UTEP at Rice: Three Final Questions Before Tipoff
The UTEP men's basketball team (11-8, 2-4 C-USA) is searching for its first road win since March 3, 2018, and they will have their best chance of the season thus far when they square off against Rice (9-11, 1-6 C-USA) on Thursday night.
UTEP is 0-6 on the road this year while Rice has lost seven of their last eight games.
But as this team continues to struggle on the road, no game is a given for the Miners.
Here are three final questions before tipoff.
How will Archie, Williams matchup with a talented forward-guard combo?
UTEP will be tasked in guarding a talented forward and guard duo on Rice in Trey Murphy III (6-foot-8 guard) and Robert Martin (6-foot-6 forward). Murphy III leads Rice in points per game (13.9), field goal percentage (.433) and 3-point field goal percentage (.372). On the flip side, Martin is second on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game.
They also have Ako Adams (10 ppg) and Drew Peterson (10 ppg) who average double-figures in scoring.
Kaden Archie will likely be the one on Murphy III. We have seen Archie defend at a high level for the Miners and this should be an interesting matchup when he goes against a lengthy combo guard like Murphy III. That will mean Bryson Williams will face Martin in this game, unless they throw Williams on Peterson.
Biggest key: Rice shoots a ton of 3-pointers each game. They live by the three and die by it. The Owls average 9.4 made 3-pointers per game on a 32.8 percent clip, making perimeter defense for the Miners that much more important.
Is drawing contact and going to the free throw line the best option on offense?
Williams has become the team's lone bucket getter when they need it. At times, though, Williams is double-teamed and can't get his offense rolling when he's outmatched. Still, he's the second-leading scorer in C-USA at 19.4 ppg and is second in the league for total points scored (368), field goal percentage (55.6), field goals made (133) and free throws made (80).
UTEP may need to rely on its exceptional free throw shooting to get them their points on Thursday.
The Miners average 20.3 free throw attempts per game on an exceptional 76.6 team free throw percentage, which ranks second in C-USA and 23rd in NCAA. Souley Boum leads the way at first in the league with a 90.8 free throw percentage (9th in NCAA).
Through the last four games, UTEP has shot 85.7 percent (84-of-98) from the line. This is a drastic improvement from their 66.1 percent free throw shooting last season.
Offensively, they are at their best in transition but struggle to create offense in halfcourt sets. Against a Rice team that puts up 72.6 points per game, UTEP will need to score into the 70s to win this one. Since UTEP has such a tough time scoring in stretches, they might find themselves in another instance where they need to sell out on drawing contact throughout the game.
Can the Miners keep up offensively and put enough points to get over the road hump?
The Owls are a fast-paced team but have been held under their season-average of points per game (72.6) in the last three games. Rice also gives up 75.2 points to their opponents this year.
But the Miners put up just 68.8 points per game. When UTEP scores over their season average, they find more success. The Miners are 7-1 when scoring over 70 points this year.
So while this program emphasizes defense so heavily, they need to show up offensively in order to win their first road game in almost two calendar years.
Tipoff is set for 6:00 MT and can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso, with MinerTalk presented by Palo Verde Homes following the broadcast.