Fans, the coaches, the players and everyone around the program hopes the momentum keeps going well into next week which is the start of the C-USA Tournament. This turnaround has been fun, but with the postseason a week away, it's time for this UTEP team to continue to peak.
So how/when/why did this turnaround start?
Here is the timeline for UTEP's
almost miraculous mid-season turnaround…
How it all started: The Bob Stull Email, January 11th
Bob Stull sent this email, and it looked like complete panic mode in Miner-Land. I will swear by this email as an omen of change, but all we laughed at the email once it came out.
Overtime thrillers: Weekend of January 12th and January 14th
2-13 overall, 0-3 in conference play, coming off one of the worst losses in recent memory to lowly Southern Miss, and the Miners were seriously hurting and facing the fact they could be fighting to just clinch a spot in the C-USA Tourney the rest of the season.
On January 12th, it took 49 minutes, and 59 seconds for the Miners to shake off those demons, and put one in the win column against visiting Florida International.
Dominic Artis' game winner was the lead story on SportsCenter, UTEP snapped a 12-game losing streak, and for one-night, after 12 straight nightmares, all was okay in Miner-Land for an evening.
Fast forward two days later to January 14th, and it happened again. The Miners nearly lost an eight point lead in the final minute of regulation, but held on in a single overtime to squeak past FAU for their second straight win.
FIU and FAU are definitely bottom dwellers, but for a UTEP team with losses to Maryland-Eastern Shore, North Arizona, and Northwestern State, confidence was starting to build.
The Fire Floyd signs were in the building for one of these games if my memory is correct, but had to mention that for the integrity of this timeline.
Two big wins, then a heartbreaking loss: January 21st, January 26th, and January 28th
The Miners used a full week of practice after their home sweep of FIU and FAU, and put on a defensive clinic holding UTSA to just 39 points in a 59-39 beat down.
UTEP found a handful of defensive schemes that could stifle opponents, and starting using more zone looks, which actually hurt them early on in a loss to WKU.
The Miners trailed by 21-points early on against WKU, but Jake Flaggert had a chance tie it at the buzzer, although he missed a 3-pointer. UTEP went 2-for-15 from 3-point land in that loss, but once again UTEP's defense was there, and helped them climb back into what looked like an old fashioned blow out in the second.
Then UTEP hammered Marshall, and the thoughts of a midseason turnaround were starting to form.
UTEP physically manhandled Marshall, like beat the living shit out of the Herd, and gave UTEP wins in four of their last five with the biggest weekend swing of the season on deck.
It was coming out party of sorts for Matt Willms who had a monster week, and the Miners had major momentum heading home to face UAB then Middle Tennessee.
Even though UTEP was showing life, they couldn't slay the UAB Dragons and knock off one of the top mid-majors in the country right?
MAJOR STATEMENT MADE: February 2nd and February 4th
Alright, so UTEP is now 4-4, played some solid defense in the past five game stretch, but beat UAB and Middle Tennessee and we are legitimately talking about a midseason turnaround.
W+W+UAB+Middle Tennessee= Oh wow, who are these guys in UTEP uniforms?
It's not so much the fact that UTEP beat both UAB and Middle Tennessee, but how they did it.
UTEP looked out matched, and on their way to woodshed beating at the hands of UAB, but this UTEP team found the heart and grit needed for a midseason turnaround, built an eight point second half lead against UAB, and won on a special night honoring the legend of Jeep Jackson.
Then on Saturday, UTEP started another streak, an unbeaten stretch in those awesome Minero jerseys which still stands today.
Middle Tennessee is no doubt an NCAA Tournament team, but the Miners held their program leader Reggie Upshaw scoreless, and the basketball gods were wearing Orange and Blue as a missed 3-pointer from Giddy Potts misfired as the final buzzer rang out and UTEP did the unthinkable and the turnaround was for real, for real.
The Loss to LA Tech and Frying of the fighting Doc Sadler's: February 9th and February 11th
There is no other way to describe it other than LA Tech has been the major thorn in the Miners' side since they joined the league.
UTEP led, and dominated the first half, but LA Tech got hot from 3-point distance which ended up being the difference.
Still, UTEP had a shot to win it at the buzzer, and despite the loss, a lesson was learned and UTEP was starting to be pegged as a team to watch out for.
UTEP turned around and punched Doc Sadler right in the junk the following Saturday. A 30-point win against Southern Miss showed this team could bounce back, and erase any doubts from a loss, but could they win four on the road was the next question…
Road Warriors: February 16th through February 25th
First, Paul Thomas terrorized Texas foes North Texas and Rice, and then the Miners dominated South Florida.
We saw glimpses of Thomas' potential in the previous stretch, then the versatile forward from Houston let it all hang out earning C-USA Player of the Week honors after his superb effort in back-to-back games.
This past weekend, UTEP showed off their defensive principles Thursday at FAU, then pounded the paint as the offense finally broke wide open on Saturday against FIU.
This was a key stretch for UTEP. Coming into this stretch at 7-5, UTEP could lock themselves up or set themselves up with a shot at a top four seed by winning at minimum three-of-four, but checked off every box on their lengthy four game road trip nabbing all four in the W column.
During the trip UTEP was tested, but they put it all together, and now have a shot make themselves a contender next week in Birmingham.
Thursday's night game is huge, not only is it for the third place seed in the C-USA Tournament, ODU has the horses to match UTEP's physicality and front court.
One of the more overlooked aspects of this turnaround is what fans don't get to see.
The preparation, and execution of that preparation have been key in this UTEP turnaround. You can tell the film work, walk-throughs, and scouting reports have been the Miners' number one key in this turnaround.
The coaches game plans have been well drawn out, but the reception, attention to detail and overall execution have been major trademarks of this UTEP team.
A team that was playing with ZERO basketball IQ, ZERO heart, ZERO retention of game plans and coaching just a few weeks ago now has turned those ZERO'S into a possible third place finish.
Ultimately this team will be judged on what happens next week once the postseason starts, but this ride has been fun to watch, and fans are hoping this can last a few more weeks if possible.