Seeking top four finish in regular season

Edwin Delgado, Sports Editor

The UTEP men’s basketball team has  one game left in the regular season against the Texas San Antonio Roadrunners, whom they will face on March 6.

As of now, the Miners (21-9, 11-4 Conference USA) stand in fifth place in the conference and are just one game below the four leaders: Southern Mississippi, Middle Tennessee State, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech. The Miners cannot finish lower than a No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, but will try to win in San Antonio to keep their hopes alive to get a top-four seed to get an extra day of rest.

“We still want to get that double-bye, it’s better for us to play three than four games in the tournament,” said head coach Tim Floyd.

For the Miners to finish fourth, they need a win against UTSA in their final game and a loss from either Middle Tennessee State, who plays on the road against Alabama Birmingham, or a loss from Louisiana Tech, who is on the road against Rice.

As of now, the higher seeds that the Miners could face in the conference tournament would be: No. 12 East Carolina in the second round, No. 4 Southern Mississippi in the quarterfinals, No. 1 Louisiana Tech on the semifinals and No. 2 Tulsa in the final on March 15.

The Miners, who led the conference for more than a month, suffered two consecutive loses that pushed them down in the standings. However junior guard C.J. Cooper doesn’t believe the bad results were due to the lack of depth from the team.

“I think it has to do more with our mental toughness,” Cooper said. “We lost sight of that and what we got to do is get back to what we were doing right and play hard.”

UTEP is hosting the C-USA Basketball Tournament for the first time in three years, when they suffered a dramatic loss at the hands of former conference foe Memphis on the first season under Floyd. The objective for the team remains unchanged–win the tournament to get the automatic berth at the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Floyd said there are still things that need to be worked on.

“We can’t keep doing the same mistakes as we did today (Feb. 27),” Floyd said after the loss against Tulsa. “We can’t turn over the ball as much if we hope to beat anybody–our bigs need to play more physical and we need to improve our guard play before the tournament.”

The conference tournament will be played from March 11-15 at the Don Haskins Center, and most likely the Miners will begin their quest for the title on the evening of March 12.

The win over North Texas on March 2 has renewed the confidence of the team as they close their regular season schedule. With 21 wins, it seems plausible that it will take just one win in the tournament to secure a bid to the NIT, but to get in the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament, claiming the conference title is a must.

“They are not just going to give up, they’re going to work hard to win,” Floyd said. “They understand that we are still trying to get in the NCAA tournament.”

For more information about the Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship, visit www.conferenceusa.com/championships/m-baskbl-championship.

Edwin Delgado may be reached at [email protected]