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New Mexico, UTEP resume rivalry on the hardwood

The Lobos and Miners meet for the first time in five years in basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Charleston Classic-Texas El Paso vs Mississippi State Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP and New Mexico used to be in the same conference for decades but conference realignment changed that and these two teams have not met since playing in the NIT in 2011 and have not played in the regular season in basketball since 2009.

To get a closer look at the Miners we chatted with Alex Nicolas of Miner Rush for tonight’s game which tips at 7 p.m. MT and on ROOT SPORTS.

1. This rivalry has taken some time off and this is the first game the two have played in five years. Since these two teams have not been in the same conference for nearly 20 years now is this still considered a rivalry among UTEP fans?

A: Oh yeah. I think on the basketball side of things the New Mexico rivalry will always mean something to UTEP fans, football is kind of a different story though. #PaperCup

UNM may not be on the front burner of hate like that school from Las Cruces, but UTEP fans have wanted this series to return for a while.

Unfortunately due to UTEP's current state the hype is certainly nowhere near where it was when it was first announced that the two schools would meet again in hoops.

2. How would you describe the start to the season for UTEP, because from the outside it seems that the Miners are struggling with their two recent losses come from low-major programs.

A: Disturbing is a simple single word description.

UTEP lost an all C-USA freshman honoree from last season just three games into this season, and the lack of depth, and scoring production is pretty evident. Players transferring before conference play starts, inept offense, inability to defend the 3-point line, and ex-football coaches confronting pissed off fans are all apart of UTEP's struggles this year.

The 300-plus RPI also explains it all, UTEP is not a very good basketball team right now.

3. What does this team need to do to turn things around before conference play begins?

A: Honestly, I really don’t know with so many issues going on with the program as a whole.

UTEP just doesn’t have the horses to compete at a high level, but if the Miners improve defensively they could beat someone their not supposed to, and have something to hang their hat on in conference play.

The lack of depth, especially in the front court will be exposed all season long, and personally I don't see UTEP turning anything around in December with so much off the court drama going on.

4. What were your thoughts on the fans that had "Fire Floyd" signs, and also do you think he stays as the head coach for the rest of his contract?

A: I thought it was pretty crazy, and shows how fed up fans are with Floyd. I think he does stick around for next season based on the fact that UTEP Athletic Director Bob Stull publicly vouched for him last week on a local radio show, and Floyd is talking up his 2017 recruiting class which is actually good based off the current standards of the UTEP roster.

UTEP fans are passionate, and love their UTEP hoops with amazing passion. While some disagree and say it's respectful to call out a coach like that, how else will UTEP fans voice their displeasure with the disturbing sequence of events around the basketball program the past few years?

5. Who are the key players for this UTEP team that New Mexico should keep an eye out for?

A: As bad as things have gone with UTEP, they still have a possible C-USA MVP candidate in senior point guard Dominic Artis.

He's on pace to average over 16 points, five rebounds, and five assists on the season, and twice this year has flirted with a triple-double. When he takes care of the ball, UTEP's offense flows, but in his last outing he turned the ball over seven times.

Omega Harris is a legit 3-point threat, and is starting to expand his game by attacking the rim. These two quick, strong, and athletic guards will be problematic for any opposing back court, and are UTEP's only consistent threats at the moment.

Also, keep an eye out on big man Kelvin Jones who played his high school ball in Hobbs. He's very athletic for his size, and is plenty raw, but shows flashes of amazing potential at times.

6. How do you see this game playing out?

A: New Mexico should have no problem grabbing a win against a reeling UTEP team.

With Harris back in the lineup, UTEP has a chance to keep things close early on if he's hitting from deep, but this UTEP team will be unable to scrap back into a game once they are down by eight or more.

It's been proven that UTEP will struggle playing from behind against low-major teams, and UNM could be a NCAA Tournament team come conference play in my mind.

Lobos by 15 or more, and Floyd picks up a technical.