The season is still officially about 12 days away, but things are in full swing around practice as the Miners make their final preparations before taking the court in their first competitive run.
Much is expected out of this 2014-15 edition of the Miners, not just from inside Miner Nation, but from outside as well. This may be the highest expectations have been at any time during the five year Tim Floyd era. And don't forget, his tenure did include a stacked, veteran squad in year one.
Those Miners fell short of the conference crown that year, and found themselves in the NIT, coming up far short of not only outside expectations of reaching the NCAA tournament, but their own as well. Similar expectations surround this team, however, something is different.
One could make the argument that the 2010-11 Miners were a more talented group, and that may be so, but this team has far more than just talent. They've got veteran leadership, size, depth, multiple stars, and an explosive incoming class looking to make an immediate impact. You can also add to that list, an all star coaching staff.
Long story short, this is coach Floyd's team; finally. And he's ensuring that they have all the tools necessary, heading into one of the most anticipated basketball seasons in recent memory.
"We've got to continue to put in new things every day, and then repeat, and not lose what we've already done...I think that we're where we ought to be. We have established a mindset of how we're going to have to go play. We have been able to introduce new players to a lot, because we have some older players returning that have been able to show them the way. I like where we are right now."
Coming into the season, the Miners have already garnered some national attention, picking up 4 votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, as well finding themselves at #25 in SI's Seth Davis' preseason top 25 poll.
Perhaps its a bit early for us to expect a ton of national attention, but it won't take long for that to come if the Miners can manage to get off to a hot start. They open the season with Washington State at home, and will face New Mexico State and Princeton, and possibly even Xavier and Washington before November is out.
The opportunities will be there, and let's not forget December will bring road games at Colorado State and New Mexico State, and a home game with the current #2 team in the nation, the Arizona Wildcats.
This isn't this team's first rodeo though. Scheduling tough has always been the M.O. of Tim Floyd, and his teams in El Paso have faced the likes of nationally ranked Arizona, UNLV, Kansas, and Iowa teams, as well as the likes of Tennessee, Oregon, Washington St. and others.
So, this squad will be ready for those early tests, and will use them merely as preparation for what is expected of them come February and March. Because while it may not be time to expect the national attention, its never too early to set expectations and goals for the season.
UTEP senior guard CJ Cooper:
"You know we just want to come out and compete. Do better than we did last year. We want to go further, win the conference championship, make the NCAA tournament, and make a run."
This team is expected by most to be one of the top teams in Conference USA, and while they certainly have their work cut out for the in the early going, the schedule actually sets up quite nicely down the stretch for them to potentially make that run.
Is this the year the Miners finally make it back to the NCAA tournament? And if so, could it be finally be the year the Miners make it out of the opening round? We'll have to wait about 5 months for those questions to be answered, but its certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
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