NMSU just flat out pummeled UTEP in Las Cruces earlier this month, but since then the Aggies are 0-3 in the midst of a three game losing streak just like UTEP.
Pascal Siakam showed everyone in this region that he is the best basketball player around these parts in the round one domination.
He grabbed 23 rebounds, and scored 24 points in the last matchup. In the Aggies last three games he is averaging 16.4 points, and 10 rebounds per game which is pedestrian compared to the numbers he put up in their previous seven games.
It seemed like NMSU set a defensive blue print in how to slow down a UTEP offense that was rolling when the two teams met in Cruces. Since that hot start, UTEP is only averaging 63 points per game, and is shooting 40 percent from the field, and 26 percent from behind the three point line.
NMSU frustrated UTEP with their length, and zone defense execution, something Tim Floyd said the Miners have worked on exclusively this week in practice in preparation. Another point of emphasis will be shot selection, and trying to create a more efficient approach when it comes to shot selection.
"You look at the shot making from Lee Moore and Earvin Morris the last four games and their percentages have dropped dramatically, like out the bottom of the gym," Tim Floyd said. "You attribute some of that to who you're playing, you attribute some of that to shot selection, and we're going to address those things and try to get them better. I feel like the shot attempts have gone up from some of those guys, and productivity has gone down."
While the Miners have had their offensive struggles, defense has been the bigger issue.
"I think our man-to-man defense was really good there for five or six games," Tim Floyd said. "I think what's hurt it is who we're playing and the fact they're getting second chance opportunities. Maybe the initial stop has been there with the exception of the Washington State game or [Texas] Arlington games, but the subsequent follow up rebound leads to a higher shooting percentage. We're going to have to continue to emphasize that all year long.
UTEP's scoring defense rose from 64.5 ppg, to 77.7, while the rebounding margin now sits at a disappointing -10.7. Teams are also shooting 47 percent from the field against UTEP, and getting inside the paint with ease.
The venue seems change the style of play in this storied rivalry, interesting to see how UTEP adjusts mentally, and X's and O's wise during this rough stretch to erect a suitable offense and defensive showing.
Siakam is going to get his, don't let anyone else beat you
This should be UTEP's defensive gameplan like it was the first go around, but were unable to execute.
Matt Taylor and Ian Baker became factors behind Siakam's elite performance in round one, and if it happens again, well...
Baker is recovering from a concussion he suffered Thursday against NMSU, and appears doubtful for Saturday, but no official update on his status has surfaced.
Outside of Siakam, and Baker NMSU hasn't found a consistent third scorer just yet.
If Baker isn't able to go, we will see more of Taylor, Braxton Huggins, Rene Ezparza, Jalyn Pennie, and Rashawn Browne as guards who will be asked to produce, and play more minutes than they have at this point of the season.
In the front court, Johnathon Wilkins has to be accounted for along with Tanveer Bhullar who can make a difference on the defensive end.
UTEP had a nice gameplan of fronting Siakam on the block, then double teaming him on the catch, but the Miners struggled with backside help on reversals, leading to open three pointers or cutters diving for easy dunks/layups on actions after the reversal.
"We'll continue to work on different thoughts with him up until game time," Floyd said. "I told a couple of guys in the NBA last year, I thought he was going to be an NBA player. It doesn't surprise me that he has made the advancement in his game that he has, because when you combine great athleticism with great will and great effort, that generally leads to improvement. This young guy, it's not just the rebounds that he gets, he touches so many balls. He is always involved in touching the ball and has a hand around it. As his skill level continues to grow, which it will, because apparently he loves to play the game, I think the sky is the limit for him. I can see him becoming Serge Ibaka. I think he has that kind of talent."
Communication, high effort, and sheer intensity will be keys against NMSU's NBA prospect.
Siakam will get his, just don't allow anyone to have a career day behind him.
Terry Winn is coming around
Winn has scored in double figures in five of his last six games, and is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in that same stretch.
The 6'7 talent struggled with finding his shot against NMSU's length with a 3-of-7 outing from the field in the first matchup. But the Louisianan is 10-for-17 from the field in the past two games as UTEP's lone bright spot during this three game slide.
Getting to the free throw line in an efficient manner could be Winn's job on the scouting report against the Aggies, as Siakam as found himself in foul trouble the past two games. Look for more post ups, or touches for Winn in this one.
Also look for Winn to continue to grow his game, but the consistency has to be on another level Saturday if UTEP wants to snap out of the losing funk.
From the UTEP perspective, it's hard to see UTEP pull things together in a full circle manner after being crushed on the boards and on the defensive side the past three games.
Tim Floyd has said all he right things in terms of what needs to be addressed and fixed, but how will this group respond after an intense week of practice and preparation is another hurdle.
The game flow changes on your home floor in this rivalry series, but what adjustments, or schematic wrinkles do the Miners show.
Do they press more? Make an emphasis of more post touches on offense? And what will the gameplan be this time against Siakam?
To avoid a deeper quandary, a win against a hated rival is the correct medicine, but has Floyd patched up the wounds from three blowout losses in time for three games in a four day stretch?
NMSU (5-5) at UTEP (5-3)
Saturday December 19th, 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Don Haskins Center, El Paso Texas