The Hangover: UTEP Must Get Past Memphis Loss to Succeed in the NIT

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: A.J. Hardeman #00 of the New Mexico Lobos is fouled by Charles Abouo #1 # of the Brigham Young University Cougars as BYU's Kyle Collinworth defends during a semifinal game of the Conoco Mountain West Conference Basketball tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center March 11, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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There's no denying that the past 48 hours have been difficult for the Miner Nation.  First, the UTEP Miners basketball team lost a heartbreaker in the C-USA Championship game.  Then, reality set in that UTEP was not going to be given a bid to the NCAA Tournament.  This was a special team, with seniors, stars, and role players that Miner fans have learned to love over the last several years.  While disappointment is natural, I can't help but feel somewhat excited about the NIT.  I'm excited because of two main reasons: 

1.   UTEP gets to play New Mexico in a postseason game.

2.   UTEP has a chance tg do something they've never done before:  Win the NIT.

Yes, I wish UTEP was given a higher seed.  Yes, I wish UTEP had a home game.  But, if UTEP is going to play anywhere, aren't you happy its at the Pit against UNM?  (Link to Full NIT Bracket Here)

As we look at the road to Madison Square Garden, there is one key factor that will determine how successful the Miners can be:  The Hangover.

Tim Floyd doesn't have an easy job tonight, tomorrow, and Tuesday.  Without even looking at New Mexico, who went 21-12 and who have won four of five games, he'll have to rally his team back from as emotional a loss as Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone, and the rest of the team have ever had at UTEP.  UTEP was absolutely clicking for the first 115 minutes of play in the C-USA Tournament.  The Miners were hitting shots, forcing turnovers, flying around on defense, and running the court in a way that shocked even the biggest Miner fan.  For 115 minutes, we saw the team we all hoped we'd have in 2011. For the first time all season, we saw how truly dominant this squad could be.

Then, wheels came off.  Randy Culpepper couldn't buy a bucket.  Julyan Stone looked flustered.  Christian Polk, who had perhaps the best game of his career at UTEP, had two crucial turnovers.  Gabriel McCulley couldn't catch a pass on a fast break or hit a pair of free throws. Everyone struggled in those final minutes.  And that's why its going to take the very best effort Tim Floyd has in him to get the Miners over the loss and focused on the Lobos.

Can UTEP beat New Mexico, Alabama, Missouri State or Miami in their side of the NIT bracket?  Absolutely.  But, only if the team shows up focused on Tuesday first.  The burden doesn't fall squarely on Floyd.  UTEP's senior leaders will hopefully see the NIT as a chance to rewrite the end of this season and help further accomplish what this senior class has worked so hard to do:  continue to bring the Miner basketball program back to national relevance.  Regardless of what happens Tuesday, true Miner fans will know that Stone, Culpepper, Britten, Polk, and the other seniors in this class are leaving this program in better shape than when they arrived.  As fans, we all want these seniors to leave on a high note.  We want their last game in orange and blue to be a win.  

What better way to get over the Memphis hangover than by beating up on the Lobos?

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