Name: The University of Texas at El Paso
Location: El Paso, Texas, obviously
Where is El Paso in the state, anyway? Well, it’s barely in Texas from two points of view. El Paso, which is of course Spanish for “The Paso,” is a twin city with Cuidad Juarez in Mexico, as the two are right up against each other with just the Rio Grande separating them. El Paso is also the western most city in Texas, and that’s saying something. El Paso is essentially on the same longitude line as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it’s dead center of that state, or at least close enough to make the point here. Think about this: El Paso is closer to San Diego than it is to Houston, and San Diego is technically three states away.
Oh, wow, that’s pretty recent for a college. And yet, it’s the second oldest part of the University of Texas system, trailing only the campus in Austin.
Did it start as UTEP? Sure didn’t! Previous names include: State School of Mines and Metallurgy, Department of Mines and Metallurgy, College of Mines and Metallurgy of the University of Texas, and Texas Western College of The University of Texas.
Hey, wait, Texas Western? Isn’t that.... the 1966 NCAA men’s basketball champion and focus of the book and later movie Glory Road? Yep. With five black starters, the Miners, coached by Don Haskins, beat Adolph Rupp’s lily white Kentucky Wildcats, 72-65 in the national championship game. They were the first team with five black starters to win the NCAA title and Rupp wouldn’t integrate the Wildcats for another three years.
Enrollment: 23,397, with 20, 220 undergraduates
Why “Miners?” Well, I think the previous names of the school kind of give that one away.
Notable Alumni: Vicki Guerrero, professional wrestling personality; NFL referee and noted workout fanatic Ed Hochuli; ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson; comedian Jack Handey, most famous for his Deep Thoughts on Saturday Night Live; Blackjack Mulligan, professional wrestler, father of Barry Windham and grandfather of Bo Dallas & Bray Wyatt; Nolan Richardson, former Arkansas basketball coach; Tanga Loa, one half of the New Japan Pro Wrestling tag team Guerillas of Destiny; and finally, [cough] actress Mia Khalifa.
Aren’t you forgetting someone? No, I was making sure you remembered Tim Hardaway and the UTEP Two-Step crossover.
That’s a lot of wrestlers. Ain’t it cool?
Last Season: 1-5 under head coach Tim Floyd, 10-15 under interim head coach Phil Johnson after Floyd quit his job in late November
This Season: 3-4 after picking up their first Division 1 win against Northwestern State on Saturday.
Current KenPom Ranking: #271
KenPom Projection: 9-15, with a 5-9 record in Conference USA
Wait, 14 league games? Yeah, I had the same reaction. Seemed wrong, obviously. In May, CUSA announced a change to their men’s basketball schedule. Here’s the deal: They play each of the other 13 teams in the league once as well as their travel partner (in UTEP’s case, that’s UT-San Antonio) a second time. After that, the teams will be split into three groups in the standings, and the final four games will be against the other teams in their groups. This gives the top five teams in the league four more games against each other to help boost their NET rankings when it comes time for seeding in the NCAA tournament and the NIT. A little confusing when you glance at their KenPom page and see a very short schedule, but it makes a lot of sense.
Points: Evan Gilyard, 19.1 ppg
Rebounds: Efe Odigie, 8.6 rpg
Assists: Evan Gilyard, 2.7 apg
Shooters? Yep! Gilyard leads the team in long range attempts with nearly six per game and he knocks down 48% of them. Paul Thomas lets fly a decent amount and hits on 44% of his threes. Past those guys, there’s no one with the shot totals combined with shooting percentages to worry about, although Jordan Lathon is shooting 40% on 15 tries against Division 1 foes, but just 30% overall.
Bigs? Odigie is 6’9”, 280 pounds, and is probably going to give Marquette a ton of trouble inside. He’s ranked in the top 400 in offensive rebounding rate on KenPom.com and in the top 150 in defensive rebounding rate. On top of that, he’s also drawing nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes against Division 1 opponents, so he’s getting to the line a ton. Thankfully, he’s only shooting 64% from the stripe. In fact, I will go ahead and guarantee that everyone at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday night gets free shakes from Shake Shack. The Miners are shooting 57% from the line as a team and no one is doing better than 67%.
Back to bigs for a second. Paul Thomas is 6’8”, but just 210 pounds and not much of a rebounder. Freshman Kaosi Ezeagu is 6’10” and 240 pounds, but he’s playing less than 14 minutes per game. Still, even with a limited sample size, his fancy math numbers for rebounding and shot blocking are pretty strong. He also gets called for a metric ton of fouls, so if he steps out onto the floor, the Golden Eagles need to go right at him immediately.
Head Coach: Rodney Terry, in his first season at UTEP. He used to be the head coach at Fresno State, and was holding down that job when the Bulldogs came to Milwaukee in December 2016 in this same “mid-week before Wisconsin” window. Terry went 126-108 with Fresno State and won at least 20 games in four of his final five seasons there. I don’t know if he’ll be able to work that kind of magic immediately on the Miners — he was just 13-20 in his first year at Fresno — but I’d like to think that he’ll have them at least competitive in CUSA before long.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads the all-time series by the resounding margin of 1-0. The two sides first met up in 1962, back during the Texas Western era, and MU got a 77-65 win in Milwaukee.