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UTEP at NMSU: Battle of I-10 Preview

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Another big test for the red-hot Miners.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When: Wednesday, December 2nd, 7 p.m. Mountain Time

Where: Pan American Center, Las Cruces, New Mexico

TV: Aggie Vision, Altitude 2

Streaming: ESPN3

UTEP looks to continue their early season winning ways with a tough road up I-10 to face Pascal Siakam and the 4-2 NMSU Aggies.

The Aggies are coming off an overtime loss to Air Force after a string of three straight wins before their slip up in the Air Force Classic.

Public enemy number one for UTEP is future NBA prospect Pascal Siakam.

Tim Floyd compared the production Siakam is giving the Aggies to the likes of Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant which is fairly just and not over-hyping how good this kid really is.

Siakam was named WAC Player of the Week for the second straight week.  The 6'11 sophomore leads the nation in field goals made, and is second in the nation in scoring with a 26.8 points per game average, and is 11th nationally with 11.8 rebounds per game completing his double-double average.

On the perimeter, the experienced Ian Baker has been the most consistent, and productive guard the Aggies have had so far this season.   Baker was an All-WAC First Team preseason selection, and is averaging 14.2 points per game, and recorded a career high seven assists against Mississippi Valley State earlier in the season.

Baker has done a decent job of taking care of the ball for NMSU as he sports a 2.1 assists to turnover ratio, although the Aggies own a -4.8 turnover margin as a team so far.

Also look for 6'5 guard's Braxton Huggins, and Matt Taylor to get some important minutes from the NMSU backcourt, but inconsistencies in shooting/scoring have led to a lack of perimeter production from those two.

For the first time in the history of the NMSU-UTEP series, Tanveer Bhullar will see the floor against UTEP.

Buhllar is averaging 6.2 rebounds, but only has two blocks in 135 minutes of action this year, meaning Siakam maybe NMSU's lone legit rim protector at this point with Siakam blocking 13 shots so far this season.

UTEP is hoping the recent aggressive emergence of freshman Terry Winn, and senior Hooper Vint can somewhat offset NMSU's clear size advantage.

Vint averaged 16.5 points and nine rebounds in UTEP's two wins in Corpus Christi.  Winn averaged 13.5 points per game to along with 6.5 rebounds, but more importantly he averaged 9.5 free throw attempts over the weekend.

We haven't wanted to officially crown it, but from their performance's over the weekend, UTEP has a legit three-headed monster in the backcourt that will cause issues for any future UTEP opponent.

Earvin Morris, and Lee Moore had huge second half efforts against Colorado State by simply getting to the rim, and knocking down open jumpers and looks.  Both scored 28-apiece against the Rams, and have the clutch gene embedded as go-to-guys for Tim Floyd in crunch time.

While Dominic Artis dealt with back-to-back games in foul trouble, Moore, and Morris stepped their games up a few notches despite DA having a rough weekend.

Artis will once again be an X-Factor in getting UTEP into offense and setting a tempo, but also on the defensive end in guarding Ian Baker.

Another thing UTEP may have to do is shoot well, and not just from three point land.

NMSU's size and length could keep UTEP from getting easy looks at the rim, possibly forcing UTEP to take and make more jump shots at some points.

The ole' Tim Floyd mantra of making more free throws than the opponent has taken has held true all season with UTEP's gallery of aggressive guards, and guys who can get to the rim.  That aspect could be another UTEP key to a victory for the Miner guards who are able to get dribble penetration into the lane.

Who has the advantage?

Guards: UTEP

Matchup wise both teams appear to be even on paper here, but production wise UTEP blows this one away.

Scoring and shooting consistency are aspects NMSU hasn't had out of the guards they rely upon like Taylor, Huggins, and Juarez, Mexico native Rene Eszparza.

NMSU shoots 49 percent from the field in large part to Siakam and the Aggies overall strength of inside scoring, but Huggins is the only guard who shoots at  a 40-percent or higher clip from the field at this point.

UTEP's speed, length, and defensive ability eventually wore down on a talented set of Colorado State guards and is something they have done at will against their weaker foes.

The Miners have the huge advantage here, look for big nights' from UTEP's ever evolving big three of Artis, Moore, and Morris.

Big Men: NMSU

Siakam alone wins this category, but NMSU does have legit depth, and elite length in their front court.

Buhllar of course takes up space and is a reliable rebounder at 7'3, but NMSU will bring the athletic 6'10 Frenchman Jonathon Wikins off the bench, along with capable 6'7 sophomore Jalyn Pennie who is averaging 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench as well.

NMSU also has 6'8 forward Eli Chuha who recorded a points and rebounds double-double against Mississippi Valley State on November 21st.

This game will certainly test how far Hooper Vint, and Terry Winn have came along, but also UTEP's other freshman big man Paul Thomas who had some very solid moments in Corpus Christi as well.

Can UTEP get stellar guard play to hide this clear Aggie advantage?

IT Factor: UTEP

Talent, moxie, chemistry, heart, whatever it is----this UTEP team has seemingly found something in themselves early in the season.

For NMSU, replacing Daniel Mullings, Remi Barry, and the other Bhullar has been a little tougher that most expected in terms of identity against teams outside the WAC.

UTEP fought hard to erase a 17-point deficit and win in a championship settling double-overtime game against one of the better teams in the Mountain West.  UTEP received multiple producers, and locked in on the defensive end for a win showing plenty of winning identities that will translate for the rest of the season.

NMSU found themselves down by double digits in the first half against Air Force,  but fought back and ended up folding in overtime.  NMSU had two big time producers in their overtime win in Siakam and Huggins, no one else made more than two field goals.

UTEP has been through the ringer of a back-to-back close games, and needing to find others to produce to win those games.   Not saying NMSU isn't capable of doing the same on Wednesday, but UTEP has the more confident depth going into this one.

What's going to happen?

Who really knows when NMSU and UTEP hook up in basket hoops right?

Rivalries can sometimes bring players out of their "shell" and it looks like NMSU is the one searching for who that could be as UTEP found that out this past weekend.

Giving Marvin Menzies the coaching advantage is fair due to his recent success over Tim Floyd and UTEP.  But we can all agree Floyd hasn't had this level of talent and firepower at UTEP in the previous five seasons.

In the best analysis phrase that I can come up with: THIS SHOULD BE FUN.