After more than a week layoff between their last outings, UTEP returns to the Don tomorrow against a struggling Southeastern Louisiana team who is facing a longer layoff themselves.
UTEP showed some flashes of improvement and displayed some of the missing defensive identities in their thrashing of Incarnate Word last Monday.
With a week worth of CTF practices the big questions are: have the offensive wrinkles been smoothed out, and is the defense back up to par?
UTEP Coach Tim Floyd:
"I think any time you're growing, you need to practice and we've had a solid week of practice. Hopefully it will transfer to the ball game and we'll play well on Tuesday night."
With all due to respect to the Lions of the Southland Conference, this one really isn't about their personnel, or what they do well, it's about UTEP improving on what they need to do to make a December into January run that will set the tone for conference play.
Two main improvement marks I saw in the Incarnate Word game will be things the Miners can hang their hat on during conference play, but these aspects still need game time work over the next week.
On the defensive end, the Miners used their length, sheer tenacity and intensity to shut down what was thought to be a high octane UIW offensive attack.
Julian Washburn spearheaded the 60X2 defensive approach by keeping Incarnate Word under 35 percent from the field and holding Iword's leading scorer to a 5/15 start from the field. We also saw Vince Hunter, and his fellow bigs do a better job of extending pressure towards the three point line against smaller forwards who pull from the perimeter.
The Miners protected the paint and three point line using the basic defensive principles they have worked on since October, with a splash of pride by the way of their hustle and energy that was brought on the defensive end.
As good as UTEP was in stretches on defense, they did leave quite a few points on the floor coming on open floor chances led by the great defensive play.
Expect more lineup tweaks as the Miners showed how effective the young guards can be running the show on offense, but execution in those stretches of lineup mix ups is the key over the final week of non-conference tune ups.
The ball movement and knowledge to pound the paint against a much smaller team was also good to see, but which lineup can keep that consistent is what I feel still needs some searching on the offensive end.
The Lions are 0-7 on the road this season with losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulane, and Gonzaga.
Zay Johnson is a Murray State transfer who has provided consistent offensive production for the Lions this season and is ranked 12th in the nation in minutes.
Tim Floyd on Southeastern Louisiana:
"Southeastern Louisiana had Gonzaga down at half, they've got a nice club. They've got two really good guards. They're going to play with extreme patience. They're going to come in here and run some false motions, get that old clock down to 12 or 13 seconds and go run really great actions on the back end. They're an exceptionally well-coached basketball team. We'll have issues tomorrow and we need to play well. We are worried as a staff in a big way and hopefully our players will be."
Johnson has touched his career high with 25 points against Tennessee Tech this season, followed up by a 22 point outing against Tulane.
A streaking shooting team, Joshua Fillmore is their best shooter who had a 7/12 performance from three point land in their win against Tennessee Tech.
Southeastern Louisiana is negative six on the boards and averages 15.3 turnovers per game, shooting 42 percent from the field while allowing their opponents to shoot 43 percent.
Senior center DeVonte Upson has three double-doubles this season, and averages 7.7 rebounds per game.
Plain and simple, UTEP should roll in this one, but identity execution should be the Miners main focus in this Tuesday night non-conference run.
A-Rod's Opening Line: UTEP -18.5