It’s conference tourney time! That means anything can happen within the next days, as one team out of C-USA tries to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The Miners men’s basketball team will face Florida Atlantic in the opening round of the tournament, which tips off Wednesday evening.

Who: No. 5W UTEP (12-11, 8-8 C-USA) vs. No. 4E Florida Atlantic (12-9, 7-5 C-USA)

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. MT

Where: Frisco, Texas

Listen600 ESPN El Paso (MinerTalk following the game)

Watch: ESPN+

Here are three things to know before tipoff.

Four straight for both teams to close out C-USA play

Florida Atlantic enters Wednesday’s game in the midst of a four-game win streak, feasting on some of the bottom teams in the conference like Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee. Sound familiar? The Miners also finished league play by winning four consecutive games in the conference against Florida International and Charlotte. UTEP did fall last week in a heartbreaking loss to No. 13 Kansas, 67-63.

But the momentum is there for both squads entering the tournament. UTEP and FAU were scheduled to play on Feb 21-22, but the series was canceled after the Miners registered a positive COVID-19 test. In total, FAU has seen three series canceled this year, including games against Marshall and Western Kentucky that were also postponed.

UTEP is seeking its first tournament win under third-year head coach Rodney Terry. After missing the league’s tournament in his first year, the Miners bowed out of the opening round last year against Marshall. FAU crushed Old Dominion (66-56) last year in the opening round before the conference tournament had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boum & Williams need to be great

It goes without saying, but the Miners need their two scoring leaders to have strong games through this C-USA tournament. Both junior Souley Boum and senior Bryson Williams earned All-Conference Third Team honors earlier this week.

Boum finished the regular season as the conference’s third-leading scorer at 18.6 ppg, while scoring 20 or more points in eight of the last 11 contests. He has hit 39.3 percent of the 150 3-pointers he’s attempted, including 18-of-40 over the last five contests. Miner fans will have to hope that Boum can be efficient and limit turnovers through this stretch of postseason play.

Williams, on the other hand, has played arguably his best basketball recently. He is fresh off one of his best UTEP performances, putting up a 23 point, 13 rebound performance against No. 13 Kansas. Williams had 23 points and 14 rebounds against Charlotte on Senior Day. Teams always game plan against Williams, throwing double teams against him to try and fluster him on offense. Defensively, UTEP needs to keep Williams out of foul trouble.

No doubt the Miners need significant performances from their supporting cast on Wednesday. However, it's hard to pinpoint who will help them off the bench or among their starters. Some nights it's Keonte Kennedy or Jamal Bieniemy providing scoring relief, while other nights it could be their bench that boosts the team.

If UTEP has any success this postseason, they need their two leaders to be great—not just good.

Balanced scoring is Florida Atlantic’s strong point

Jailyn Ingram is the leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and the top rebounder (6.1 rpg) for the Owls, but the team flashes some serious depth behind him. Michael Forrest (12.1 ppg), Bryan Greenlee (9.9 ppg) and Karlis Silins (9.9 ppg) all can score in bunches and give a major scoring boost to the team.

The Owls are 6-0 this year when they have five or more players score in double figures, and 6-9 when they have less than five score in double digits. They are exceptional in rebounding offensively, holding a 34.6 percent offensive rebound rate (23rd in NCAA).

More stats to know:

  • UTEP is 0-10 when scoring less than 68 and 12-1 when scoring 68 or more
  • The Miners are 6-0 when they hit 10 or more 3-pointers and 6-11 when they hit less than 10 points from 3-point range
  • The offensive rebounding percentage for UTEP (24.8 percent) are among the lowest in the conference and in college basketball, ranking 262 in NCAA

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