UTEP vs. Middle Tennessee: Four Final Questions Before Tipoff
The UTEP men's basketball team (12-9, 3-5 C-USA) will return to the Haskins Center for the first time since their matchup against UTSA on Jan. 15, as they take on Middle Tennessee (5-16, 1-7 C-USA).
Here are four final questions before tonight's game:
How does UTEP slow down a talented Middle Tennessee backcourt?
The Miners will have the task at trying to slow down the MTSU backcourt featuring the likes of C.J. Jones (16.6 ppg), Antonio Green (12.7 ppg) and Donovan Sims (9.6 ppg). Jones will be the tough task at 6-foot-5 and the fourth-best scorer in the league. Look to the likes of Daryl Edwards as the main defender against Jones on Thursday.
MTSU is coming off a slim 65-63 victory against Southern Miss, which was their first win in the league. Prior to that, they went to overtime against Florida Atlantic (97-94) and hung in with the likes of LA Tech (80-73). This should really be an easier opponent for the Miners but the Blue Raiders have proven that they can hang in with anyone in the conference.
Is Souley Boum making a case for C-USA Sixth Man of the Year?
Since redshirt sophomore guard Souley Boum started embracing his off-the-bench role, the Oakland, Ca. native has dazzled in his strong scoring stretches. He's now second on the team in points per game (12.6), and is coming off a week in which he averaged 24 points and shot an exceptional 18-of-20 from the charity stripe.
Not to mention, Boum is also 11th in the country and first in C-USA for his outstanding 90.6 free throw percentage.
Through the last seven games coming off the bench, Boum averaged 16.1 points, compared to having averaged 10.9 points in the starting lineup through the first 14 games. Coach Terry allows Boum to close out games with the team as well.
If Boum can continue to trend upwards in scoring per game and extend his success at the free throw line, he's a prime candidate for C-USA Sixth Man of the Year.
Is Deon Stroud really going to be a starter?
Excuse the beaming subhead of this, but this is news that a lot of Miner fans will be psyched about.
The freshman phenom—aka "Rocket Man," as Kaden Archie put it—Deon Stroud could get some starter minutes in UTEP's game against Middle Tennessee per Rodney Terry.
"I love Deon Stroud," Rodney Terry expressed on his weekly radio show. "Deon has probably the highest ceiling on our team in terms of being a terrific player in the future. He's going to get more and more opportunities. I wouldn't be surprised if you looked up and he's in the starting lineup Thursday night. He's a guy that's going to continue to grow. He's going to make a few mistakes here or there but his talent and his ability, we have to play through some of that. He's been working really hard on defense and has a ceiling. It's time he's given an opportunity to get out there and get some stuff done."
Stroud had been in and out of the rotation through the first stretch of the season but Terry played him in seven of eight conference games thus far. Stroud is averaging 7.1 minutes per game in conference play but his numbers are exceedingly efficient and he makes some eye-popping plays. He's shooting 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from the floor in conference play with four blocks on defense.
He might not light up the scoreboard or do as much in his first starting role, but getting into the starting five is a step in the right direction for Stroud's growth on this team.
Can UTEP show dominance against an inferior team?
Let's be honest, this is a game that the Miners need to win by double-figures. They haven't clobbered an opponent this year since the likes of their win against a depleted New Mexico State (65-50) team on Nov. 12.
Opponents are shooting 46.2 percent against the Blue Raiders, which is the league's worst. They are also allowing 76.4 points per game.
The Miners, on the other hand, are 8-1 on the season when they score over 70 points and defensively, they hold their opponents to just 65.3 points per game. Their 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.7) is second-best in C-USA and 38th in the country.
If the shots fall at the Haskins Center on Thursday night, UTEP should have this one go in their favor. But if they allow themselves to get behind and play inconsistently, the Miners will have a tough, tough night.
Stay tuned after the game for MinerTalk presented by Palo Verde Homes on 600 ESPN El Paso.