It's been an up and down year to say the least, but all told, UTEP is still a game out of fourth place with a "surging" FAU squad coming into the Don on Thursday.
UTEP has lost their first three C-USA road games, after four straight wins at the end of December which snapped a five game losing streak to start December.
The little things have plagued the Miners over the last three losses.
"We just had a lengthy film session," Coach Tim Floyd said prior to Tuesday's practice. "You try to be as positive as you can because you understand you've got a vulnerable team. You try to point out all of the different plays [from the UTSA game] that we think are very, very correctable that didn't occur in the game. We pointed out nine point-blank layups that we missed in the first half. You'd like to appeal to a college player on a Division I scholarship and say, ‘Are we capable of making that?' That, in its own right, gets us over the top. And then we just pull up every missed free throw and say, ‘Are you capable of making that free throw?' Well, let's get out there and work and get a little better at that. And then other little bitty things that we know are correctable and that's what we do. We're going to sit out here and we're either going to get better or we're going to get worse. The objective this week is to try to get our team better."
UTEP has been outrebounded in five straight games, with a -8.0 rebounding margin in C-USA play. Being outscored 63-28 in second chance points in that stretch hides the fact that UTEP has actually played decent defense in stretches, and it shows statically.
Holding UAB and UTSA to under 40 percent shooting marks the first time UTEP has lost back-to-back games while holding their opponent to under 40 percent shooting since 2013. Now keeping teams off the free throw line is another issue.
Despite the rough road trip, UTEP still leads the conference in field goal percentage defense, and is second in the conference in three point field goal percentages.
The most interesting aspect going forward will be UTEP's rotation.
Tim Floyd has used 10 different starting lineups, and 11 different players have started a game this season.
Trey Touchet started against UTSA and did a fine job defensively, and also helped UTEP get into offense smoothly, charging a personal 6-0 run at the end of the first half with a pair of three pointers.
Getting Dominic Artis going is another mark of improvement UTEP needs. The junior guard has tapered off his production as of late, with six turnovers, and an 11-for-34 mark from the field in UTEP's three losses.
UTEP's best record with a starting lineup is 3-1 when Lee Moore, Dominic Artis, Omega Harris, Terry Winn, and Hooper Vint start. Something we could see Floyd either tinker with some more, or figure out this weekend.
Even though the season has been rough for the FAU Owls, winning back-to-back games is definitely considered a surge after their terrible start.
FAU was down by 24 with 4:24 left in the first half to LA Tech on Saturday, but outscored the Bulldogs 47-25 in the second half, with a Jackson Trapp three pointer with 3.2 seconds left lifting the Owls to victory.
Trapp is averaging 8.7 points per game, and actually struggled against LA Tech as the game winning three was his only field goal of the game.
The sharp shooting senior leads the Owls with 32 makes from behind the three point line.
Marquan Botley is second on the team with 15 makes, but has struggled with consistency in the past three games.
Scoring has been an issue for the Owls this season shooting just a clip under 40 percent on the season, while opponents are shooting 45 percent from the field.
Nine players average between 6.0 points per game to 9.9 ppg.
Their leading scorer and rebounder C.J. Turman was dismissed in late December, leaving first year head coach Michael Curry searching for production since Turman's departure.
Against LA Tech, FAU received offense from a pair of unlikely sources in the comeback win as senior guard Solomon Poole and freshman guard Nick Rutherford both scored 16 points. Poole is averaging 7.8 ppg for the year and Rutherford is averaging 6.7 ppg.
"I think they have done a really good job," Floyd said of FAU. "I think they gave up 51 and 63 [points] this last weekend. They have done an outstanding job defensively. They are defensive boarding it. They've got five guys who are pretty equal in terms of their scoring. Jackson Trapp is probably the guy we're most familiar with from a year ago. He is a dead-eye shooter that you have to pay attention to in all game situations, but particularly late game."
7'0 sophomore center and former Auburn transfer Ronald Delph has picked up the rebounding slack as of late, averaging 8.6 boards in the past three games, nearly missing on having three double-double this season.
6'2 guard Adonis Filer is another name to keep an eye on. The former Clemson transfer recorded a career high 23 points Against Miami (Ohio), and has averaging 11 points per game in his last four games.
Both teams are still searching for consistency, with a top four finish not out of the question.
Although who can get on track this weekend will determine that path for the rest of the conference play.
Three UTEP keys
Keep FAU out of the lane
The Owls have gotten to the free throw line at least 19 times in the past four games, meaning UTEP has to keep things out of the lane and force FAU into jump shots, and particularly three pointers which FAU has struggled with this season.
Guards like Botley, Nick Rutherford, and Filer will try to drive past UTEP's guards, so help defense, and backside help will be key in this one.
Force turnovers and execute fast breaks
FAU is a bit turnover prone with a +0.2 turnover margin on the season. UTEP's guards have to play smartly in pressuring, and poking things away to keep the Owls out of an offensive flow.
The Owls did a great job in taking care of the ball against LA Tech, but have 27 combined turnovers in their past three road games.
Take care of the ball
UTEP turned the ball over on 17.5 percent of their 40 second half possessions against UTSA, while the desperation and frustration of those turns led to a 0-of-7 mark in the second half from three point land.
The Miners have been moving the ball around on offense, but when scoring droughts come about, turning the ball over adds to the shooting, and layup woes we've seen over the past three games.
Miner Rush opening line: UTEP -8.5