The Colorado State Rams (2-1) and the UTEP Miners (2-1) square off tonight at 7:05 p.m. MT in the Don Haskins Center. This will be the 72nd meeting between the two teams, with the Miners holding a 45-26 advantage in the series.
The two teams last met January 2nd of this year in Fort Collins, a game was won by the Rams 62-58. They also took the last meeting in El Paso (56-53 in Dec. 2011), and have won the last seven contests between the two schools.
Colorado State enters with a 2-1 mark after picking up victories over Colorado-Colorado Springs and Weber State, while losing at #12 Gonzaga.
Coach Larry Eustachy is in his second year at the helm, and will have a tough task trying to live up to the standard he set in year one. The Rams finished the 2012-13 season with a 26-9 mark, and reached the 3rd round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Louisville.
The Rams lose their entire starting five from that team, as well as about 85% of their scoring and 80% of their rebounding. So far this year its been junior forward J.J. Avila, junior guard Jon Octeus, and junior guard Daniel Bejarano setting the pace for them.
Avila is averaging 15.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists a game, Octeus is averaging 15 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, and Bejarano is nearly going for a double double a game with 14.7 points, 9.7 boards, and 4.3 assists.
The Miners enter the contest, also at 2-1, with victories over Loyola (N.O) and West Alabama, and a loss to rival New Mexico State less than a week ago.
Coach Tim Floyd is still working on building this team up to its full potential, and will look to improve on the 18-10 mark it posted a year ago. They will look to do that with a roster that is loaded with talent and a bit more experienced.
So far on the year, junior guard McKenzie Moore is the team's leading scorer, going for 13 points a game to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Freshman forward Vince Hunter is quickly breaking out, averaging 11.7 points and 6 rebounds. Junior forward Cedrick Lang is the only other Miner averaging double figure scoring as he goes for 10 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.
It'll take a full team effort for the Miners to snap the skid of seven straight against Colorado State. Yes, the Rams lost a ton from their NCAA tournament team a year ago, but they have quickly found experienced players to pick up the slack.
The Miners will have to get some quality minutes and production out of guys like redshirt freshman Matt Willms and senior John Bohannon, and they will have to stay out of foul trouble, as they didn't do against New Mexico State.
Guys like junior Julian Washburn and McKenzie Moore will have their hands full with Octeus, Bejarano, and even Avila so they'll need to be back to their usual selves defensively to force the Rams to find their production from other guys.
In the last two years these teams have played two hard fought games that came down to the final possessions. I don't foresee this year to be much different. However, the Miners should be poised and ready to snap the skid and improve to 3-1 on the young season. It won't be easy, but they should be able to get it done.
Miners 73, Rams 68
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