USA TODAY Sports
The UTEP basketball team will have somewhat of a glorified practice in an exhibition game against Cameron University on Friday, and will then have a big matchup with Colorado State before heading into a conference play.
After starting the season 1-4, the Miners have now won five of six to get above .500 at 6-5 overall. And, while it has been a complete team effort that has brought them here, there is no question that the driving force has been the hot shooting of guard Konner Tucker.
Since making his return to the lineup only four games ago, Tucker has become the leading scorer on the team, averaging 15 points a contest, and has been named the Sun Bowl Invitational Tournament MVP, and the Conference USA Player of the Week.
Most of his production has come from behind the three point line as he has knocked down 15 of his 24 attempts for a ridiculous 62.5% average. Tucker's hot shooting has done wonders for this team; not only in the direct production, but in indirect ways as well, as it opens things up for others on the team.
Although guard/forward Julian Washburn had a quiet game against Nebraska, he scored 68 points in the four games before that, while averaging 6.5 rebounds a game. Center John Bohannon is also beginning to find his way, averaging nearly 14 points, and 8 rebounds a game over the last five.
The return of Tucker to the lineup has helped point guard Jacques Streeter as well, as lanes have opened up for him to penetrate and dish, or take the ball to the rim. He's averaged 11 points and 5 assists over the last four games.
Now, it would be a bit unfair, and even unrealistic to expect the shots to continue to fall at the rate they have been, so others must continue to play well for this team to succeed. And, as a team the Miners must figure out a way to continue to rebound and play well offensively as they hit the road.
While they've only played one true road game this season, they have played a total of four contests away from the Don, and have yet to pick up a win. It should be noted that the Miners were without both Tucker and guard McKenzie Moore for those four games, but still, the lack of offensive production in those games is something of concern.
On the year, the Miners are averaging 70 points a game in the Don Haskins Center, while putting up just over 52 points a game away from the Haskins Center. That's a number that should improve with the team now at full strength, and must improve should they want to make a strong push in C-USA.
As a team, the Miners have also done well to improve their play on the glass over the last couple of games . Through the 1-4 start, the team averaged only 22 rebounds a game, and was out rebounded by an average of nearly 10 rebounds a game.
Since then, the Miners have pushed their average close to 30 rebounds a game, and actually won the rebounding battle in wins over both Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Nebraska. That must continue for the Miners to compete for the remainder of the season.
Up next, the Miners will take on Cameron University in a mid-season exhibition match at the Don, and then they'll hit to road to take on a Colorado State team that is 10-2 on the season, with wins over Washington and Virginia Tech.
That game will be a huge test for the Miners, as the Rams are undefeated (6-0) at home, and have averaged better than 81 points a game in those contests. They also rank 17th in the country in rebounding, bringing down 42 boards a game.
There's no doubt that we'll find out a ton about this team from the game in Fort Collins. It's not necessarily a must win for the team, but a win would go a long way. In any case, this team is just getting to full strength, and is just beginning to truly find themselves as conference play approaches.
If this team can continue to improve on a game by game basis, the way they have been for the last few weeks, this will be one of the top teams in Conference USA. Others have been put on notice.