Starting a daunting road swing to open C-USA play, UTEP opens their 12th season of C-USA play with an improved 5-8 UTSA squad Sunday afternoon in San Antonio.
UTEP coming off their ninth straight loss Friday, continues to look for answers as the possibility of missing the conference tournament will be a goal to avoid over the next two months.
Ken Pom ratings say UTEP is a five point underdog against the Runners, and also projects UTEP to win just six C-USA games.
UTSA is 5-0 at home this season, showing major improvement on the defensive end, and in the rebounding department. Steve Henson might be two recruiting classes away from making the Runners a top-5 C-USA threat, but the first year head coach is setting a solid foundation in year one.
JUCO transfer Jeff Beverly has been their go-to-guy so far averaging 15.2 points per game and is used on 30.6 percent of their possessions which is 46th nationally.
Senior guard Nick Billingsley chips in with 10.5 points per game for the Roadrunners and leads the team with 22 three-pointers on the season. He is shooting 37.9 percent from beyond the arc.
The Runners have hung tough with the likes of Fresno State, Oregon State, and beat their rivals Texas State handily. They have held opponents to a .412 field goal percentage and .319 three-point field goal percentage. Both of those numbers rate among the C-USA leaders, and they are currently plus-5 on the year in rebounding margin.
UTEP has shown small improvements over their last three games, but the big key is to put it all together for 40 minutes which has been the main issue as of late.
Forward Paul Thomas has been a nice production surprise as of late, playing the most productive stretch of his young career. But foul trouble continues to plague Thomas, along with UTEP’s center rotation of Matt Willms and Kelvin Jones.
Dominic Artis has scored in double figures in 11 straight games, scoring 20 points in the Miners Friday outing against NMSU. Artis continues to own one of the top assist rates in the country, and is finishing much better around the rim.
For a team trying to find their way, its going to have to happen on the road as UTEP will play their first three conference games on the road for the first time since 1981.
UTEP is 9-2 in C-USA openers and is 5-6 in C-USA road openers but have won three of their last four.
This year its not about getting better ahead of the conference tourney, each night will be a fight to make sure UTEP at least has a seed in Birmingham come late early March.
Keys to a UTEP win
- Get to the free throw line
- Make 3-pointers
- Force turnovers
- Finish in the open floor
UTSA is improved in areas UTEP struggles with, and has the more physical/athletic personnel makeup that will give UTEP issues.
UTEP can offset those issues if they make jumpers, and knock down 3-pointers, but those two marks have been inconsistent for the 2-10 Miners.
It will be interesting to see if UTEP keeps using their zone looks on defense, because keeping UTSA out of the paint is another main key to keep the score close.
Miners fight, and maybe even play well in stretches, but UTSA has their way in the end.
UTSA by 7....