FTRS: Since the game will be televised as part of the Legends Classic, give Tech fans a quick rundown of the stars of the UTEP Miners. Who should we watch for down low and who are the Miner guards of note?
AM: The star is the reigning C-USA Player of the Year Randy Culpepper. Culpepper is a quick guard, a streaky outside shooter, but someone who plays excellent defense and can take over a game when he's on. Also, I would bet my paycheck that he's the best dunker in college basketball. Seriously, UTEP games are rarely televised but every time one is Randy is almost a sure bet to make ESPN's Top 10 plays. He's probably a shade under 6'0, but he can fly.
Also, you should watch out for Julyan Stone. Julyan is a 6'6 senior, point guard who's on track to become UTEP's all time leading assist man. This season, he's also led UTEP in rebounding in both of the first two games. Julyan is definitely a pass-first point guard, but so far under Floyd he's been far more aggressive shooting the ball then he ever was under Tony Barbee.
FTRS: We can't talk about UTEP without talking about Tim Floyd. How has Floyd handled the rocky transition from NCAA scandal to El Paso? What is the general consensus around the Miner fanbase about Floyd's past? Do you think the dark cloud above Floyd will keep him around for a few years?
AM: Miner fans really, really like Tim Floyd. I realize he's taken a beating in the press for events in the past. Many people don't realize that Floyd is an El Paso guy. His first coaching job was as an assistant to former UTEP coach Don Haskins. Floyd spent years here and I think many Miner fans expect him to retire a Miner.
As to his past, we've covered it at length here. The USC findings didn't find any infractions directly on Coach Floyd. I think Miner fans respected that he volunteered to go testify before the Committee on Infractions and get his side of the story out there. He's been very supportive of local media here and doesn't come off as a guy who's hiding anything. He's very well respected in El Paso and I think that was evident by the sell-out crowd of 12,222 for his first game as coach.
FTRS: According to Google Maps, El Paso is 576 miles from Austin, 347 miles from Lubbock, 676 miles from College Station, and 615 miles from Waco. Due to the lack of proximity to a Big 6 school, does UTEP generate a lot of local fan support?
AM: UTEP is the only show in town in the nations 19th largest city. As far as C-USA schools go, UTEP is routinely in the top 2-3 in football attendance and when the Miners are winning they will lead the league. In basketball, UTEP routinely averages between 8,500-9,500 fans per home game. That's good for an easy second in C-USA behind Memphis who routinely has over 17,000 at their home basketball games. Many of the diehards routinely blast the locals and/or students for not selling out the respective stadiums. But, by C-USA, MWC, or WAC standards, UTEP definitely has above average support.
FTRS: In hoops, Tech fans love to beat up on the University of Georgia, Clemson, or any North Carolina program having a down year. What game do Miner fans circle every year as THE game?
AM: UTEP's rivals first and foremost are the New Mexico State Aggies. Last season was great because both the Miners and Aggies made the NCAA Tournament. The schools are separated by a 30 minute drive up 1-10 and the schools play a home and home every season. After that, UTEP's biggest rival in basketball is undoubtedly C-USA stalwart Memphis. It was the Miners who snapped the Tigers 64 game C-USA winning streak last year. Memphis fans and media were also very upset that UTEP was chosen to host the 2011 C-USA basketball tournament, something they view as their birthright. UTEP and Memphis both have a lot of tradition in basketball and the teams have played some excellent ball games in the past. It's become a great rivalry.
FTRS: What are UTEP's post season goals during Floyd's inaugural season?
AM: After last seasons loss to Butler in the NCAA First Round, I think Miner fans had very high expectations because the entire starting five and all the key bench players were coming back. Then, center Derrick Caracter declared for the NBA Draft and 6'11 forward Arnett Moultrie transferred to Mississippi State over offers from Texas and Kentucky. Tony Barbee left for Auburn and all of a sudden we didn't know what to make of this years team. The Floyd hire rejuvenated hope for a successful season. Several other C-USA squads lost key players and I think most people who follow the league see Memphis, Southern Miss and UTEP as the three contenders. I wouldn't say that we expect an NCAA Tournament bid, but I do think its fair to expect to be in consideration for one come February. It's no secret thought that we don't have the size we did last season and that will be this teams biggest weakness.
FTRS: Any predictions for the game and for the champion of the Legends Classic?
AM: Admittedly, I haven't been able to see Georgia Tech play this season. Floyd has been preaching defense first and I think the Miners have a starting five that can run and play defense with a lot of teams. We aren't real deep, which was our strength last year, but I'm not counting us out against anybody this early on in the season. As for the whole thing, Syracuse is probably the deserving favorite. I know they are 3-0 and have beat everybody on their schedule by double digits. I think two teams can come out with key wins come seeding time.
Thanks to Adrian of Miner Rush. Good luck to Miners in all of their games except their first of the Legends Classic. Go Jackets!