Something about tomorrow night may take UTEP fans back to the WAC days, to a point.
Twenty wins in mid-February, dreams of a dance with the bracket gods, and a huge conference rivalry game on a Saturday evening.
It may not be Colorado State, Nevada, BYU, or even non-conference rival NMSU, though Southern Miss. is becoming quite the rival in basketball.
The Golden Eagles fresh off a 85-65 thumping of our little brothers to the east UTSA, snapped a two game skid that sets up the important tilt in Hattiesburg. Before the the two game skid, they had reeled off seven straight wins.
Neil Watson again leads one of the best collection of talented, experienced, and overall guard play in the league.
Four of Southern Miss's leading scorers are seniors, Watson leads they way 11.5 ppg, Michael Craig is at 11.5 ppg, forward Daveon Boardingham is third at 10.7 ppg, and guard Jerrold Brooks adds 9.7 ppg for them.
Craig missed the UTSA game with an ankle injury, he has been listed as day-to-day, this will definitely help the Miners if he is out. UTSA out rebounded Southern Miss. 40-34 in his absence, he averages 7.5 boards a game.
Though they didn't miss his scoring output, as Boardingham went off for 19 points, including a period of three straight rim abusing dunks that put the game away early in the second half.
Boardingham leads the C-USA is field goal percentage, most attributed to his ability to get the rim, he has 34 dunks this year, and in total has thrown it down 73 times in a Southern Miss. uni.
What they do best is pressure the hell out of you with their signature half court trap, lead by the active and quick hands of Watson who has the Golden Eagles ranked second in the C-USA in steals per game.
They also nip UTEP in the scoring defense category to lead the league, they surrender 62.9 points per game, and also lead the league in defensive rebounds per game at 29.1 a contest.
Tim Floyd on Southern Miss.
"They have done a remarkable job, they're undefeated at home, which tells you enough about the issues and the problems that we're going to face. They are a very good defensive team with seasoned, savvy veteran guards. Their bigs play way beyond their size. Their activity and toughness is their trademark. It will be the most physical team we have played against going back to the Kansas game."
Southern Miss has also been able to put teams away with huge runs, which is another signature of Donnie Tyndall's squad.
38 times this year they have gone on a 8-0 run at points during their games this season, while they have gone on 10-0 runs 21 times this year, parlaying that into defense, they have limited their opponents to only 25 runs over 8-0 or better.
With they way they pressure, they are able to get easy transition buckets that put teams away leading to those momentum building runs, and also gives them the second best field goal percentage in the league.
UTEP has been solid in stopping runs, and also limiting them on the road, though will have to protect the ball at their highest level in this game.
The veteran laden Golden Eagles are also 12-0 at home this year.
Southern Miss isn't the best three point shooting team in the league by far, though shutting down their three point shooting is a small victory with them proving they can weather a three-point shooting drought. I think Floyd won't mind giving up looks, protecting the rim and glass is most important Saturday at 4.
They shot a horrible 2/18 from deep against LA Tech, though crashed the offensive boards 19 times, leading to 80 points. Crazy, 2/18 shooting from the three, and they still get 80 points, and win by 10.
Two main things the Miners have done exceptionally well on the road has to continue, though more imperatively in this one; grab every defensive board, and take care of the rock.
Like Floyd mentions, they don't have towering size, but have what I call leaping athletes who can soar, and have a nose for the ball in the air.
On paper, Southern Miss. no doubt has the better bench. Nine players average at least 11 minutes a contest, and they have also won the battle of the benches scoring margin in nine out of their last ten games.
UTEP's size advantage over most teams is moot if Matt Willms, and Cedrick Lang are not productive, both on the scoring end, and defensive boards.
The duo, who have played solid all year together when they both are on the floor at the same, did a nice number on Tulane. Willms is continuing to grow the past couple of games, showing he just maybe the guy to fill John Bohannon's role in the future.
Lang as well all know is the rock down low, and is continuing the develop the dynamic traits in his game that will take him to another level.
Now for who will take who.
Deonte Houston is a match up nightmare for any team, he had 8 points, and 5 assists against UTSA with no turnovers, there is no drop off at all when Watson or Brooks go to the bench with Houston who could start for any other team in the conference.
Junior transfer Aaron Brown has also been problematic for squads this year, just a great athlete who can score, though if Craig is out they will need him to rebound.
Glad this one is on TV so we can see the schemes Floyd will come out with, UTEP has the to horses to do it, though I just cant see Floyd going man-to-man at all in this one.
C.J. Cooper v Watson, or Julian Washburn v Watson will be great match ups to watch for basketball purists who love to see talented players go head-to-head, when the Miners periodically load things up in the lane with the box and one, or triangle and deuce.
UTEP has snapped a 25 game home winning streak this year, why not a 12 game winning streak?
UTEP Miners (20-7, 10-2) at Southern Miss. Golden Eagles (22-5, 9-3)
4:00 PM MT Reed Green Coliseum, Hattiesburg, MS
TV: CBS Sports Network, DirecTV CH 221, AT&T U-Verse CH 1643, DISH CH 158, Time Warner CH 24 in El Paso