea could be too much to ask for from a bunch that is still trying to find its identity.
Efe Odigie is dealing with concussion protocol, per coach Terry, and will be inactive for the LA Tech series.
3. Race to 69
Twelve games in and UTEP has been on two opposite spectrums when it comes to scoring. In basic terms, when the Miners score a ton, they usually win. When they struggle to score, the Miners typically lose.
By the numbers, the Miners are 0-6 when scoring 68 or fewer points. Conversely—yup, you guessed it—the team is unbeaten (6-0) when they total 69 points or better.
Yet, the Miners are slipping in some key stats in C-USA. They are 10th out of 14 teams in scoring offense (72.58) and 12th in field goal percentage (.429). As a team, the Miners struggle to rebound the ball, ranking 13th in rebounds per game (34.17 per game). LA Tech boasts the third-best rebounding team (39.27) in the conference.
Defensively, the numbers have slipped for UTEP as well. They are now ninth in points allowed (70.25), while also ranking as the worst (14th) team for defensive field goal percentage allowed (.450) in the league.
4. Has Bryson Williams really taken a drop off from last year?
Eye test, twelve games into it, and it seems like the senior forward has taken a bit of a dip from his dominant 2019-20 campaign. Just a year ago, Williams was among the fiercest players in the league. You could've made an argument that he should've been in the conversation for C-USA Player of the Year last year. This year, Williams hasn't yet lived up to last year's strong outing. However, we're barely three series deep into C-USA play. Here’s to holding onto hope that we end up seeing a resurgence from Williams.
When you take a look at his per game averages and compare them to last year, they are almost identical. Comparing last year to this season, he played identical minutes per game (31.8-31.8), shot a relatively similar field goal percentage (.499-.465), and logged comparable rebounding numbers (7.2-7.1).
When you compare his per game numbers to the per-40 minutes numbers, one starts to see a bit of a drop-off. Williams is attempting more 3-pointers this year (2.7-3.6), yet his 3-point field goal percentage is down considerably (.356-.279). His scoring numbers are down per 40 minutes (22.5-18.6). We have seen Williams take fewer shot attempts per 40 minutes (13.3-11.7), however, that stat could be overlooked due to the addition of more talent on this team. Still, he's drawing less contact, attempting almost three fewer free throws per 40 minutes than last year (5.6-2.8).
I hope Williams finds his stride. When he's playing basketball up to his caliber, Williams can be unstoppable.
Terry talked about working shots "15 feet inside" for him, along with Williams improving defensively.
"Really have challenged him to guard defensively and be a guy who can guard smaller guys," Terry said. "Where he wants to play in the future, he's going to have to be able to switch on smaller guys."
5. Miners continue to limit their turnovers
UTEP is among the best teams in the country for the fewest turnovers and lowest turnover percentage. Their 14.6 turnover percentage is the eighth lowest in NCAA and ranks best in the league. Terry's bunch only turns the ball over 10.3 times per game, and they have averaged just eight turnovers per game over the last four matchups.
Their focus to refrain from turnovers has been among the nation’s best. UTEP has the top team assist to turnover ratio (1.26) and the third-best turnover margin in C-USA (+3.33).
Bieniemy is a big reason for their turnover-free basketball. The point guard is first in C-USA, 21st in NCAA, for his 3.31 assist to turnover ratio. He's also fourth in the league for assists per game (4.82).
On the defensive side, the Miners have caused 67 turnovers over the last five games.
BONUS from coach:
"It's a long race, there's still a lot of basketball to be played, Terry said. “I like this group and we got good kids, they want to win, they're competitive. I've been doing this for 25 years. It's not about where you start, it's where you finish. It's a good conference. We have good teams we will play. As they continue to build continuity and stay together, I think they can be as good as they want to be. They definitely want to do it and they have the can power to do it. We just need to stay the course and keep choppin' wood."