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UTEP at North Texas: Game Preview

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The Miners open up Conference USA play on the road at North Texas tipping off at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time Friday night across the American Sports Network TV lineup.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting some of the best defensive statistical outputs to start a season in school history, head coach Tony Benford has North Texas looking like a team who will give anyone trouble in C-USA play.

Spearheaded by a zone based defensive scheme, opponents are shooting just 38.5 percent from the field this season which marks the lowest percentage allowed by a Mean Green team since the early sixties.

The signature zone has been a 3-2 look, though they have allowed their last two opponents to finish above 40 percent from the field in losses to Prairie View A&M and Texas Tech, and will show a few other zone options.

Jordan Williams is one the best, least talked about players in the conference, he is averaging 14.5 points per game, and has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, and can also lock down boards on the defensive end.

Freshman forward Jeremy Combs is having a stellar start to his career, he went for 25 points, and 11 rebounds against Stephen F. Austin earlier this season, and has helped North Texas shoot 48 percent from inside the three point line, as he is shooting 57 percent himself.   He also leads all C-USA freshman in rebounding with 6.3 rebounds per game.

Leading the rebounding charge with Williams and Combs, is forward Colin Voss who committee to rank the Mean Green 37th nationally in defensive rebounds per game.

Maurice Aniefiok leads a backcourt who likes, and has the ability to play in the open floor with efficiency.  Aniefoik has hit at least one three pointer in his last 11 games and is their top three point shooter percentage wise.

Without a true point guard, the Mean Green have turned it over 191 times, compared to the 174 they have forced on defense.  At least five different players have more than 20 turnovers on the season.

UTEP keys for a win.....

***Be efficiently patient against the zone. Matt Willms and Cedrick Lang will have to be decision makers in some situations, guys have to make shots from the outside, but if Willms and Ced can move the ball, and move well without it, the Miners should be able to get looks inside with some patience and poise.

***Protect the paint. This applies to keeping a North Texas team who will play inside-out from getting easy looks around the rim, but the Miners also have to protect the paint from second chance opportunities on defense.  The Mean Green have the athleticism to hang with the Miners in the frontcourt, but if UTEP shuts the boards down leaving no confidence, the Miners will in turn play a complete defensive game.

***Keep Vince Hunter out of foul trouble. Coach Floyd admittedly stated he has to do a better job of managing Hunter's fatigue from keeping him from committing "tired fouls".  In a game where the rebounding margin could dictate the outcome, UTEP's best rebounder needs to be available for important minutes.

***Finish in transition. North Texas is turnover prone, so that means with UTEP's defensive pressure, they should be able to have some fast break chances.  One UTEP weakness has been finishing those chances, but its not about getting to the rim every-time.  if C.J. Cooper, Earvin Morris. or Omega Harris can knock a trifecta down in transition once or twice, I feel that could help open up the rest of the offense.

Tim Floyd:

"I know that they‘re running their offense at a high speed and they've got three guards who can really score it.  Voss is one of the better power forwards in our league.  He can shoot it to 17 feet, he can post up."

"We know that North Texas is a better team than they were a year ago, and one of the things that we'll fight is that we beat them so handily over there a year ago.  Sometimes players are not realistic about the changes in teams from year to year.  That's something we'll have to get through."

Final Take

Playing on the road hasn't gone UTEP's way this year with two slower than slow starts at Colorado State, and NMSU. With eight different starting lineups in the first twelve games, one would expect Floyd to have found a lineup to cure those slow starts which have attributed to the four losses.

UTEP has held five of their last six opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field, you can bet Floyd has been hammering the you can play defense and rebound in any gym identity UTEP should come out with a pride of vengeance now that conference play is here.

This is a game that if the Miners control the boards, they should control the game and be able to hold a lead if they aren't beating themselves with turnovers on the offensive end.

But if they allow North Texas to hang around from second chance offensive rebounds, points off turnovers, and allow their guards to roam easy in finding open looks, a 1-0 mark in conference play will be hard to come by.

A-Rod's opening line:  UTEP -9

TV: DirecTV Channels, 674 & 698. Also showing in El Paso on Time Warner digital cable Ch.1248, U-Verse Ch.1741 or 1471.