Tim Floyd is well known for his defensive principles and defensive tricks, but this season he's deferred some of those duties to assistant coaches Bobby Braswell and Phil Johnson.
UTEP has won six of their last seven, they lead C-USA in field goal percentage defense during league play, and have not allowed a fast break point in the past three games, all wins against really good teams. They’ve also knocked off three of the top four teams in C-USA over the past three games, and host the fourth in that group this coming Thursday.
Tim Floyd promised he'd keep working, and try to figure it all out during UTEP's 12-game losing streak which looked like the Miners would be lucky to sniff out five total wins the rest of the season sitting at 2-13 overall.
Trust his experienced assistants in transforming UTEP's major weakness of not being able to get stops into a strength that has UTEP looking like a team no one wants to play right now.
"If I hire guys that just listen to what I want then we don't need a staff." Tim Floyd said. "I'm trying to bring guys that can add to who I am, and who we are. Those guys that we hire do what they do very well."
It all started during a recruiting trip took Floyd to look at a JUCO player when he noticed he a team playing a 'point zone'. Floyd immediately called Bobby Braswell who used the point zone in his head coaching days and asked Bobby why he hadn’t brought up the point zone and that Floyd wanted to use it.
"He (Braswell) is a phenomenal coach." Floyd said. "The point zone obviously has really helped us, our defensive field goal percentage numbers have dropped because of it."
The point zone is man-to-man based type of zone that can look like a 1-3-1 in where two players are basically following the ball with the leading defender guarding the ball who calls out 'point' and his defensive partner right behind him is there to help if he gets beat off the dribble, or switches on the pick and roll.
What it's been doing well is keeping teams out of the paint, and allows Matt Willms to attack drivers or shots on the back end of the play when the communication and rotations are executed.
It also helps out rebounding wise in where players are not blocking out spots on the floor like in a zone, but they are blocking out the nearest man which is helping UTEP in the rebounding department as well.
Now Floyd is a man-to-man savant, so that will never go away. But the point zone has also helped UTEP improve their man-to-man defense as they went man-to-man heavy during the Miners late run which stymied Middle Tennessee down the stretch.
Earlier in the season, teams would put the Miners away late in the second half due to Miners inability to string together consecutive defensive stops, now UTEP is using their defense to close down games, and spark their offense.
Both Phil Johnson and Bobby Braswell have made their marks and have huge game planning responsibilities, all while getting the players to buy in at the same time.
"Phil puts in the man-to-man defensive game plan, Bobby is charting what teams are doing against zones." Floyd explained the revamped process. "Bobby could do man and Phil could do zone, they could do both because they can do it all."
"They're really both good and I'm secure enough with who I am and I've always been that way." Floyd added. "When I was at Iowa State we ran different stuff, we we're in man late (vs. MTSU) and that was Phil charting what we were going to do when we were in man."
Having that keen help and extra sets of eyes and knowledge has not only energized Floyd, but having experienced coaches draw up game plans that have been executed at a high level has resonated with the players.
UTEP's most experienced player Dominic Artis who had four steals in UTEP's 19 forced turnover effort against Middle Tennessee praised the coaching staff, and the players believe in what is being implemented on a game-by-game basis.
"Our staff is incredible, it's really a top notch staff and our game plans have been second to none. They put in hours just like us and just to have that on both ends, man and zone, is very critical for us." Artis said of UTEP's assistant coaches.
In the first year of this newly formed, and reformed coaching staff. Floyd and his staff have made strides after a rough start when the 'Fire Floyd' signs were out, and Bob Stull's damage control email signified some possible panic in the Foster-Stevens Center.
But kudos to Floyd and the entire UTEP team and coaching staff for continuing to work through a rough time, and finding some positive light at the end of the struggle tunnel which has been fueled by top notch defense.
UTEP is not out of the woods, and still has a large hill to climb but stretches like this prove the future could be bright with what is coming in next year, and the core that is developing this year.
"We got good guys, and our players are getting better." Floyd said "We're going to add to this group and we're going to be a real legitimate group a year from now we hope, and we're going to hope to do whatever we can this year."