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FIU vs. UTEP Game Preview: Foul trouble could dictate outcome

Tim Floyd & Co. will matchup with FIU for a third time this season.

For the third time this year, UTEP and FIU will square off but this time, loser goes home.

"We've made a lot of improvements [since the first game]," Floyd said.  "We've had a couple of guys who shot the ball well, Lee Moore and Omega Harris, in the first two ballgames we have played against them.  We've had solid play from Terry Winn in both games.  I think a real critical part of the game is [FIU's] Adrian Diaz inside.  He got into foul trouble in the last ballgame, which really helped us. ."

Getting Adrian Diaz into early foul trouble could be a big UTEP key for a win.

Diaz is FIU's all-time blocked shot leader, and has also scored over 1,000 points in his career.

The 6'11 senior was named to the C-USA All-Defensive team, and averages 15.5 points per game, and 7.8 rebounds per game, he's also sixth in the nation in field goal percentage.

Another front court issue will be versatile forward Daviyon Draper who comes in as FIU's second leading scorer, and averages 7.2 rebounds per game.

This will be an important defensive draw for Terry Winn as Draper likes to roam the baseline, and attack the rim.

6'3 guard Donte McGill leads the Golden Panthers in scoring, and scored 16 points in each of the two matchups with UTEP.

McGill tortured UTEP defenders in the first meeting in El Paso with his dribble drive, and dump-offs to Diaz, and Draper.  Something UTEP's guards did an exceptional job guarding against in the second matchup in Florida.

Four or more players handed out three-or-more assists in the first matchup as guards Kimar Williams, and Eric Nottage were also involved in the dribble penetration.  Nottage dropped in a huge 3-point dagger during UTEP's comeback attempt in UTEP's loss to FIU.

A concern for UTEP in attacking FIU's defense will be the multiple looks they will see from the Panthers.

"We need to be able to handle their changing defenses," Floyd said.  "They're going to give us a zone look for a lot of minutes in the ballgame and we're going to need to be able to shoot it against the zone.  We're going to need to be able to get it inside some against the zone.  We're going to have to defensive board so we can play in the open floor.  I thought that was something really critical to our win in Miami."

UTEP shot 11-of-19 from 3-point land in the second matchup, shooting FIU out of their traditional defensive looks.

Lee Moore has gave FIU plenty of problems in both matchups, averaging 20.5 points, and is 7-of-12 from long distance against the Golden Panthers this year.

Omega Harris has hit nine 3-pointers against FIU this year, and is averaged 19.5 points against them as well.

UTEP shot 47.7 percent (52-for-109) from the field, 44.2 percent (19-for-43) from three-point range and 68.2 percent (30-for-44) from the line in both matchups this season.

FIU's shooting percentages were .514 (57-for-111), .417 (15-for-36) and .511 (24-for-47) respectively, FIU out rebounded UTEP 70-64, and a 22-12 on the offensive glass.

The Miners finished 7-2 in their last nine games, and averaged 84.3 points in the closing stretch.

Over the past nine games, UTEP is shooting 51 percent from the field, and has made 51 3-pointers, and has knocked down 21 more triples in the second half of the season compared to the first half.

One of the points of emphasis Tim Floyd talked about when previewing the C-USA Tournament is UTEP's need for solid defensive performances.

"The key is can we come up with back to back to back to back defensive efforts, play defense, and defensive rebound?" Floyd said after the regular season finale.

UTEP is averaging 14.2 forced turnovers per game which second in the conference, which is more than any of the previous four seasons under Floyd.

But protecting the rim has been the main issue, and not allowing second chance points which FIU can use to their advantage with their front court talent.

The odds are stacked against UTEP.

Four wins, in four days, a difficult second round matchup against a very familiar foe, and add on UTEP's defensive struggles, and rebounding struggles when shots don't fall.

But anything can happen in March right?

Three Key Matchups

UTEP's shooting percentage vs. FIU's defense

When UTEP shoots a high clip, they are usually scoring in the 80's, and controling the tempo.  When UTEP dips to under 45 percent, issues amount.  Breaking down, and efficiently shooting against FIU's defensive looks will be key for the Miners.

Terry Winn vs. Daviyon Draper

Tim Floyd admitted that Draper gave Winn issues in the first matchup, but Winn got the best him in the second meeting as Draper was 5-of-14 from the field, while Winn posted 11 points, and eight boards.  Whoever can go off, well help their team see Thursday.

UTEP at the Free Throw Line vs. FIU at the Free Throw Line

Both teams have had their struggles from the charity stripe this season.  This could be a game decided by foul trouble, and free throw shooting.  It's a simple key, but an important one in post season play.

MinerRush's Opening Line: UTEP -5.5

FIU (13-18) vs. UTEP (18-13)

Wednesday, March 9th 7:30 p.m. Mountain Time

TV: American Sports Network