UTEP vs. North Texas: Five Things to Know Before Tipoff
The UTEP men's basketball squad will endure their second conference road series of the season, facing off against North Texas on Friday and Saturday in Denton.
Who: UTEP (6-4, 2-2 Conference USA) at North Texas (5-5, 1-1)
Listen: 600 ESPN El Paso
Watch: Stadium (Local channel 4.2; Spectrum 1215)
When: Friday, 6 p.m. MT
Line: UNT -5.5
Here are five things to know before tipoff:
Both teams enter the weekend off series splits
In a bit of a disappointing finish following their 101-89 victory on Friday, the Miners fell to Rice, 71-68, during last weekend's C-USA home opening series. It marked the second consecutive series split for the bunch.
North Texas is also fresh off a series split against UTSA. They won handily in the first game, 77-70, but dropped the second game to the Roadrunners, 77-69. North Texas is among the best shooting teams in the league, ranking first in field goal percentage (48.7%) and 3-point field goal percentage (38.6%).
The Mean Green are the league's defending conference champions, having won the 2020 regular season title prior to the NCAA season shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coincidentally, both UTEP and North Texas are winless this year when they each score less than 69 points, but are both undefeated when they score 70-plus in a game. The Mean Green have won four consecutive home games, averaging 98 points.
Defense takes a bit of a dip statistically
For a team that prides itself on defense, head coach Rodney Terry talked about going back to the drawing board to try and improve areas that the Miners struggled in recently. Particularly, the group got beat on their ball screen defense against Southern Miss in a significant way last weekend. Terry assumed responsibility for the ball screen defense issues and worked on it with his team in practice this week.
"We didn't play particularly well on ball screen defense," Terry expressed. "I put the onus on myself and we didn't spend as much time on the ball screen defense. I thought we were older and understood what we were doing at the defensive side. We have to put in more time on it and we went back to the drawing board on it. It's something we have to work all the time."
UTEP has allowed opponents to shoot 43.9% from the floor, ranking second worst in C-USA. Through these four C-USA games, they rank in the middle of the pack for most advance stats defensively, including their defensive efficiency (107.3), ranking ninth in the conference. Interestingly enough, UTEP ranks as the third-best team in the country in 3-point attempt percentage (24.9%), which looks at the percentage of field goal attempts that are taken by opponents from 3-point range.
A look into the advanced stats
There are a lot of really interesting advance stats to look at early on into the season, thanks to Kenpom's advanced analytics. The Miners are ranked No. 161 by Kenpom and No. 129 in the NET rankings.
UTEP's 14.1 turnover percentage is the eighth-lowest among all NCAA teams this year. They have turned the ball over only 10.1 times per game (1st in C-USA; 12th in NCAA), including 7.4 over the last five contests.
Senior Souley Boum, UTEP's leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, ranks second in C-USA in three-point field goal percentage (44.8), fifth in three-point field goals per game (2.6) and fourth in free throw percentage (82.5).
Boum, Bryson Williams and Tydus Verhoeven have combined for 52% of the team's points this year.
Point guard Jamal Bieniemy has been a tremendous offensive boost for this team recently. He's either scored or assisted on 42% of all UTEP's field goals during the past three games. The Oklahoma transfer has 21 field goals and 16 assists through those matchups.
Agnew & Kennedy provide relief
Besides the help they get from Bieniemy and Boum in the backcourt, the Miners have found something promising between Christian Agnew and Keonte Kennedy. Both transfers continue to emerge in their first year with the Miners.
Agnew, who is almost a month into his UTEP career, thanks to the NCAA immediate eligibility rule, is averaging 7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assist per game.
"He's still rounding himself into it," Terry said about Agnew. "He started the year thinking there's still chance that he wasn't going to play. He's a guy that's going to give you a ton of intensity. One of our better on-ball defenders. Offensively, he's still finding himself. He's one of those guys that can still get to the paint. He'll be a guy that will continue to evolve moving forward."
Kennedy has been the all-around guy for the Miners. He's totaled 8.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game, while starting each game for the team. Versatility is a great way to describe Kennedy's two-way abilities.
"Keonte is really good when he's just playing the game," Terry said. "When he's guarding and playing on the defensive end, when he understands what we're trying to do on offense, he's going to be a guy that continues to develop at the position. He's a guy that can impact the game at many different levels, without putting it on the stat sheet."
UTEP is still trying to figure out back-to-backs and find consistency
Terry, his staff and the team are still learning what it takes to play through these conference back-to-back series.
"We've never had to do this," Terry explained. "If you're not a very emotional team, it probably can benefit you in that regard. If you're an emotional team and you play emotional games, it's hard to do back-to-backs. It's tough, not easy to do. In my 25 years in Division I, we've never done back-to-backs. By the end of the year, it'll make teams in our conference definitely prepared for postseason play."
Fans are longing for this team to show they can sweep series and instill themselves as a true contender in the league. Terry says this group isn't far from reaching a more consistent point.
"We've been really close," Terry said. "We've shown we can play really good basketball at a high level against good teams. Each time we have to try and fix something, guys have made a conscious effort to do that. I would like to think we are good defensively. We don't always play that way. We finish possessions, get out and have a chance to run, and I think we're better because of it."