North Texas (6-8, 1-0) at UTEP (9-5, 1-0)
3:00 p.m. Sunday, Don Haskins Center, El Paso, Texas
TV: American Sports Network
Vegas says: UTEP -9
North Texas outlook:
The Mean Green have won four out of their last five after a 2-7 start to the season, coming off an impressive comeback win to open C-USA play on Friday night.
North Texas trailed by 18 at UTSA on Friday. but out scored the poor Roadrunners 45-26 in the second half to keep their improving surge going.
A pair of transfers have carried the scoring load for Tony Benford's squad so far.
6'4 guard Deckie Johnson is averaging 14.6 points per game, while the talented J-Mychal Reese is averaging 14.4 points per game.
Reese, a former top heralded recruit who transferred from Texas A&M has came on efficiently strong for the Mean Green in the past three games, and has scored in double figures in all but two games this season.
Sophomore forward Jeremy Combs is one of the better if not best rebounder in C-USA and is a budding star in the league ranking third in the conference in rebounding after a strong freshman season last year.
Efficient offense has been the key for the Mean Green in their winning stretch. The Mean Green rank second in the conference in field goal percentage, and rank third in scoring on the season.
Freshman Ja'Michael Brown could be another player to keep an eye on as he scored 21 points via five three pointers in their comeback against UTSA.
After some personnel losses, while integrating newcomers through some rough patches to start the season. North Texas is slowly coming around to compete, but can their guards continue to carry them during this two game win streak?
The Miners went cold, and were crushed on the boards in the second half against Rice, but Dominic Artis came through in the final seconds saving UTEP from disaster in their C-USA opener.
UTEP's 60X2 defensive focus will key in on Reese, and Johnson, but Combs is another player who has to be accounted for by UTEP's big's with his ability to finish around the rim.
Terry Winn has played his best basketball of the season in his past two games, and has had a nice stretch of play in the last four games.
The Louisiana native is averaging 15.5 points, and 7.5 rebounds in his past two outings, notching a career high 34 minutes against Rice.
Winn is the only UTEP player to attempt a free throw in every game he has played so far this season.
Not only is Winn scoring and rebounding, but his defensive presence was key in Friday's win with two key blocks.
Earvin Morris is dealing with a groin strain, and bruised tailbone according to Tim Floyd, but Omega Harris, Dominic Artis, and Lee Moore played strong while Morris saw limited minutes on Friday.
At one point, Moore, Artis, and Harris all had a +/- over 11, providing scoring, and offensive execution.
Morris will more than likely play on Sunday, but is clearly not at 100% at the moment despite a high energy effort on Friday.
One of the biggest issues UTEP has shown for most of the season is what happens when shots aren't falling.
UTEP went on two second half scoring droughts that let Rice back into the game, and against a more efficient offensive attack like North Texas, UTEP might find themselves trailing during those cold stretches if they are unable to manufacture buckets.
Guard play is always key for UTEP, and will be more so against the guard heavy Mean Green.
Three UTEP keys
Keep Combs off the offensive glass
UTEP allowed 13 offensive rebounds against Rice, eight of which came in the second half.
Combs is averaging 2.7 offensive rebounds per game, and Johnson has hauled in 22 offensive boards this season.
Eliminating extra possessions will be key against a top flight rebounder like Combs, and guards who can score.
When Terry Winn touches the ball, good things seem to happen.
There should be a Cedrick Lang-like rule in where Winn should get at least one post touch a possession.
He has that knack for getting to the free throw line, and is improving his ability to finish through contact with his increased minutes.
The best attribute about Winn is that he pays attention and understands the scouting report, something that will help is overall production and defensive presence in his UTEP career.
Continue to contest shots, and rebound on the backside
One of the more improved defensive marks for UTEP is how they have been contesting shots.
They frustrated Rice in the first half, and continued to do so in the second half, but have to do a better job rebounding on the back side of a contested shot.
A few times UTEP forced a miss, but were unable to close out a possession against Rice due to an offensive board.
The defense has improved, but the continued issue of rebounding is holding this team back from putting teams away.
Miner Rush's opening line: UTEP -8.5