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WKU at UTEP Three Point Play Preview

C-USA play rolls on, but with a historic twist Saturday afternoon.

Earl Richardson/Getty Images

Breaking down the Tops

Both teams come in with identical records this season, and a new cast of characters compared to the past two seasons.

WKU features an upcoming C-USA star in 6'7 sophomore forward Justin Johnson who has scored in double figures in 18 of the last 21 games.

Johnson currently ranks second in the conference and 15th in the nation in field goal percentage, and is a physical wing who can finish around the rim at an elite level.

One of the more familiar returners, Chris Harrison-Docks is no longer on the team after being dismissed.

Even with Harrison-Docks, head coach Ray Harper has been searching for consistency out of the back court, and may have found something with senior transfer Aaron Crosby.

The former Illinois transfer has averaged 17 points in his last three games, coming off a 21-point outing Thursday night against UTSA.

Freshman guard Chris McNeal is another emerging producer as he's fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and is seven assists shy of becoming the first freshman in school history to hand out 100 assists in a season.

Matching up with size is something that has gave UTEP plenty of problems this year, and WKU has a legit shot blocker in the middle that the Miners must attack.

7'1 center Ben Lawson is 27th in the nation in blocked shots; he has blocked 115 shots in 67 career games.

Other Toppers who can be difference makers are 6'7 forward Anton Waters, and 6'6 forward Nigel Snipes.  Both are productive on the boards, and athletic pieces that will give UTEP fits around the rim with their athleticism.

Like the Miners, WKU is ushering 10 newcomers, and finding a winning stride hasn't been easy this season.

WKU has had a nice stretch as of late with a home win at UAB, but both UTEP and WKU look to turn another corner coming off wins to open the weekend.

Will UTEP continue the fast paced, high tempo approach?

Maybe it was done by accident to keep up with Marshall, but this current UTEP team has been at its best playing at a high, frenetic tempo this season.

UTEP averaged 15 seconds per possession against Marshall, and Dominic Artis was catalyst when things slowed down, and the offense went dry for a stretch.

Artis was everywhere, scoring, rebounding, defending, and a main firework provider when it looked like UTEP was about to fizzle out in the second half.

The pace also got Earvin Morris going early on the first half, while Lee Moore took over with the dribble drive late in the second half, and finished at the free throw line.

We all know this team is going to struggle defensively, but can a new offensive approach wear out a bigger, sort of slower opponent like WKU?

UTEP shot 11-of-18 from behind three point line with most of those looks coming off an extra pass in perfect rhythm.

The most efficient offensive performance of the season didn't come from deliberate, high percentage offense, it came from UTEP's athletes just playing freely and making plays.

Glory Road will be the center of college basketball attention

The Don Haskins Center is always a hallowed grounds of college hoops, but more so on Saturday afternoon.

The hype, and excitement of the 50th anniversary game was felt Thursday night, now the team that changed history will be rightfully honored in a once in a lifetime event in front of a sold out arena.

WKU was a questionable call away from meeting Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA Tournament's Mid-East regional final, making this a perfect matchup to celebrate UTEP's 66' national champs.

Led by consensus All-American Clem Haskins, the 1965-66 Hilltoppers dominated the Ohio Valley Conference with a trip to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and finished the season with a 25-3 record. The Hilltoppers ended the season ranked 10th in the nation that year.  Haskins averaged 20.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game for WKU's third of seven Sweet 16 teams in its illustrious basketball history.

Most of the members of the 1966 team will be in attendance with their families, and generations of Miner fans get to celebrate UTEP's crown jewel of achievements.

A fitting matchup with C-USA's two most tradition rich programs in the house that the legend Don Haskins built.

Miner Rush's Opening Line: UTEP -6.5