With NMSU coming off an impressive home court win against New Mexico on Saturday, and the Miners coming off a loss at the buzzer to the Lobos, both the Aggies and Miners will meet in the first round of the 2016-17 hoops version of the Battle of I-10.
The Aggies come in as one of the hottest teams in Mid-Major hoops sporting a six game winning streak, and are really finding their stride early on in the season.
Veteran guards Ian Baker, and Braxton Huggins have been leading the charge, providing NMSU with steady guard play, and the ability to knock down the 3-pointer.
Huggins comes in shooting 48 percent from long distance, making 25 on the season and is averaging 12.9 points per game so far. Baker has been struggling from distance, but is still a clutch shooter who can go off at any time, and knows how to get to the free throw line.
The Aggies have attempted 46 more free throws than their opponents, and are plus-four on the boards so far. UTEP will be challenged with not only trying to defend NMSU's improved ball movement, but also staying out of foul trouble due to the Aggies continual body, and ball movement on offense.
Eli Chuha had a solid game against New Mexico with 12 points, and 14 rebounds keeping a string of three straight games scoring in double figures alive for 6'7 forward.
JUCO transfer Jemerrio Jones who signed in August with the Aggies has been a very solid addition. The 6'5 versatile forward from Memphis is second on the team in the rebounding department, and he's also becoming a major scoring factor as he's scored in double figures in five straight games after a slow shooting start.
NMSU is one of those teams that has star potential with Baker, and Huggins, but they have so many guys who can get hot and beat you.
Matt Taylor comes to mind as he nearly had a double-double against UTEP last year. Taylor will shoot the 3-ball, but also hauled in nine rebounds against the Miners last season.
6'10 junior center Johnathon Wilkins could be another matchup problem for UTEP, along with 6'5 swingman Jalyn Pennie, and former four-star prospect and red shirt freshman guard Jermaine Haley who is 6'7.
The Miners could catch a big matchup break as guard Sidy N'Dir missed the New Mexico game with an apparent injury. N'Dir is the Aggies second leading scorer, and an emerging impact player in their conference, no word on if he will play against UTEP.
UTEP is looking for consistency after their latest outing provided some encouraging moments.
Most notably Deon Barrett's arrival as the freshman made seven 3-pointers against New Mexico, and was named C-USA's Freshman of the Week for his work against the lucky Lobos.
Dominic Arts, and Omega Harris have continued their strong starts to the season, but the question is who steps up in UTEP's frontcourt.
Matt Willms has seen his production taper after a strong start. Willms is just four for his last ten from the field in his last 50 minutes of action scoring only nine points, and seven rebounds in that span.
Kelvin Jones is still developing with every minute he plays, and Paul Thomas will have a huge defensive role against the Aggies tall, and athletic front court.
NMSU has won three straight against UTEP dating back to the 2014-15 season, can new head coach Paul Weir keep the momentum going?
Three keys to a UTEP win
Get out and run
UTEP's key to compete in games all year will be their tempo on both ends of the floor. New Mexico sort of flustered the Aggies at times with different defensive looks. While UTEP might not have the depth the Lobos have, they have the speed to slow down, or pick up the tempo on both ends which could lead to contested shots, and easy transition buckets for the Miners.
Take out Baker, and Huggins
UTEP hasn't done a very good job of this, but they have to take away Baker, and Huggins' scoring chances. UTEP has done a decent job against a few leading scorers they have faced so far this season, but taking out two is the Miners key to even owning a lead in this game. Baker and Huggins aren't scared, and this task is easier said than done.
Bring intensity and energy, or stay home
It’s another rivalry game, and this young group of Miners handled their first rivalry test with the heart, and grit needed to give themselves a shot to win. Against NMSU, and at home, this UTEP team needs to play with another emotionally inspired effort by going after every 50/50 ball, rebound, and hustle play to create momentum.
UTEP took a step in the right direction last Wednesday, and had a week to progress in practice, but this Aggie team is good, really, really good.
Floyd showed he can instill fight in his squad after a rough few days off the court, but will that be enough to cover up UTEP's lack of depth on the court?
Aggies by nine….