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Wake Forest vs UTEP Game Preview: Miners face first legit test of season

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Alex Nicolas

After two exhibitions, and a season opener opponent that resembled an exhibition, this new group of UTEP Miners face a Power Conference foe in Wake Forest to open the Charleston Classic.

Wake Forest comes in at 2-0 with double-digit margin wins against Radford and Bucknell to open their season.

Danny Manning enters his third season at Wake, he's team was picked to finish 13th in the ACC and he owns a 3-0 record against UTEP and Tim Floyd when he was at Tulsa.

Last season, Wake shot just 31.6 percent from 3-point range, but through two games the Deacons have knocked down 18 3-pointers, 13 of those were made in their win over Bucknell.

Sophomore combo guard Bryant Crawford returns after leading all ACC freshman in assists and steals last season.

Crawford along with Mitchell Wilbekin, and Keyshawn Woods gives the UTEP backcourt a formable backcourt to try and matchup with.

Woods is a Charlotte transfer who is excepted make a huge impact for Wake Forest this season. He scored a career high 22 points against Bucknell in where he hit five 3-pointers, and also scored 14 points in their season opening win over Radford.

But the guy who could cause the most trouble against the Miners is 6'10, 235 pound sophomore John Collins.

Collins set a career high in scoring in each of the first two games this season. He posted 18 points, and 12 rebounds in their season opener, and followed that up with a 19 point, nine rebound effort in the second game of the year.

He helped a defensive effort that piled up 16 blocks in the first two games, sophomore center Doral Moore leads the team with six blocks. Moore who stands 7'1, has dunked on 34 of 51 career field goals made.

UTEP will be looking to offset the size differential with speedy, but also smart guard play.

The Miners have turned the ball over more than 20-times in two exhibitions, and the regular season opener. On the positive side, Dominic Artis flirted with a triple-double in UTEP's season opener, while Omega Harris poured in 24 points.

While turnovers have been the main issues, Tim Floyd hopes that can be cleaned up from the practice time they’ve spent on it.

“There is something everywhere,” Floyd said. “It may be rebounding, it may be not being able to guard the dribble, and it may be not getting back on defense. We can always find something. That’s what coaches do. We showed the turnovers to our players, we took the clips out. Some things we can’t do for them. We try to put them in positions where they can make plays that they can make. We just threw it all over the gym. But I saw something yesterday where turnovers are up nationally right now. Who knows why?”

Ten different Miners saw double-digit minutes in the season opener, and it will be interesting to see which lineup combos Floyd uses in certain situations with so much youth on the Miner bench.

Guys like Terry Winn, Paul Thomas, Matt Willms, and Kelvin Jones will be challenged to defend, and score against Wake's two big men. Rebounding production, and physical play are going to be needed to offset that major on-paper size advantage.

Winn scored in double figures 17 times last season, and had eight or more rebounds in 10 games. Willms is still on a minute limit due to his foot, and Jones will play his first career game against D-1 competition.

UTEP is participating in an ESPN in-season tournament for the fourth time in six years, UTEP is 8-8 in in-season tournaments on neutral floors under Tim Floyd.

With so many new faces, it will be even more interesting to see who steps up as the level of competition rises over the weekend.

“Who knows what Wake Forest will try to take away from us,” Floyd said. “They watch film and they look at things. We’ll try to play good team basketball and when you play good team basketball, it depends on coverages, who’s going to have an opportunity to play well.”

UTEP vs Wake Forest

11:30 a.m. Mountain Time

Streaming only: ESPN3

Wake Forest is a -9 point favorite