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UTEP at Colorado State: Game Preview

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The journey to conference play continues on the road this week, first stop, Fort Collins.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Just like Tim Floyd, its taken Larry Eustachy time to raise his cattle after both had first year success, and both will meet for the fourth time in this recent series with clearly the best rosters since year one in either program.

The Rams fresh off their Great Alaska Shootout title have the pieces to compete at the upper half of the Mountain West race and even crack a NCAA Tournament spot.

J.J. Avila returns for his senior year, and leads the Rams in points and rebounds thus far.

Avila may have presented UTEP problems on paper before we saw just how much Cedrick Lang has improved his all around game, especially in guarding the paint.

Though Avila isn't your traditional big man.

When he steps off the plane or is in layup lines, Avila isn't a physical specimen of an athlete you would expect with the numbers he puts up, though is crafty, smart, and just flat out knows how to put the ball through the rim.  I'm guessing Ced would man him, though Avila doesn't play with his back to the rim all the time.

He has 33 career games where he was hit double digit scoring numbers, and six in row to start the season.

UTEP Coach Tim Floyd:

"They are undefeated for a reason. They play exceptional defense.  Like all of coach Eustachy's teams, they are a dominant rebounding team.  They've got a veteran team which makes them very dangerous, and a potential NCAA Tournament team because their older players are their best players and they're very experienced. This will be our first true road test and we’ll have to play with more poise for 40 minutes than we did in our last game against Washington. We must get off to a better start."   

But its not just Avila, I feel Colorado State is loaded with match up problematic guards.

Daniel Bejarano is much improved from last year, and after a hot shooting start to open the season he had an inconsistent showing in Alaska compared to his fast start, but is a very capable shooter when left open and in his rhythm.

There is no denying Bejarano can explode if the Miners have troubles in the defending the perimeter again.

Bejarano started the season 11/20 from behind the three point line, and despite a 2/9 performance from the floor in their opening round win against Missouri State, Bejerano was 2/4 from three in that game, and was also named to the All-Tournament team.

Two of their other guards also worry me.

Sophomore transfer John Gillon has some serious jets, and can really fly in the open floor.  Watching him play in the tournament, he is a vital playmaker on offense who has 10 assists to just one turnover in his last two games, and an 18 to 4 ratio overall.

He also has slashed his way to the free throw line more often than he has taken shots from the floor, gotta stay in front of him and put hands in his face, while trying to keep him out of the paint for dump offs to their bigs, and cutters.

The other guard that worries me from a defensive angle more than racking up points is former UTEP prospect and JUCO transfer Gian Clavell.

Clavell is a consistent scorer who is still feeling his way into the offense from what I have seen, but brings a legit rebounding and defensive presence to their lineup from the guard spot.

He has racked up eight steals in their last four games, and along with fellow guard Joe De Ciman give the Rams a formidable backcourt match up challenge for the Miners when Eustachy goes to bench.

The big X-Factor for the Rams when breaking down their personnel is 6'8 versatile forward Stanton Kidd.

Kidd v. Hunter is going to be fun to watch, this season Kidd's rebounding numbers so far don't really explain how good the kid is on the boards.  He pulled down 12 rebounds against Georgia State earlier this year and has scored in double figures in five of their first six games.

The senior transfer is very tough to guard on the drive, while shooting 83 percent from the free throw line this year and he is also 8/18 from three point land.  Does Julian Washburn man Kidd or is this is a job for Vince Hunter?

The obvious improvement UTEP has on its hands during the quick turnaround is the turnover issues that hurt the Miners early, and down the stretch of the Washington game.

It could be personnel adjustments that remedy that, though I feel UTEP has a bigger issue on the defensive side.

UTEP has done a poor job protecting the three point line, more so in transition, allowing teams to shoot close to 40 percent from there this year.

In watching Colorado State with the speedy Gillon running the show this in an area of huge concern with shooters like Bejarano, Gillon, and even though he is 1/6 on the year Avila will also pull in transition.

For what its worth UTEP has lost its first road game of the season 12 times in the last 16 seasons, and have lost 10 out of the last 11 games versus the Rams in Moby Arena.

But this isn't the old WAC rivals of old anymore in my mind (can we please get over that), its two teams looking for some national respect in the early going of the 2014-15 season, led by two coaches who have taught their respective programs one huge identity: go hard everyday in practice and preperation.

Should be a battle and a half on Wednesday night.