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UTEP Basketball: Breaking down the 2017-18 schedule

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NCAA Basketball: Texas-El Paso at Rice Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s some takes, and observations on the newly released UTEP basketball schedule. In the words of our long time writer PayDirtRenzo, the schedule release is like an early Christmas for UTEP hoop fans.

The OOC Highlights

  • The Puerto Rico Tip-Off

The Miners will join Appalachian State, Boise State, Illinois State, Iowa State, South Carolina, Tulsa and Western Michigan in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, with games scheduled for Nov. 16, 17 and 19 at the Tomás Dones Coliseum in Fajardo, P.R.

Florida State has already dropped out, and the pairings have not been released, but this will certainly be the Miners first true test after two exhibitions and a season opener against Louisiana College for the second straight season. UTEP went through the same start schedule wise last year with the Charleston Classic, and went 1-2 in the tourney last season.

Even without Florida State in the field, the PR Tip-Off will test this UTEP squad in terms of depth, who will be a go-to-guy(s), and gives us a small taste of what the conference play rotation could look like in close games down on the island.

It seems like Tim Floyd’s teams find a way to snag at least a single win in these ESPN tourney’s, but can the Miners push the issue for a head turning run early on in the season?

  • The New Mexico’s

For the first time in forever, New Mexico, and New Mexico State will visit the Don in the same calendar year.

Right after UTEP comes back from their first tests in Puerto Rico, they will travel down I-10 to face the Aggies a few days after their four day stay on the island. No matter what, that game will be difficult.

After the first stanza in the Battle of I-10, UTEP comes home for nine straight including the first two conference games.

UTEP opens the home stand with FCS Lamar, then NMSU returns the trip on November 30th, then the Lobos and new sideline general Paul Weir come to the 915 on December 2nd.

In my opinion, these three games against the New Mexico’s could tell a HUGE story in terms of what will happen in December leading into conference play.

NMSU and New Mexico have had quite the off-season and it’s been cool as hell to see all that unravel as a UTEP fan to be honest.

Trading coaches, dealing with multiple transfers, UNM’s AD got himself into some wild as shit drama, and the Aggie administration is still stressing/crying over their overall piss poor attendance figures and dealing with the fact they lost a head coach for the second straight year to a Mountain West school in large part due to the lack of fan support.

For the first time since 2010, UTEP is in a way better spot roster wise than NMSU, and New Mexico is also dealing with an almost complete roster overhaul.

Basically, if the Miners don’t sweep or go a respectable 2-1 against their rivals, this team could be another average Tim Floyd squad. But a sweep over albeit rebuilding, but “rival” programs, could show some improvement based off what happens in Puerto Rico.

  • Washington State and the Don Haskins Tournament

The Cougars and Tim Floyd’s good bud Ernie Kent stroll into the Don on December 9th in the midst of a three game home swing with NMSU, New Mexico, and then Wazzu.

Lots of questions surround the Cougars as they lost a few key pieces from last year’s team, but a PAC-12 win at home is a solid win, if the Cougars can compete in their gauntlet of a conference.

The Don Haskins tourney is another mid-major heavy tourney, and the pressure should be on as the Miners have struggled mightily in their own tourney the past couple of seasons.

The Haskins tourney leads right into conference play after a six day break, so like it’s been the past couple of seasons, the tourney is a huge midway point of the season marker and lots of questions will be answered by then.

  • Conference Play

It’s hard to gauge the state of the conference right now, but from the looks of it, UTEP’s toughest portion of the 2017-18 season will be in conference play.

Right off the bat, the stretch from January 25th, until February 22nd could potentially be a rough stretch in terms of matchups, and travel.

UTEP hits the UAB/Middle Tennessee swing on January 25th and January 27th. Then UTEP returns home to face WKU, Marshall, and UTSA in a two week span.

Then UTEP heads east to face Charlotte and ODU on the weekend of February 15th. After that lengthy road trip, UTEP faces the always talented, and tough to crack LA Tech Bulldogs on February 22nd.

To me that’s the most daunting part of the entire schedule, but UTEP does get a break by having the Florida school’s at home, and will play both Rice and North Texas twice.

All four of those teams are in full rebuild mode, but time will tell how much improved from top to bottom the conference is.

  • Overall thoughts, and grade

The OOC part is a tad better than last year with three actual marquee home games, and the Puerto Rico Tournament is a good measuring stick with the mix of young and veteran experience this UTEP team will have and try to integrate.

Basketball scheduling is tricky, and believe it or not, UTEP is treated like a Power 5 program when it comes to basketball scheduling when looking at home-and-home and guarantee games.

Last year’s schedule was a straight F. A small overall upgrade this coming season gives this schedule a C- sitting four months before the start of the season.