“Never venture, never win!” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
If you follow either UAB or UTEP basketball you’re likely well aware of just how dramatic the series between the two has been over the last 11 years. UAB has the edge 9-8 in the all-time series but the Blazers are a putrid 2-6 in the historic Don Haskins Center and haven’t won their in 5 years. El Pasoans enjoy beating UAB almost as much as they love beating New Mexico State.
Over the years these two proud programs have intersected at pivotal times during the Conference USA season. To the right you’ll see a photo from March 6, 2010 when UTEP beat UAB in El Paso to secure the regular season championship. Two months before the Miners knocked of the Blazers in Birmingham in double overtime when UAB had just secured a #25 ranking in the AP.
Honestly these two teams would be better off playing 48 minutes like the NBA because so rarely are they able to decide the outcome in 40. Since 2010 they’ve played an overtime, double-overtime, triple-overtime, and in two games that were decided by one possession.
I can’t guarantee tomorrow’s game will live up to the ones in the past but I can tell you that Miners will likely have their largest crowd of the season due to UTEP Honoring Former Great Jeep Jackson. My C-USA Hoopscast co-host Alex Nicolas of Miner Rush predicts that there could be more than 7,000 in attendance for the national televised CBS Sports game.
Scouting The Miners
To the surprise of most, UTEP went in to Huntington on Saturday and rolled over the Herd who had won their last 11 at home. Marshall was held to just 33 points in the second half and UTEP’s junior seven-footer Matt Willms went for 25 points and was awarded C-USA player of the week.
During a stretch from late November to early January UTEP lost 12 straight games and I was all but certain the Miner faithful were going to show up with pitchforks at Tim Floyd’s house. As usual the seasoned coach has managed to turn things around which is being viewed as both good and bad for the program depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, El Paso loves to watch their Miners win even if it means Tim Floyd might keep his job.
After dropping their first 3 conference games, which were all on the road, UTEP has won 4 of their last 5. Floyd and co. have countered their early season offensive deficiencies with stellar defense and it’s resulted in holding all five of their recent opponents to less than 70 points in regulation. The Miners are currently ranked 2nd in conference only game defense according to KenPom.com and they are 2nd in the nation in block percentage. Yes, they are ranked higher than our beloved #Blockingham.
Personnel-wise I’d expect UTEP to come out with what I refer to as their grande set of 7-foot-1 Matt Willms, 6-foot-8 Paul Thomas, 6-foot-7 Jake Flaggert, 6-foot-3 Omega Harris, and 6-foot-3 Dominic Artis. The two guards, Artis and Harris, are combining for nearly 33 points per game and they play well over 30 minutes per game. Imagine a more physical duo than Marshall’s Elmore and Browning who won’t rely as much on the three and will defend much much better. They are as experienced and savvy as they come.
As stellar as the back court is for the Miners it’s been the guys in the paint that have been producing big time offensively of late for UTEP. Paul Thomas has scored in double figures in 4 of his last 5 games and Matt Willms got anything he wanted during their road trip at WKU and Marshall. If you want to beat UTEP you have to get these two off the floor.
3 Things To Watch For
- Paint Play – Much like the La Tech game this game will likely be won in the paint. Getting Willms in foul trouble early will be very important for UAB.
- Harris and Artis – These two are arguably the best defending back court in the conference currently. Watts and Lavender will have to be very smart with their passes as the Miner pair has 63 steals between them this season.
- William Lee – Alex from Miner Rush has told me many times that UTEP struggles with long, athletic forwards. Lee will need to be the star he is capable of being tomorrow night.