UTEP vs UTSA: Four Final Questions Before Tipoff
The Miners (10-7, 1-3 Conference USA) continue to be at a crossroads in their season.
They split their home series last week, having beaten Southern Miss (76-64) while falling to LA Tech for their first home loss of the season (64-61).
UTEP has lost six of their last eight games and they will play host to the Roadrunners (8-9, 2-2 C-USA) on Wednesday night, who have won eight of their last 12 games after losing five straight games to start the season.
Here are four questions before tipoff tonight:
How will UTEP slow down Jackson?
As head coach Rodney Terry said Tuesday at practice, “No one is going to shut [Jhivvan] Jackson down. You just try to contain guys like him. "
UTSA junior guard Jhivvan Jackson is second in the country for points per game (25.8) and has been a monster for the Roadrunners all year. Despite scoring just eight points versus Florida Atlantic, Jackson bounced back with 31 points against Florida International, 37 points versus LA Tech and just put up 23 points in the team's win against Southern Miss.
Grad transfer Daryl Edwards often takes the task of guarding the opponents' best player but I wouldn't be surprised to see Jordan Lathon, Nigel Hawkins or Kaden Archie take a stab at guarding Jackson.
The Miners have historically held high-volume scorers below their points per game average. Last year, they held Markus Howard—the current leading scorer in NCAA—to 21 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
What rotation changes will we see?
Last week we saw a starting lineup of Bryson Williams, Efe Odigie, Kaden Archie, Daryl Edwards and Nigel Hawkins.
Odigie started in his first two games of the season last week but played only nine minutes in the loss to LA Tech. Hawkins assumed the starting point guard role ever since Lathon left the program for a week during the C-USA opener in Florida.
What changes to the rotation will UTEP throw at us this week?
Eric Vila played in a ton of minutes last week off the bench, logging 18 rebounds in two games while shooting 3-of-11 through 30.5 minutes in both games combined. Souley Boum scored in double figures in both games off the bench as well—26 points against Southern Miss and 12 versus LA Tech. Because of the minutes that both Vila and Boum had, they could continue to see the court a lot more against UTSA.
And of course, the big rotation to follow will be Hawkins and Lathon at the point guard spot. The Miners desperately need some significant minutes from their backcourt and despite all the transfer drama that happened at the start of the month, UTEP might just ride with the hot hand between the two.
Anthony Tarke, who was injured in the first half against Florida Atlantic, is still day-to-day with an injury he suffered, per coach Terry.
Can UTEP shoot better and eliminate the turnovers?
Does everyone need to stop fretting about UTEP's inability to shoot the 3-pointer and just trust that the superb defense will take control of everything?
Coach Terry and players would argue that a good defense translates to a better offense.
But let's take a deeper dive into this.
The Miners are currently 196th in the country for their field goal percentage (42.5), which has dropped considerably since leaving for the Diamond Head Classic. They are among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation (298th), hitting just 30 percent of their shots beyond the arc while attempting 20.3 per game.
The Miners also continue to turn the ball over at a high clip, averaging 15.3 turnovers per game. In the four C-USA games, UTEP averages 16.75 turnovers. Taking care of the ball will be key for the Miners in this game.
In the free throw category, UTEP continues to trend upward. They are second in the conference (27th in NCAA) for their free throw percentage (76.4). UTEP is first in C-USA for free throws made (265) and free throw attempts (347).
Against the second-best scoring team in C-USA (78.0 ppg), UTEP will need to slow down UTSA, push the pace in transition on offense and try to contain UTSA's veteran guards.
Could UTEP finally find that statement win they’ve been searching for?
From crumbling in the final five minutes of some past games, to not having a road win under their belt this season, the Miners continue to search for their identity while trying to put aside the adversity they have faced through this recent stretch.
What was first thought as an uncharacteristic series of losses for this team is now becoming unsettling moving forward unless UTEP can turn a corner and get back to their winning ways.
What happened to the team that started 8-1? Sure, they beat up on some lower quality opponents through their early stretch but UTEP still had significant wins against the likes of New Mexico State, New Mexico and UC Irvine.
Considering the level this team has played in the past, this should be a game that UTEP can win. The real test will be on Saturday to see if they can beat the Roadrunners twice and on their home court. UTSA underachieved to start the year, but they look like they have turned the corner themselves. If the Miners could get a win at home tonight, it would go down in the books as a quality win. But until they can win against a formidable opponent on the road, this team will be stuck in this funk they have been in.