The UTEP Miners (1-4) are set to take on the New Mexico State Aggies (3-3) tonight at the Don Haskins Center in the first of two matches between the two this season. Tipoff for the first game in the Battle of I-10 is slated for 7:00 p.m. MT.
The series is currently led by the Aggies, who a hold a 102-101 advantage, but the Miners have won three of the last four, and also hold a 60-46 advantage in games played in El Paso. The last time they met, the Miners took an 83-79 decision. That was December 11th of last year.
UTEP comes into the contest, losing four straight, including three in the Old Spice Classic Tournament against Oklahoma, Clemson, and Vanderbilt. The Miners had some real issues scoring the ball in Orlando, and lost by an average of 16 points a game.
New Mexico State enters fresh off a pair of home wins over Northern New Mexico (67-37) and Louisiana-Lafayette (79-57). They have lost both their road contests this season; at Oregon State (71-62) and at Niagara (86-83).
So far this season, the Miners have struggled greatly on the offensive end. They are only averaging 55.6 points a game, while giving up better than 66. Of the 8 to 9 players that see the floor on a regular basis, only one is averaging in double figures.
Junior center John Bohannon leads the way with 10.6 points, and 4.6 rebounds a game. Sophomore guard/forward Julian Washburn is averaging 9.6 points and 3 rebounds, and both senior guard Jacques Streeter and freshman forward Chris Washburn are averaging 7.8 points apiece.
For the Aggies, two players are currently averaging double figures in scoring. Sophomore guard Daniel Mullings is tops with 14 points and 6 rebounds a game, and senior forward Tyrone Watson is second in scoring with 13 points a game, and also averages 5.2 rebounds a contest.
If the Miners are unable to solve their offensive woes, the Aggies could easily run away with this one. More than that, the Miners are going to have to figure out how to box out and rebound against a team that averages better than 42 boards a game.
Rebounding hasn't exactly been a strength for the Miners either, especially against bigger teams. And, the Aggies are a big team, boasting 4 players 6'10 or taller. One of those, happens to be 7'5 355 lb freshman Sim Bhullar. He's only been averaging about 15 minutes a game, but those minutes could be big trouble for the Miners.
One thing that may benefit the Miners, is if leading scorer Daniel Mullings is unable to give it a go. He is still recovering from a head injury suffered in the Aggies last contest against Lafayette. While diving for the ball, he hit his head on the Pan Am Center floor, and had to receive stitches. He is also being looked out for a possible concussion, and its still unclear whether he'll play or not.
Regardless of who starts for the Aggies, I expect the Miners to be much improved from what we saw in the Old Spice Classic. I'm not sure that they'll all of the sudden be a great offensive team, but the familiarity of the Haskins Center, and the home crowd, should provide a bit of comfort for them.
This rivalry, more often than not, is played extremely close. I expect nothing different from this game. Even after the issues that they've had, the Miners are considered a 5 point favorite by Vegas. I'm hoping they're right, but can't predict that kind of win.
Miners 68, Aggies 66