Coach Tim Floyd acknowledged it, "we’re going to play in a game with meaning". Simply put: this one is huge.
Preseason C-USA favorite LA Tech travels to El Paso to face your UTEP Miners in a battle for first place tonight at 7:05 PM in the Haskins Center.
For the Bulldogs, they enter tonight's tilt on a two game winning streak, as the Miners are on a four game winning streak, and LA Tech also checks in at number two in our weekly C-USA Power Rankings.
The Bulldogs have been without Raheem Appleby, who is their Mr. Do It All, though they have not seemed to miss their leading scorer too much in continuing to live up top the C-USA.
Coach Tim Floyd:
"Their speed, their athleticism, their quickness and their pursuit to the ball is what jumps out at me on film, they are a versatile team with multiple ball handlers. They get the ball off the board with multiple push men. Everybody seems to be able to drive it. Everybody seems to be able to block shots and rebound. Everybody shoots the three. And everybody plays hard. I’m proud to say that I went to school there. And I hope it draws attention to the great career that I had at Louisiana Tech."
In the past five games of his absence, Sophomore guard Alex Hamilton has been one the best players in the conference, averaging 18.4 points per game.
But its just not Hamilton, this team is deeper than deep.
In their latest win against Marshall, they had 44 points come from the bench, 22 of those came from senior guard Kenyon McNeail who has also raised his play recently off the bench for LA Tech.
Another senior guard, Jaron Johnson, also has had a nice streak since the Appleby injury. He has also came off the bench and has averaged 13.6 points per game in the past five as well. He also shoots over 50 percent from the field.
Kenneth Smith is coming off back-to-back 13 assist games against Charlotte and Marshall last week. Smith has also gone over 10 assists five times this season, ranking him third in the NCAA in dimes. He is one, if not the top point guard in the C-USA, and can also knock down the trey at a high rate.
The huge scoring depth the Bulldogs posses has led them to be around the top of the nation in scoring per game for most of the season, with an average of 84.9 points scored a game.
They sit third in the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense, and their trapping, pressure pressing schemes on defense have led them to be ranked fourth overall in the nation in steals.
When you look at this match up, the makeup of each team is totally different. LA Tech is smaller, and uses its speed and athletes to create havoc, while UTEP is punishing teams on defense, as well as on the glass with its NBA like size and lineup, adding in some overall physical grit.
LA Tech will provide some match up problems for UTEP, as their forwards/centers are 6'6-6'8, those guys can really move, and are also top notch slashers who can get to the rim with ease.
Though the Miners counter with their length which has gave a number of smaller teams trouble this season.
Meaning guys like John Bohannon, and Vince Hunter, possibly even Matt Wilms will be chasing around smaller forwards who live by utilizing the dribble drive. That match up down low will be huge to watch with the Miners having trouble on certain possessions with these types of smaller, faster lineups thus far on the year.
I would assume LA Tech would want to attack the rim, and get to the foul line, in effort to get UTEP in foul trouble.
Huge test for the Miners to not only slow down the LA Tech tempo, but to also keep guys out of foul trouble, and on the floor with the depth situation.
It's tough to just drop in a zone with a team like LA Tech who will pull from deep with every open look from behind the three point line. And just like their overtime win against Oklahoma, they have the ability to knock them down in clutch spots.
Taking care of the ball, specifically guard play, is one of the huge factors that Miners have to be solid in to be able to pull this one out.
UTEP will not face a more athletic, fast group of guys who can press you for all 40 minutes with Nolan Richardson like effects outside Southern Miss.
LA Tech has the depth to dominate the guard play, but C.J. Cooper has played the point guard spot as well as anyone in the conference the past three games.
The guard play factor also funnels into controlling the rebound margin as another key.
The Bulldogs will jack up the three-ball with no hesitation, while they can knock it down with consistency, the Miners can not allow extra possessions for the offensive minded Bulldogs if they start to clank.
Vince Hunter has been the Miners' leading scorer in three of the past four games, and is starting to make a serious case for post season conference accolades. Most importantly he has been furious on the defensive end, figuring out steals lead to fast break dunks.
"I think every game is a first for us, it’s like November for us because we’re putting ourselves in different situations with a new lineup. The other night we had to play with a lead, and we played with it well and we expanded the lead. We’ve had to come from behind. We’ve had to play on the road. And now we’re going to play in a game with meaning, and that will be a first as well."
The obvious key for Vince is stay on the floor, and out of foul trouble. Something tells me will draw Cordarius Johnson who is a superb driver off the dribble, that one-on-one battle will be really fun to watch.
Julian Washburn will probably stick Hamilton, or like he has been recently, manning the point guard which in Kenny Smith will be his guy. Good luck with that one Speedy.
Match ups will be the key on defense for the Miners who are also looking for win number 500 in the Don Haskins Center. Adding to the memories made from the man who this sacred building is named after.
UTEP wins if.....
Keep LA Tech below six offensive rebounds for the game.
Win total rebounding margin by +3.
Have a positive assist to turnover ratio.
Score 70+ points
Current Record: 14-6, 4-1 C-USA
Julian Washburn, 12.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Vince Hunter, 11.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg
John Bohannon 10.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg. 35 blocks
|Points Per Game||69.6|
|Rebounds Per Game||36.8|
|Assists Per Game||13.6|
|Steals Per Game||5.3|
Current Record: 17-4, 5-1 C-USA
Alex Hamilton, So, G, 15.8 ppg, .495 FG%
Chris Anderson, Sr, F, 10.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 26 steals
Kenneth Smith, Jr, G, 7.5 ppg, 7.0 apg, 50 steals
|Points Per Game||84.9|
|Rebounds Per Game||36.8|
|Assists Per Game||16.6|
|Steals Per Game||9.8|