Friday's matchup features two unbeaten's and the only Friday matchup that pits two unbeaten's as Southern Illinois and UTEP open the bracket portion of the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic.
Southern Illinois has solid early wins against Air Force in their season opener, then Kent State, and Oakland to help jump start the season at 4-0. Led by senior guard Anthony Beane, the experienced, and guard oriented Salukis will be UTEP's toughest OOC foe to date in early in the 2015-16 season.
Beane, a second team All-MVC selection has reached the 30-point scoring plateau twice this season, and takes 35.3 percent of SIU's shots when he is on the floor.
He has also reached double figures in scoring 72 times in his career, including 16 in a row dating back to last season and has also made at least one three pointer in 11-straight games.
The big news in the Miners favor is SIU's leading rebounder Bola Olaniyan has been suspended and will not play Friday.
Southern Illinois is averaging 82.6 points per game which is a great improvement from their scoring average last season, and is shooting 47.6 percent from the field, but have had to use some major comebacks to come in with a spotless record.
The Salukis were down 15 points to Air Force, and down by 18 against Sam Houston State on the road before rallying for the wins, including an overtime triumph against Sam Houston.
Two other Southern Illinois guards will be of great concern to UTEP, and play into UTEP's 60X2 defensive principle. .
JUCO transfer Mike Rodriguez has been an assist machine for SIU, The junior was named MVC newcomer of the week this past week after averaging 12 points and four assists against Kent State, and Sam Houston State.
SIU already has 80-attempts from three point land with 30-makes, eleven of those makes coming from junior sharpshooter Tyler Smithpeters.
Smithpeters is 11-of-18 from three point land this season, sixty-nine percent of his shot attempts have come from 3-point range this season, and 66 percent of his career shot attempts have been behind the arc.
Down low, 6'7 forward Sean O'Brien will have to pick up the rebounding slack minus the athletic presence of Olaniyan. O'Brien is second on the team in rebounding so far this year with a 6.3 per game average, and will be tasked with much needed rebounding production.
For UTEP's Dominic Artis, Friday will feel like a national debut for his 3-0 Miners.
"First time we're on the road, everybody has been talking about it, we're ready to get down there and play some good competition." Artis said. "This our opportunity to been seen nationally and get some of the respect that we have been working for all summer."
Artis currently ranks sixth in the nation in assists, and first in C-USA in that category.
UTEP has held their first four opponents to under 40-percent shooting for the first time since the 1973-74 season, and have scored 70 points or more in their first four games since the 2004-05 NCAA Tournament team.
Lee Moore is ranked fifth in the nation in field goal percentage, while Earvin Morris is fifth in three-point field goal percentage in the early going.
Efficient offense is something UTEP has shown due to solid guard play, but more than ever UTEP will need stellar guard play if they want to continue to stay unbeaten after Saturday.
UTEP's keys to win
Establish tempo, and take care of the basketball
Southern Illinois has a penchant for getting behind early, so for UTEP establishing an early and efficient tempo will be key.
UTEP had a sloppy five minute stretch against Florida A&M which led to a 13-3 run for FAMU even though UTEP held a 30-point lead. Avoiding those stretches will be on Dominic Artis who has 32 assists-to-eight turnovers on the season.
If UTEP can jump out to an early lead, taking care of the ball, and continuing to use the fast pace tempo we've seen this team score in bunches with could be UTEP's best identity so far, and a major winning formula.
Stay out of foul trouble
This will be UTEP's key all season long.
Southern Illinois possess capable guards who can create their own shot, and get to the free throw line.
If UTEP can use their fouls wisely, and not pick up any quick foul trouble they can use their small lineups to their advantage in terms of tempo.
Keeping guys like Terry Winn, Paul Thomas, and particularly Hooper Vint out of foul trouble is important in rebounding, and paint protection.
The winner of this one could be the team who knocks down the open three in a consistent manner.
UTEP got off a to cold start to the season from behind the three point line, but has shot above average from three in their past two games.
This parlays in UTEP's perimeter defense on Smithpeters, and all of SIU's capable guards that can shoot.
For UTEP, getting Earvin Morris and Lee Moore going won't be too difficult, but if Jake Flaggert or Trey Touchet can knock a few down in their session of minutes will give UTEP that separation they need from three point land.
This and that
- UTEP is 1-2 against Southern Illinois. The Miners last faced the Salukis in the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational exactly 11 years ago (Nov. 27, 2004) and were saddled with a 68-62 loss.
- UTEP is shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range. Only three Miner teams have finished a season shooting 50 percent or better (1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89), and the school standard for three-point accuracy is 40.9 percent in 1986-87.
- UTEP's top four scorers -- Lee Moore, Dominic Artis, Earvin Morris, Hooper Vint -- have accounted for 64 percent (214-of-333) of the point production early in 2015-16. They are averaging 57.5 points per game collectively and all are averaging in double figures -- Moore (16.5 ppg), Morris (15.7 ppg), Artis (13.5 ppg) and Vint (11.8 ppg).
- UTEP has two players averaging 15+ points per game (Moore & Morris) for the first time since 2008-09 (Stefon Jackson 24.5 ppg, Randy Culpepper 17.5 ppg) and only the second time in 20 years.
- Junior Lee Moore leads UTEP in scoring (16.5 ppg) and has paced the Miners in points in three of four games this season. Moore has scored 15 or more points in every game this season and has shot at least 60 percent in every game. He has scored 66 points in 115 minutes -- an average of 23.0 per 40 minutes of court time.
- Jake Flaggert has seven charges drawn in four games, including three the last time out against Florida A&M. The seven charges drawn are more than last year's team leader Earvin Morris compiled all season. Morris had five in 33 games. Flaggert has made 7-of-12 three pointers to top the team in percentage (.583). Twelve of his 13 shot attempts have come from long range.
- In the last three games, Flaggert is 6-for-9 from beyond the arc (66.7 percent).
- True Freshman Paul Thomas currently leads UTEP in rebounding with 5.8 per game. The last time the Miners' rebounding leader averaged fewer than six caroms per contest was the 2007-08 season when Stefon Jackson collected 5.7 boards per game. UTEP hasn't had a freshman lead the team in rebounding since the 1977-78 season when Anthony Burns collected 9.4 rpg.
- The Miners have trailed for a total of two minutes and 38 seconds in their four games.