February 7th will mark a full calendar year since UTEP last won a C-USA road game in basketball. (Let that sink in like a fine face wash)
Thursday night, UTEP will look to snap their current eight game C-USA road losing streak, and try to salvage some slack in the C-USA standings.
Doc Sadler is slowly picking up the pieces left by the NCAA sanction hurricane known as Donnie Tyndall, but his current Golden Eagles squad is actually playing their best basketball of the season.
Southern Miss. is 2-2 in their last four games with wins against Old Dominion, and a road win at FIU inside the four game stretch.
They played LA Tech tough last week, but offensive dry spells, and lack of productive depth have been major themes for Southern Miss. this year.
Sadler, like Tim Floyd, is trying to find the right niche to ride in the final month of the season as Sadler has used 10 different starting lineups just like CTF has.
Turnovers, poor shooting, and finding consistency out of a nine man rotation are things Sadler is working to figure out.
Last year, Sadler had a nice tandem at guard, and while this year he also has a nice tandem, the production is nowhere near where he would like or where it was last season.
Kourtlin Jackson and Khari Price are the only Golden Eagles who average double figure scoring numbers, and are key offensive pieces for USM.
Price, a former Dayton transfer, has scored 20-points three times this season, and is shooting 45 percent from the field in conference play. Jackson has scored 25-points twice this season, and is averaging 13 ppg in C-USA play.
UTEP's patience on defense will be tested against USM's methodical, hi-low offense that slows down the game and works the shot clock. USM averaged 20 seconds per possession against FIU, and will try to slow things down to play in the 50's or 60's.
Basically Doc is doing what Floyd has done the past two seasons, muck up the game, and try to win by forcing turnovers and bad shots on the defensive end.
The Miners should also expect to see lots of zone like the Golden Eagles used against the longer and more athletic attack that LA Tech brought at them last Saturday. They were able to slow LA Tech down in segments, and force turnovers and frustrated shots, but once USM's shots stopped dropping, the scoreboard changed quickly.
Jackson and Price along with Cortez Edwards do a good job of clogging up passing lanes on the perimeter, so patience and good decision making on both ends will keys for UTEP, something that really hasn't been a Miner strong point.
The only time Southern Miss. looks to run is after turnovers and rebounds, so getting back in transition off miscues and misses will be another focus for UTEP.
Lee Moore has been on a steady offensive tear as of late, shooting 14-of-24 from the field over the last three games. Getting to the free throw line is what Moore has done best during this stretch and pretty much all season.
Moore is the first UTEP guard with over 100-free throw attempts since 2011, and has scored 15 points or more in 10 games this season.
Omega Harris was another offensive bright spot last weekend.
Harris shot 7-of-9 from three point land in back-to-back 19-point outputs last weekend, and is 13-of-28 from behind the three point line in C-USA play.
UTEP's sophomore lighting rod of energy has also scored 100 of his 143 points in the first half this season.
The X-factor in this matchup will be front court production.
Hooper Vint has shot over 50-percent from the field in 16 games this season, and is 16-of-17 from the free throw line in his last five games. Lately, Vint has been doing an excellent job of positioning himself on the block, and his aggression and efficiency in his post moves has helped UTEP stay in games.
Vint will see a by-committee approach in the front court by USM with Keljin Blevins, Raheem Watts, Quinton Campbell, and Tim Rowe all in the rotation. Terry Winn could also benefit from this frontcourt matchup after a difficult matchup for him against FIU.
Rowe, a wide 6'11 freshman is coming into his own averaging 12 points, and 4.3 rebounds over the last four games. Blevins is an athletic and capable forward, and their best rebounding forward.
Southern Miss. has played well as of late, but is still a very incomplete and an inexperienced team that can spoil UTEP's weekend with a high effort outing, and some shot making in their friendly confines.
UTEP may have found a few answers to their rebounding and defensive woes this past weekend, but the weaknesses continue to be exposed.
Taking care of the ball, owning the boards, and getting consistent production off the bench will be things UTEP will need to avoid another bad loss. But can that happen on the road?
Who has the edge?
Miner Rush's Opening Line: UTEP -3
Vegas says: UTEP -2.5
UTEP (11-9, 3-4) at Southern Miss. (5-12, 2-4)
6:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Reed Green Coliseum, Hattiesburg, Mississippi