The #25 UTEP Miners (20-5, 11-1) hit the road again tonight against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (16-10, 6-6). It might be easy to look at USM's record and dismiss the Golden Eagles as a mere road bump for the Miners en route to their 11th straight win and a C-USA title. As I started analyzing USM's record in more detail, I realized just how tough a game this might actually be. USM has won six of their last eight games and their only losses have been close ones at Tulsa and home against UAB. Southern Miss led Tulsa with five minutes to go. They trailed UAB by a single point with under three minutes to play. Over the last month of the season, the Golden Eagles have been playing as good as just about anyone in the league.
|Offensive Efficiency||108.1 (71)||88.4 (18)|
|Defensive Efficiency||101.9 (156)||94.4 (68)|
|UTEP Road/ USM Home Record (Streak)||7-3 (W5)||10-4 (W1)|
These two teams squared off on January 16 in El Paso in a defensive struggle. The Miners struggled intensely from the field, making only 16 field goals on 36 attempts for a meager 44% average. Randy Culpepper had his lowest scoring output of the season that night: 6 points on 2/9 shooting. Derrick Caracter had 11 points and 8 rebounds but also had 4 of UTEP's 17 turnovers. Caracter was in foul trouble throughout the game and only played 17 minutes. Arnett Moultrie had the best all-around game for any Miner, chipping in a huge 14 points and 6 rebounds.
UTEP's defense forced Southern Miss into a terrible shooting nigh, holding USM to 38% shooting and only 49 points. USM was led by their star forward, Gary Flowers, who had 17 points and six rebounds before fouling out of the game. But, his fellow starters, Maurice Bolden, Sai'Quon Stone, R.L. Horton, and Angelo Johnson shot a combined 6/24 from the field for 16 points.
Really, we can't look too deeply into Game 1 to get an idea of what might unfold tonight. The two teams that square off tonight are both playing much more efficient basketball right now. USM may not score points like UTEP can (UTEP averages 77.3 ppg and USM averages 65.2), the Golden Eagles have been playing consistently good defense over their recent run. They have held their opponents average only 59.5 points per game and they kept UAB under 60 points twice in the last month.
As documented above, USM plays aggressive defense under Larry Eustachy. Their recent games have been low-scoring, physical battles. UTEP is forcing turnovers and playing incredibly well on the road right now having won five straight. Will their be a home-court advantage? Don't expect a packed house. USM is averaging a terrible 3,800 fans per home game, less than half the 8,095 capacity at Reed Green Coliseum. UTEP is playing as a ranked team for the first time in 18 years. USM would love to be the team that ended the 10 game winning streak that got the Miners back in the national conversation.
Check Back Tonight for the Game Thread.