On Friday, the wait is finally over for UTEP fans. Barring any unforeseen COVID issues, the Miners will start their C-USA schedule in Hattiesburg against Southern Miss. The new conference scheduling format for this season gives all teams the opportunity to play back to back games against each other. The Miners and Golden Eagles will have an opportunity to play both games in less than a 24 hour period.

Southern Miss comes into the contest 4-3 on the season, but they have won their last three games against Lamar, Louisiana Monroe, and Loyola New Orleans. The Golden Eagles are second in C-USA in scoring defense, and they allow just over 59 points per game through seven contests. They have also outrebounded their opponents in six of their seven games. On the flip side, they have yet to play a quality opponent, a stark contrast to the Miners. Tulane is ranked 203 in the latest Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, while South Alabama (221), Jacksonville (303), Lamar (306), and Monroe (297), make up their other D1 non-conference opponents.

S. Miss Athletics

Head coach Jay Ladner is in his second season with the Golden Eagles. The former Southern Miss guard was a member of the 1987 NIT Championship team under head coach M.K. Turk. Prior to returning to Hattiesburg, Ladner coached Southeastern Louisiana for five years and he guided them to the 2018 Southland Conference Regular Season title. He also won 511 games coaching high school basketball including a state title in 2011 at St. Stanislaus in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. Southern Miss was 9-22 overall and 5-13 in C-USA play in Ladner's first season as head coach of the Golden Eagles.

S. Miss Athletics

Offensively, Southern Miss is led by senior LaDavius Draine. The 6-4 guard averages 12 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. A trio of players average 10 points per game, including junior guard Tae Hardy and freshman guard Jaron Pierre Jr. Junior forward Tyler Stevenson is fourth on the team in scoring and leads the Golden Eagles with 7.7 rebounds per game. 6-7 redshirt sophomore forward Denijay Harris is not much of a scoring threat, but he does grab 7 rebounds per game. Top bench players include 6-8 sophomore forward Artur Konontsuk (7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game), 6-6 junior guard Justin Johnson (4.2 ppg), and 6-0 junior guard Jay Malone (3.6 ppg). All three have averaged between 17 and 20 minutes per game.

Scoring has been a challenge for Southern Miss, and they rank next to last in the league in scoring offense (63.43 ppg). They are also dead last in free throw percentage (56.4%), but they like to shoot from downtown (7.5 made 3's per game at 34%). For what they lack on offense, the Golden Eagles make up for it on defense and they are near the top of C-USA in many statistical categories except for blocked shots and steals.

S. Miss Athletics

UTEP won both meetings at home last season against Southern Miss. However, one thing that nobody talks about is the home court advantage that the Golden Eagles have had over the Miners. The last time UTEP won a game at Southern Miss, Tony Barbee was head coach and his team went to the NCAA Tournament. Tim Floyd was never able to win a game in his hometown while Rodney Terry was drilled by 30 in his only trip to Hattiesburg. This UTEP team is much deeper than the first group he brought to Mississippi and the Miners should get at least a split this weekend. If they play like they did in the second half of their win against Arizona State, UTEP will have a pair of road wins to start conference play. However, Coach Terry's squad has not been tested by a quality opponent in the last two weeks, so it remains to be seen how much rust the Miners will have when they tip off at 6 p.m. Friday night.