Deep, talented, multifaceted, a gallery of elite explosive athletes, but own a troubling/surprising record quickly describes the 2014-15 Charlotte 49ers basketball team.
Natural transgressions out of their control have led them to be without head coach Alan Major since early January, although the struggling 49ers are still a team with plenty of fire power to make a run in the C-USA tournament.
For the first time in conference play, UTEP is out-matched on paper against a C-USA opponent.
Despite a 10-13 overall record, and 3-7 C-USA mark, the 49ers are second in the C-USA in scoring, and in field goal percentage. The battle tested 49ers have played their share of close games that could have gone either way, losing to Penn State in double overtime, and losing to Miami, Georgetown, and Georgia Tech all by three points or less.
The 49ers are 1-4 on the road in conference play, losing four games by a combined 20 points with the likes of Western Kentucky (74-66), UAB (81-76 in OT), Middle Tennessee (72-69) and Old Dominion (61-57) all taken to the wire.
Charlotte was easily the most experienced team at the beginning of the season with four starters returning from last year's 17-win team, but its been a pair of newcomers who have led the scoring charge.
Torin Dorn is a native of Charlotte and is the favorite to win C-USA Freshman of the Year. The 6'5 Dorn has won three C-USA Freshman of the Week honors this season, he leads the team in scoring and has scored in double figures in 10 out of his last 12 games.
Another Charlotte native has also took part in carrying the scoring load.
Braxton Ogbueze was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school who transferred to Charlotte after a season at Florida and has made a huge impact for the 49ers.
Ogbueze provides match up problematic quickness, and ability to change the game in the open floor. He's coming off a stretch of back-to-back 18 point out puts, and was 3/3 from three point land for all nine of his points in a loss to Old Dominion last Saturday.
There are only two players in the C-USA with over 100 assists on the season, and one of them is one of the better all-around players in the league Pierria Henry.
Hard to find a player who can consistently average double figure scoring numbers, mixed with an average of five rebounds, and also five assists per game, but that is what Henry does and brings, along with the ability to shut down, and frustrate you on defense with his pick-pocketing knack.
Adding to their guard depth is freshman Keyshawn Woods who is ranked first in the conference in three point field goal percentage, and the 6'5 Terrence Williams who is averaging 7.0 points per game, and 4.0 rebounds per game, and has also dished out 15 assists in his last four games.
Charlotte has two players inside the ranks of the top-ten rebounders in the league with Willie Clayton and Mike Thorne Jr.
Both are physical, and have sometimes un-guardable athleticism, with the ability to finish around the rim with muscle. They also combined for 20 rebounds in their win in El Paso last season.
UTEP's short rotation, and foul management tactics should be of huge concern in this one with the potential of Charlotte's deep rotation.
Charlotte has multiple inside and out scoring options that could give UTEP major problems just as lesser talented teams have gave UTEP trouble on the defensive end recently with Matt Willms nursing a still healing stress fracture in his right foot.
The Miners will need all the heart, and energy they can get out of their two big's in Hooper Vint and Cedrick Lang to protect the paint and close out every defensive stop with a rebound.
Vince Hunter saw his rebounding numbers dip last weekend, but his efforts on the boards will key in helping against the duo of Clayton and Thorne, and you can't forget about Clemson transfer Bernard Sullivan who is back healthy for Charlotte and has grabbed five rebounds in each of the past two games.
The match-up at guard is also scary as Omega Harris has struggled for UTEP, though on the flip side C.J. Cooper is playing his best basketball so far this season.
More than the need of efficient offensive production from guys like Cooper, Julian Washburn and Earvin Morris, guarding out on the perimeter will be key in slowing down the 49ers potentially efficient offensive attack.
Both Ogbueze and Woods each shoot over 48 percent from the field, and the Niners average 6.5 makes from behind the three point line per game.
Charlotte has averaged 12.3 turnovers in their last four games, including 18 to defensive minded Old Dominion, though are 6-9 when they turn it over more than 15 times. The 49ers have also had their share of struggles from the free throw line this season, they are 17/35 from the line in their last two games.
Managing foul trouble is also another huge and main key for UTEP, both Clayton, and Thorne shoot over 50 percent from mainly around the rim, if they are not contested they will eat all night.
Defense has been the usual key in UTEP's four game winning streak, but the Miners are also ranked within the top five of the league's rankings in scoring offense (69.9 ppg/fifth), scoring defense (63.3 ppg/third), scoring margin (+6.6 ppg/third), field goal percentage (.471/first), field goal percentage defense (.415/fifth), three-point field goal percentage (.367/second), rebound margin (+1.7 rpg/fifth), blocked shots (4.0 bpg/fourth), assists (14.0 apg/third), turnover margin (+0.2/fifth) and assist/turnover ratio (1.1/fourth).
Thursday marks the start of an important three game stretch for UTEP as they look to extend their current winning streak into a season long, and possible season changing win streak.
What lies ahead in the next two weeks is a chance for UTEP to control their own destiny to a top four C-USA tourney seed, but what lies in front of them Thursday night is the best team in college basketball with a record under .500 that still has lots to play hard for.
A-ROD's opening line: UTEP -3
Match-ups to watch:
Julian Washburn v. Pierria Henry
Braxton Ogbueze v. Omega Harris
Willie Clayton v. Cedrick Lang
Terrence Williams v. Earvin Morris
|Who?||Charlotte 49ers at UTEP Miners|
|Date/Time||Thursday, February 12th, 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time|
|Location||Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas|
|Series Record||Charlotte leads 3-0|