The UTEP Miners and the New Mexico State Aggies will square off tomorrow in Las Cruces in the opening match of the 2011 battle of I-10. The Aggies lead the overall series 101-100 with a 54-40 advantage in games played in Las Cruces. CTF is a perfect 3-0 vs. the Aggies, and the Miners have won 7 of the last 10.
This will be a classic matchup of youth vs. experience, and in some ways David vs. Goliath. The Aggies return 3 seniors and 3 juniors, compare to the Miners returning only 1 senior who is currently out of action. The Aggies also boast 6 players that stand 6'8 or taller, including freshman Sim Bhullar who is listed at 7'5 360 lbs. Not a typo, 7'5, 360!
The Miners are very young, and are still learning how to play at the division 1 level. They went 1-1 in their exhibitions, including a loss against Eastern New Mexico. They are also 1-1 on the season with a win 52-41 over UC Riverside and a 73-64 loss against UTSA.
The Miners' loss against Eastern New Mexico sparked some trash talk by NMSU senior Wendell McKines. The lines need not be repeated, but I'm sure it provided for some good bulletin board material in the UTEP locker room. NMSU knocked off ENM by 50 points the night before they beat the Miners.
NMSU comes into the contest at 2-0, including two road wins over Northern Colorado (89-75), and UNM (62-53). The Aggies are expected to contend for the WAC title this year, and will undoubtedly be a huge test for the young Miners.
I honestly do not expect the Miners to win this game, but I do expect them to play tough defense, and continue to improve on their game offensively. Its a tall task to expect such a young team to be able to come up with a win against an experienced team, on the road, in such a hostile rivalry. Just play smart and tough, and we'll see what happens in round 2 of this series.
Projection: NMSU 72, UTEP 64