UTEP Needs to Keep Momentum into C-USA Tournament
After a season full of promise and a strong start, the UTEP men's basketball team hit rock bottom and looked like they would miss the C-USA Tournament for the second straight season. Instead of packing it in during the "Bonus Play" portion of the schedule, the team has responded with three straight wins and a spot in Frisco next week.
During this recent stretch, senior Daryl Edwards has played the best basketball of his college career. He is averaging 28 points per game and has been carrying the Miners on his shoulders. UTEP has also been using a seven to eight-man rotation during Bonus Play and they have responded with solid performances on both sides of the ball. For much of conference play, the Miners have been one of the worst shooting teams in college basketball. However, they have averaged 43% from the field during their three-game win streak and 41% from 3-point range. UTEP has regained their confidence and they have finally been playing with a sense of urgency, something that was missing since mid-December.
The Miners improved play on the court over the last 10 days has their fan base split. Some believe that the team is back to their early season mindset, when they won eight of their first nine games, including wins over New Mexico State and New Mexico. These supporters are excited about the turnaround and see UTEP as a "sleeper" heading into next week's C-USA Tournament. Other fans are not buying the fact that the Miners have won three games against the weakest teams in the league and they do not expect them to advance past the first game in Frisco.
Depending on the outcome of tomorrow afternoon's game against Rice, the Miners will be seeded either 11th or 12th in the C-USA Tournament. They cannot move up to 10th, since all teams entering Bonus Play were locked into their respective groups. UTEP was in Group 3 (11th to 14th in the standings) with Southern Miss, Rice, and Middle Tennessee. Both the Miners and Owls qualified for next week's postseason conference tournament and the winner of tomorrow's game gets the higher seed. Their first opponent in Frisco will be either FIU, Old Dominion, or UAB. The Miners lost one game to each of them this season, but they played FIU close in Miami.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from UTEP's resurgence in Bonus Play is their playing roster. Kaden Archie, Deon Stroud, and Tydus Verhoeven have all played big minutes for the first time this season. Jordan Lathon has regained his confidence on the court, something that he was lacking for much of the season. The Miners have also been able to win games without Bryson Williams dominating his opponents. UTEP suddenly has a glimmer of hope, but it remains to be seen if they will make the most of their opportunity at the C-USA Tournament.