UTEP is in a trio of games where they are playing new conference foes, the second of the third will continue Thursday evening with FAU and UTEP meeting for the first time on the hardwood.
The strong winning slide continues for UTEP, make that five games in a row the Miners have won by 10 points or more, last time a UTEP team did that in conference play was back in 1957 in the old Border Conference.
Defense and rebounding have been the obvious staples of this program, and especially during this run, though taking care of the ball has drastically improved from what was an Achilles heel to start the campaign.
During conference play, UTEP has improved its rebounding margin, and its assist to turnover ratio by a drastic rate.
C.J. Cooper has been the key to that, making it now safe to say the Miners finally found a true point guard in the junior sharp shooter.
Coach Tim Floyd:
"It's always good to come back home and particularly after a win, think we're all feeling a little energy in the community right now. We expect a great crowd and I just hope we play well. We didn't play particularly well the last time out at home against Rice. Just because you're home doesn't mean you're going to win. Any time you win it's satisfying, It's the essence of what we try to do in coaching, is to win basketball games. You don't tend to feel as good after losses as you do wins. We understand where we are, and we also understand that streaks present their own challenges when the assumption becomes that you're perfect and you're not making mistakes and you have no faults. We certainly still have faults and things that we need to work on to get better."
Also attributed to that improvement is the Miners ability the penetrate zone's with passing instead of the dribble drive. UTEP is able to pass from the top of the three point line to the post with ease at times, and are very efficient on offense when they are able to move the zone around and get the shots they want.
The Miners will face a battle tested FAU squad, whom despite their record have had some players post some nice stats.
Most notably the league's leading scorer in FAU guard Pablo Bertone, who has been on an offensive tear for most of the season.
He has had 10 games where he scored 20 or more points, and has also dropped 20 points in three of his last four games.
Coming off a career high 34 points in last Saturday's win against UAB at home, Bertone should be the Miners number one concern on defense.
After a tough shooting streak, freshman point guard Marquan Botley has really been solid the past two games. He scored 19 points in a loss to Middle Tennessee, then Botley did a little bit of everything against UAB with 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists, mind you he is only 5'9. Botley also scored a career high 23 points in a win against Harvard.
Floyd on FAU:
"I haven't seen these guys in person, and we're getting to know the two Florida schools this week on film, They have good scorers, they run great stuff, they've got a post guy who presents problems, and they've got a perimeter guy who's averaging 18 points per game. They'll present problems."
My inner Tim Floyd predicts Washburn draws Bertone from the start. Cooper v Botley could actually be a really good match up in UTEP's favor. I would expect Cooper to drive more in this one, in an effort to get the free throw line while rising up, knocking down those floaters in the lane.
Center Justin Raffington is second in the conference in rebounds per game, and also has nine double-doubles on the season, six of those games were part of a consecutive streak, he averages 9.2 boards a contest.
6'6 forward Kelvin Penn has swatted his way to a third in the conference in blocked shots, and is second in school history in blocks.
As a team, FAU is tied for third in C-USA in the blocked shots category, though they are just 2-10 on the road this season.
They also have a seven footer who comes off the bench in Dragan Sekelja. Sekelja averages a modest 5 points and 5 rebounds, although he did have a monster 21 point, 12 rebound effort in FAU's early season loss to St. Francis.
Former St. Johns coach Mike Jarvis is in his sixth season at the helm in Boca Raton, their final year as a member of the Sun Belt last season went a disappointing 14-18 overall with a 9-11 mark in Sun Belt play for the Owls.
Floyd on if he has been surprised by the Miners run:
"I would't use the word surprised, I think I'm not any different from our fans, where we're sitting back and watching a group of young freshmen who we had two years ago grow up and mature and become very good college players. And we're watching young guys get confidence. Everybody is playing well together, because all it's about right now is winning. There are no personal agendas and they're having a lot of fun playing together. And I'm sitting back like everybody else and saying ‘Ok, tomorrow is going to bring a new challenge. Can you handle it?' Because it's all a series of first with these guys."
UTEP should be able to control the boards with FAU's almost negative two rebounding margin since the start of conference play, Miners best bet for domination is to force FAU to shoot threes, where they have shot 33 percent on the season on 419 attempts as a team.
FAU is also turnover prone, and with the smothering defensive schemes the Miners have perfected, its hard to imagine FAU cracking 60 points in this one as well. FAU turns it over 13 times a game, compared to the 12 assists they average a game.
This will be no easy push over by any means if the Miners have a slow start.
Bertone's scoring ability has led the Owls to hang in some road games against surprising power conference bottom feeders, six of their ten losses on the road this year have been by six points or less. Jarvis also took the Owls on a roadie to Durham, collecting a check, and falling to Duke.
They were able to shock Harvard at home back on January 21st, 63-58, after leading by nine at the half. FAU has been kinda solid at home since 2009 with over 40 wins at their place, regardless that is still a tremendous win because the nerds are 18-4, and wrecking shop in the watered down Ivy League.
Its a black out in the Don, first time a UTEP team will wear black at home, I hope the Owls bring the white's, saw a highlight of two teams with dark colored jerseys last week, that was not cool, at all.
Current Record: 18-6, 8-1 C-USA
C.J Cooper, Jr, G, 9.3 ppg, .899 FT%
Julian Washburn, Jr, F 13.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Vince Hunter, Fr, F, 11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg
John Bohannon, Sr, F, 11.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg
Matt Wilms, Fr, C, 4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
|Points Per Game||69.6|
|Rebounds Per Game||37|
|Assists Per Game||13.7|
|Steals Per Game||
Current Record: 9-15, 4-5 C-USA
Marquan Botley, Fr, PG, 10.0 ppg
Jackson Trapp, So, G, 9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg
Pablo Bertone, Sr, G, 18.9 ppg, .439 FG%
Kelvin Penn, Jr, F, 4.7 ppg 5.6 rpg,
Justin Raffington, Jr, C, 9.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg
|Points Per Game||67.6|
|Rebounds Per Game||38.1|
|Assists Per Game||12|
|Steals Per Game||4.9|