UTEP is just three games into the C-USA portion of their schedule, but this weekend is a major must-win weekend for the struggling Miners.
Sitting at the bottom of the C-USA standings, both FIU and UTEP will jockey for the final spot in the C-USA tournament, and Thursday's game will create some positive leverage for the winner.
UTEP has lost 12 straight, while FIU has lost eight of their last nine, and like UTEP is 0-3 to start conference play.
Senior guard Donte McGill has picked up where he left off last season, averaging 18.8 points so far this year like he did last year as a junior.
McGill uses 29.5 percent of FIU's total offensive possessions, along with big man Michael Kessens, and guard Erick Nottage as their main pieces.
Kessens is a walking double-double averaging 14.1 points, and 10.1 rebounds per contest this year. The former Alabama transfer stands 6'9, and ranks 14th in the Ken Pom ratings for defensive rebounding percentage. He put up 21 points, and added 11 rebounds in their last game against FAU.
Nottage is FIU's best 3-pointer shooter, and will be tough matchup issue for the Miners back court. Elmo Stephen should also be on UTEP's scouting report, he's averaged 13 points per game in the past three games which is well over his season average.
UTEP's overall struggles have hidden the fact that Dominic Artis, and Omega Harris have been really, really good in the scoring department, but help outside of those two it's non-existent in stretches.
Combined, Artis and Harris account for 53 percent of UTEP's possession used, with Artis putting up numbers comparable to former LA Tech point guard Alex Hamilton.
As good as Harris has been scoring the basketball, taking care of the rock has been a major issue over the past three games.
Harris has 15 turnovers compared to just five assists in three conference games, yes that's five turnovers per game. And while Artis is the Miners' main distributor, cutting down on the turnovers will increase Harris' scoring productivity more so than raise his assist numbers.
UTEP has a 21.3 turnover percentage which ranks 300th in Ken Pom making UTEP's adjusted offensive numbers rank 317th according to advanced stat metrics.
UTEP's defense showed some improvement before last weekend's sweep at the hands of LA Tech, and Southern Miss, but took giant steps backward during their first back-to-back C-USA road trip.
The Miners now rank 302nd according to Ken Pom in defensive effective field goal percentage, and are allowing opponents to make over 50 percent of their field goals from inside the 3-point arch.
Ken Pom says UTEP is actually a one-point favorite and has a 55 percent chance of winning, and snapping this ugly current losing streak.
With three 'winnable' games on tap over the next week, can this UTEP team keep their ahead above the 13th, and 14th spots in C-USA before their next road trip?
Four keys to a UTEP win
- Take care of the rock
- Let Harris, and Artis dictate tempo
- Keep Kessens in check
UTEP has a shot at building confidence, and getting themselves out of a last place rut this weekend, but is it too late for improvement?
Artis, and Harris should have solid games, but FIU gets the edge due to having four proven scorers who can have big nights against a very bad UTEP squad.
Should be a close one, but the combination of McGill, Kessens, Nottage, and maybe Elmo Stephen become too much to handle after UTEP blows a lead.
FIU by 4…..