R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Why Can't the UTEP Miners Get Any?
If Rodney Dangerfield was still alive, the UTEP Miners would be his favorite college basketball team.
If Johnny Paycheck was still living, he would probably write "Take This Bubble and Shove It" and dedicate it to the team.
Only The Hurt Locker is hotter than UTEP right now, but nobody seems to notice. The Miners have won 15 games in a row and only lost one time all season long to Conference USA opponents.
As well as the Miners are playing, it was strange to hear coach-turned-broadcaster Pete Gillen declare after UTEP humiliated the UCF Knights 76-54 that the Tulsa Golden Hurricane were the hottest team in C-USA.
It seems odd that a team that lost four games in a row in February and suffered a defeat just prior to the conference tournament would suddenly have more momentum than a team that has not lost since Jan. 13.
It is equally peculiar to hear at halftime during the broadcast of the game that C-USA will be a one-bid league because of Memphis and UAB losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. It is almost impossible to believe that a 25-5 team that is ranked No. 21 in the USA Today/ESPN Poll and No. 25 by the Associated Press would still be a bubble team.
The reality is that the conference is only a one-bid league if UTEP wins the tournament. Winning the regular season title in a major conference makes the Miners a lock for the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in the next three days.
The experts on CBS College Sports claim that UTEP needs more quality wins and won't get them due to the elimination of Memphis and UAB and that a loss to Houston is a key loss.
First of all, the Miners have a tough team to face in Tulsa today. Some feel Tulsa is just as good as Memphis and UAB.
If Houston is a key loss for the Miners, I guess that means North Carolina State is a key loss to Duke and Oklahoma State is a key loss for Kansas. Butler is the only team to go undefeated in conference play, so one has to question why a team with one conference loss is getting criticized for it.
If UTEP's jerseys said "Memphis" on the front of them, none of this criticism would be directed toward the Miners. For years, people were complaining the Tigers were dominating C-USA. Now that they are not, the team that is on top is being perceived as not being very good.
I thought fans enjoyed teams with star power, and that is exactly what UTEP has.
If mathematics major ever took a ruler to Randy Culpepper, Culpepper would immediately become the best dunker in college basketball under six feet tall. The diminutive guard averages 17.8 points per game and has been voted C-USA Player of the Year.
Derrick Caracter may have been a thorn on Rick Pitino's side, but Caracter has been a key component to UTEP's success since his arrival on the court. A threat from both outside and in the paint, Caracter posts 13.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Last season, Arnett Moultrie was named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team and also played for the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the FIBA U-19 World Championships.
Point guard Julyan Stone possesses one of the most unique skill sets in all of Division I. Not many 6'6" players can handle the ball as well as Stone, and he also distributes the ball effectively and defends like a monster. Stone leads C-USA in assists and has been named to the conference's All-Defensive Team.
Jeremy Williams may be a forgotten starter, but he averages 10.5 points per game and has led the Miners in scoring seven times this season. Christian Polk, Claude Britten, Myron Strong, Isaac Gordon, and Wayne Portalatin compose of the best benches in all of college basketball.
Today's game against Tulsa at the BOK Center will not be easy since the confrontation is basically a home game for the Golden Hurricane. However, the Miners have already defeated Tulsa twice, and there is no reason they cannot do it again.
Despite the thoughts that UTEP will not make the NCAA Tournament, C-USA Coach of the Year Tony Barbee believes his team can make a deep run and even win the national championship.
I'd rather take the word of Barbee than listen to so-called experts who have an axe to grind against the Miners.
Photo Credit: Randy Snyder/Associated Press
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