COACH: Tony Barbee, four years at UTEP, first year in NCAA Tournament
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid
MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: UTEP has a good inside-out game with guard Randy Culpepper and forward Derrick Caracter. If the two -- Culpepper by slashing and Caracter walling off defenders in the low post -- can get Butler forward Matt Howard, the 2008-09 league MVP, into foul trouble, UTEP can concentrate its defense on 6-9 swingman Gordon Hayward. Howard was prone to fouls, and Butler needs him if it wants to advance. Butler is a team that was even hotter than UTEP down the stretch, winning 20-consecutive games to carry the nation's longest winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. Butler has good perimeter defense, allowing a Horizon League-low 30.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. UTEP can forget about its low post players like Caracter and F Arnett Moultrie and get too happy firing up treys. Against Butler, that could be a recipe for disaster.
GO-TO GUYS: Junior guard Randy Culpepper (6-0, 165) was the Conference USA Player of the Year and is a scoring machine. Culpepper, who went off for 45 points against East Carolina, averaged 18.0 points per game and isn't afraid to slash in the paint or fire the 3-pointer, where he hit 36.7 percent of his attempts this year and tries 6.8 treys a game. Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter, a 6-9, 280-pound monster in the paint, put the Miners over the top when he gained eligibility in mid-December. Caracter made UTEP an inside-out team. He averaged 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds. Throw in an athletic 6-11, 225-pound Arnett Moultrie (10 points, 6.8 boards per game) and the Miners create matchup problems all over the court.
THEY'LL KEEP WINNING IF: With as many offensive threats as UTEP has, the Miners ran away with its first C-USA title thanks to its defense. In conference play, UTEP allowed teams to shoot just 38.4 percent from the floor and a lot of that had to do with the interior defense provided by Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter. UTEP got 4.2 blocks per game in league play and 8.2 steals. Guard Julyan Stone is the stopper on the perimeter, earning a spot on the league's all-defensive team after averaging 1.6 steals per game. So while UTEP doesn't mind playing games with scores up in the 70s and 80s, their defense keeping opponents in the 50s and 60s is when they're at their best.
STRENGTHS: UTEP has gotten it done on both ends of the court this season, leading C-USA in field goal percentage (47.7) and defensive field goal percentage (38.7). The team has one of C-USA's best inside out games with post players like Derrick Caracter and Arnett Moultrie and several sharp-shooting guards led by C-USA Player of the Year Randy Culpepper. The Miners' 15 assists per game (2nd best in C-USA) are an indication they like to share the ball and like getting everyone involved in an offense that scored 76 points a game this season. Four players average in double figures for the Miners and have a fifth, guard Christian Polk, that averaged 9.6 points a game and is a dangerous 3-point threat.
WEAKNESSES: The Miners love the 3-pointer and can get a little to carried away shooting it, especially considering they have some good post players. The Miners averaged under 18 3-point attempts per game this year. In the team's five regular season losses, however, the Miners got trigger happy and saw that number rise to 21 attempts per game, making just 31 percent. When UTEP gets too guard-oriented, they become too reliant on the scoring of Randy Culpepper and as a one-man show, the Miners are beatable. The team also struggles from the free throw line, ranking 10th in the 12-team C-USA in free throw percentage during conference play, hitting 66.3 percent of its shots from the line.