UTEP vs. Charlotte: Three Things to Know for the Series
The UTEP men's basketball team will return to the hardwood after a week hiatus, as they host Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday to close out the conference slate.
Saturday's game tips off at 4 p.m., while Sunday's contest is set for 1 p.m. at the Haskins Center.
Who: UTEP (10-10, 6-8 C-USA) vs. Charlotte (9-11, 5-7 C-USA)
When: Satuday, 4 p.m. & Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Don Haskins Center
Listen: 600 ESPN El Paso (MinerTalk following the game)
Here are a few things you should know before tipoff:
Miners Resume Activities Following Shutdown
The Miners had to undergo a five-day shutdown after a member tested positive for COVID-19, along with subsequent contact tracing. Thursday was the first time that the team was able to hit the court and resume activities.
"We got everybody available," said head coach Rodney Terry.
With a full roster, the Miners will get to face Charlotte to close out the C-USA slate at home to try and gain momentum leading into the C-USA Tournament (March 9-13). Previously, the Miners beat Florida International in back-to-back games, which was their first series sweep of the season. Their series against Florida Atlantic was canceled last week. And now, with just two full days of practice, the Miners will definitely have to work through some rust against the 49ers.
"We had two days on the floor. We did a lot of cerebral work via Zoom in terms of meeting with our guys," Terry explained. "We've had one experience when we had to do that this year when we were off for five days. I think we were operating on day six or day seven yesterday that we got back on the floor. I thought our guys had good pop. Wasn't easy, was a little challenging, but we had to do it. Good day for us [on Thursday]. Just like when you have a shutdown, you have to play your way back in."
Charlotte (9-11, 5-7 C-USA) is entering this game after a canceled series as well (vs. UTSA). The 49ers are on a four-game losing streak, dropping games against Middle Tennessee and Old Dominion. They are led by sophomore guard Jahmir Young, who is fifth in the NCAA for minutes per game (38:16) while leading the team in scoring (19.1 ppg). They run a Princeton-style offense, only scoring 64.2 points per game and also holding opponents to just 65.0 points per contest.
"Everything toward the latter part of February and March is finishing," Terry said. "By that time, you have to finish cuts, finish possessions, finish half. You get to a point where you're a really good finishing team and then you're able to advance. That's what February and March is all about."
Adding Kansas After Charlotte
On Thursday, the Miners announced they would close out their regular season at No. 17 Kansas. The talks between both programs have been ongoing for months to finalize a game.
The timing, according to Terry, couldn't have been better.
"We talked to those guys prior to the start of this past season and work out a time when we can play," Terry explained. "We weren't ever able to work out a date that worked out for us. But we've been in talks with those guys ever since we got here and they've been very receptive in wanting to play. For us, it just kind of fit right.
"We're finishing our conference slate this weekend with a really good team coming in here in Charlotte. The timing works for us as well when we're coming off a shutdown when we need to continue to play prior to the conference tournament. Those guys [Kansas] were looking for a game and we were looking for a game. The date and time worked for us. We could've done something else differently and played a home game with lesser competition but for us and what we're trying to do, we needed to play someone that will really challenge us on the road. That ended up being a good competition for us."
He's right. The Miners could have played University of (insert random regional DIII/NAIA team name here) and won handily before the league tournament. Instead, the Miners elected to face an arduous challenge and battle a Big 12 power like Kansas before heading to Frisco.
Plus, the Miners got the assurance that Kansas will be on their schedule come the 2021-22 season. This is a huge win for the Miners by growing a relationship between both programs.
Senior Day (With a Twist)
Let's talk about the elephant in the room—Bryson Williams' future with the team. Sunday will be "Senior Day" for Williams and forward Eric Vila. However, due to the COVID-19 relief waiver for all college athletes, these seniors will have a chance to return to the squad next year if they wish to.
For Vila, his season has been hampered with injuries and he hadn't played in a single contest this year. The big man has been dealing with a lower leg injury all year and often could be seen on the sidelines with a knee scooter.
Williams has had an up-and-down season. After being an All-Conference first-team selection last year, his numbers have slipped this year. As a junior forward, Williams averaged 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds on 49.9% FG (.356 3PT FG). This year, he's averaging 14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds on 46.3% FG (.276).
One could argue that the emergence of Souley Boum's scoring abilities (18.7 ppg), along with contributors like Jamal Bieniemy (9.3 ppg) and Keonte Kennedy (8.6 ppg), has slowed down Williams' production.
To be honest, it's hard to pinpoint what exactly led to a bit of a decline in Williams' production this year. That makes this offseason really interesting. If he decides to stay, he could end up leaving college as a 23/24 year old forward. If he ends up leaving after this year, it's hard to tell what the likelihood for him to make a professional basketball roster would be.
Still, Terry is set on honoring his two seniors on Sunday, like other colleges are doing across the country.
"We haven't given any talk to that,' suggested Terry. "We really haven't talked about next year. You look around the country and guys are honoring their seniors and guys that are getting their plaques and jerseys with an opportunity to come back next year. There will be an opportunity where you can sit down and see what the feasibility of that is for our guys this year."