Tonight, the #21 UTEP Miners (22-5, 13-1) take on the Marshall Thundering Herd (22-7. 10-4) in a battle of the C-USA's hottest teams. UTEP is riding a school record 12 game conference winning streak while Marshall has put together a nice seven game winning streak of their own. The Miners have clinched a share of the C-USA regular season championship but still have a lot on the line in tonight's contest.
Fear Factor: 9/10
Why so high? Easy: Marshall is 14-2 at home; they've won seven straight; their offense just scored 121 in a game; they beat UAB at home just a few weeks ago; their center just had 13 blocks in a single game.
|Record||22-5 (W12)||22-7 (W7)|
|Offensive Efficiency||107.0 (88)||110.1 (53)|
|Defensive Efficiency||88.4 (18)||96.2(94)|
|UTEP Road/MU Home Record||7-3||14-2|
You don't get to see a match up between two big men like this everyday. You just don't. These two players haven't played each other all season, and I'm sure they've both heard plenty about how good the other one is. I'm sure Whiteside has seen the video's of Caracter giving Greg Oden all he could handle. I'm sure that Derrick has heard about Whiteside's three triple doubles and C-USA record 146 single season blocks. Whiteside should be a lottery pick. Caracter will have a chance to show why he was seen as one coming out of high school.
Marshall Isn't A One Man Show
Donnie Jones has a deep roster and he maximized the production of each player with limited minutes to perfection. Marshall has nine players average more than 16 minutes a game. UTEP has six. Marshall's Shaquille Johnson plays the most minutes of any Herd player (26.7). UTEP has four players average more than that. What do minutes mean in basketball? Toward the end of the season, with a short travel and rest week, we can be sure that the more rested team tomorrow will not be wearing orange. Marshall did just play a triple overtime game, so there might be some fatigue, but over the course of the season, there's no denying that Marshall has spread minutes around much more liberally than the Miners.
Not Quite Free Throws
Amazingly, UTEP's free throw struggles haven't caught up to them during their recent winning streak. Undoubtedly, the Miners would have been much more comfortable late in several games if they had shot better from the line (see Southern Miss last week). Marshall, as a team, also struggles from the line. When you dig a little deeper you realize that Marshall actually has four players that are more accurate from the line than UTEP's best free throw shooter Randy Culpepper. UTEP doesn't have anyone that can shoot free throws like Marshall guard Damier Pitts who averages over 82% from the line. In a close game, in a hostile environment, UTEP will have to take advantage of any free throw opportunities they do get.
Expect a dog fight. The stakes couldn't be higher. UTEP is playing for their first out-right C-USA title and a #1 seed. Marshall has won seven in a row and is looking to show the rest of the C-USA elite that the streak hasn't been a fluke. It will also be interesting to see the minutes Julyan Stone and Myron Strong get. If UTEP doesn't have another scorer step up, like Jeremy Williams did against Rice, will Coach Barbee give Strong more time?