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UTEP at FAU Game Preview

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The Miners hit the sunshine state for a pair of roadies, first stop: the Miami area.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time inside the new C-USA format the Miners travel to Florida for their inaugural Florida swing featuring Florida Atlantic and Florida International, first off its the Owls.  (The word Florida was used four times in the last sentence)

Coming off a 64-56 loss to Florida International on Tuesday, the Owls have dropped six out of their last seven.

First year head coach Michael Curry has had a rough going since the conference slate opened, after an up and down OOC slate.

He inherited three talented impact players from last year, mixed with a slew of new faces that have not found the chemistry, and consistency to live above .500 so far.

Justin Raffington is a talented 6'9 senior forward who has recorded 12 career double-doubles, but missed eight games this season coming off a stress fracture in his foot.  He had a 14 point, 11 rebound effort Tuesday night against FIU.

The loss of Raffington for defensive purposes mixed with the lack of chemistry, and growing pains has held a capable 2014-2015 roster back so far this conference season.

Every Miner fan is well aware of FAU guard Marquan Botley.

Botley was an All C-USA Freshman selection last season, he has reached double figure scoring numbers in his last five games including back-to-back 23 point performances against Marshall, and Charlotte.

FAU has had some respectable production out of their guards whether its off the bench, or within the starting five.

Jackson Trapp returns for FAU though has been battling a foot issue, but is expected to play Thursday.  Trapp is averaging 11 points per game this year off the bench, the sharp shooter has had two games this year where he has canned six three pointers.

One of the best additions for any C-USA team was FAU's addition of Georgia Tech transfer Solomon Poole.

Poole was a mid-year transfer who scored 23 points in his FAU debut, and reached double figure scoring numbers in eight of his first 11 games at FAU.

Guard Justin Massey was also a nice addition for FAU, the freshman was named C-USA Freshman of the Week earlier in the season.  He has been consistent all year for the Owls, shooting 46 percent from behind the three point line, and also scored 17 points on 5/6 three point shooting against ECU back in Mid-December.

The Owls struggled in protecting the paint with Raffington out and have allowed 118 points inside the paint over their past three games even with his return to lineup.   The Owls have also allowed conference opponents to shoot close to 50 percent during the conference portion of their schedule, that along with a lack of legit production from their big men appears to be a huge weakness for FAU.

And even with UTEP being shorthanded in the front court, FAU's lack of presence in the paint should be UTEP's gain.

A number of positive improvements, and performances highlighted UTEP's sweep last weekend.

The most important aspect was the improvement from the Miners' free throw shooting, and overall offensive efficiency.

UTEP's senior trio also brought much needed offensive consistency, leadership, and energy over last weekend, something that will need to be there game in and game out going forward for the Miners.

Defensively, there are some paint protection concerns when Cedrick Lang needs a rest, thus forcing Hooper Vint to accelerate his defensive game to become a factor instead of  a defensive liability for UTEP.

Guard play will once again be a ticket to a win for UTEP, Omega Harris has struggled in his past two games, but seniors C.J. Cooper and Julian Washburn rose their games to the occasion of a possible mid-season meltdown, and lets hope that carries over on this road trip.

Three Keys for a UTEP win.

Rebounding

This is a game UTEP should have total control of the boards, but if they don't close out every defensive stop with a rebound, the Owls will get another chance at a look from deep.  A strength UTEP used heavily in the OOC portion, has now become a weakness during conference play.

Perimeter defense

FAU has averaged 8.4 makes from three during conference play. If Trapp plays, that gives FAU four legit weapons out on the perimeter. Poole, Botley, Trapp, and Massey have all made more than 25 three pointers on the season, and could give UTEP trouble if the D is not crisp out there.

Who continues to score for UTEP?

Julian Washburn looked like he may have turned an offensive corner after last weekend, but that consistent scoring presence is definitely needed.  It could also be Earvin Morris, Omega Harris, and of course Vince Hunter.  But usually this season when someone is scoring big for UTEP along side VH, things open up for everyone, and usually at least four players finish in double figures.  UTEP is starting to be a team where on any given night anyone can go off, how consistent that comes about will be key on this road trip.

A-ROD's Opening line: UTEP -11.5

Game Information
Who? UTEP Miners at FAU Owls
Date/Time Thursday, February 5th, 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Location FAU Arena, Boca Raton
TV/Radio

American Sports Network KFOX-TV 14.2, Link to Sinclair Network Channel Finder outside of El Paso

Play-by-Play Available on the TuneIn App, or 92.3 FM In El Paso In English, Spanish 1650 AM In El Paso Also available on the TuneIn App.

Series Record FAU leads 1-0