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UTEP at UAB Game Preview

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UAB is on fire, and playing up to their preseason potential

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a December to remember, the UAB Blazers are rolling just two games into their C-USA slate.

UAB has won nine straight, and went 7-0 in December as they will more than likely take over the number one spot in our weekly Conference USA Power Rankings after this week barring a Saturday setback.

They have depth, size, experience, and a couple of star players who won't back down in crunch time.

The Blazers averaged 1.425 points per possession last night against UTSA, shooting an out of this conference 70 percent from the field, and hit triple digits in a 104-82 thrashing of the hapless Roadrunners.

It could have been worse, but the Blazers didn't score in the final 3:19.

Led by key returners Chris Cokley, and Robert Brown, you get the feeling that on any night, any Blazer can go off for a career night.

Brown is averaging 12.5 points per game, is an efficient 31-of-73 from behind the three point line, and has really turned up the offensive production in the past five games.

UAB has the best collection of post presence pieces in the league spearheaded by Cokley, Tosin Mehinti, and super sophomore William Lee.

The trio combines for 73 of UAB's 98 total blocks on the season, with Cokley averaging 15 points per game, and has recorded three double-doubles on the season.

Lee is becoming one of the best defenders in the conference evident from his block numbers and added a season high 13 points last night.

Boasting one of the deepest and most experienced backcourts, Jerod Haase is blessed with plenty of matchup problem options in the backcourt.

Brown embedded himself as a staple during their NCAA tournament run last year, but Nick Norton is starting to become UAB's undisputed floor general and the straw that stirs the offensive potion.

Norton has dished out 10 assists in a game twice this year, and has had two games with nine assists, and is second on the team in three pointers made behind Brown with 24 makes.

He's improved his defense as a pesky perimeter defender, and like Brown is a guy who has to be accounted for in crunch time with the ability to drop daggers.

While he may not garner any big-time recognition as of now, but JUCO transfer Dirk Williams has been one of the best additions to any team in the conference.

Williams exploded onto the scene with a 22-point outing against USC Upstate, and is a 95 percent free throw shooter adding to the capable and versatile back court depth for the Blazers.

Denzell Watts is the Perry Ellis of Conference USA as the junior has played major minutes for the Blazers since he stepped on campus, and Hakeem Baxter is another guard who boasts plenty of experience.

The most ridiculous, and telling stat UAB owns is the fact that 10 players average 10 or minutes per game, and they shoot right at 50 percent from the field, with a +5.4 rebounding margin.

UTEP will be up against the best team so far on the 2015-16 schedule, but how do the Miners respond from a loss that came with great effort, and plenty of improvement in stretches.

Terry Winn continues his strong play, as he recorded his second double-double of the season, and has averaged 14.2 points and 9 rebounds per game in his last four games.

Lee Moore has also been another bright spot, reaching double figure scoring games in five out of the last six games, and has attempted at least eight free throws or more in the past three games.

Rebounding is always the issue for this UTEP group, and while it was greatly improved against Middle Tennessee in stretches, second chance points could be an issue against the deep, and athletic front court UAB will impose.

Bench production out of UTEP's front court has been virtually non-existent over the past three or four games, another mark that has to change for the Miners to have a fighting chance against the surging Blazers.

Times have changed over the past couple of years for both programs with the new C-USA lineup, but it's hard to ignore the recent classic battles between both programs that makes this matchup a true C-USA rivalry.

UAB Blazer Bloggin' put together this gem of a write up putting together three unforgettable overtime thrillers in a series that is dead locked at 8-apiece.

In the last six UAB v. UTEP games, three have gone into overtime, including each a double, and triple overtime.  And three games have been decided by a combined five points with a UAB miss at a buzzer beater in El Paso tying up the series record last season.

Bartow is always a tough place to play; UAB holds a current 19-game home streak, and a 21-game winning streak in Birmingham.

This young UTEP team took a step back in the loss column on Thursday, but the improvement mark was certainly there.

No better way to turn a corner then a huge upset against the clear C-USA favorite through a week and a half of conference play.

Miner Rush opening line: UAB -10

UTEP (10-6, 2-1) at UAB (12-3, 2-0)

Saturday, January 9th, Bartow Arena, Birmingham, Alabama

12:00 p.m. Mountain Time

TV: CBS Sports Network