UTEP vs. Rice: 3 Keys to Know Before Tipoff
Following their C-USA opening split series against Southern Miss, the Miner men's basketball team returns to the Haskins Center for their league home opener against Rice on Friday and Saturday.
Who: UTEP (5-3, 1-1 C-USA) vs. Rice (8-2, 2-0 C-USA)
Where: Don Haskins Center
When: 7 PM MST
Line: UTEP -8.5 (55%)
Three things before tipoff:
Bieniemy's not just a facilitator for this group
The Miners haven't had a true point guard like Jamal Bieniemy since Dominic Artis manned the position in 2017. The Oklahoma transfer point guard was called to be more of a facilitator in the Big 12, averaging 5.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 31.9 minutes as a sophomore in 2019-20.
Bieniemy, who joined a UTEP team that lacked a true point guard, has seen his numbers increase seven games into the season in more of an expanded role under Rodney Terry's system. He's averaging 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. In the Southern Miss series he was a difference-maker, scoring 18 and 20 points, respectively, during the two matchups.
His strength is how disciplined he can be with the basketball. Bieniemy leads C-USA in assist/turnover ratio (4.3) and has just nine turnovers all season.
UTEP was looking for a third option behind Bryson Williams and Souley Boum going into this season and Bieniemy has stepped up to be the guy so far.
Can the UTEP defense hold a high-scoring Owls bunch?
Rice is averaging a whopping 82.3 points per game coming into this contest, ranking third in C-USA and No. 33 nationally. Their stronghold in scoring is their perimeter scoring, which ranks second in 3-point field goal attempts (310) and third in 3-point percentage (35.8%). Similarly, they make the second-most 3-pointers per game, only behind Florida Atlantic, at almost 12 made per game.
UTEP's perimeter defense will be tested heavily.
But they can't sleep on the interior presence of Max Fielder, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward who is the league's second-best rebounder (9.5 rpg) only behind Western Kentucky's Charles Bassey.
Expect UTEP to switch accordingly between their man-to-man defense to stop the perimeter, and also go to their zone in order to clog the interior.
Balanced scoring does the job
If the second half of the Southern Miss game taught the Miners anything it's that balanced scoring really matters. Besides Keonte Kennedy, all Miners scored eight or more points in the Miners' 77-62 victory. While Bieniemy poured a game-high 20 points versus the Golden Eagles, Boum (17), Tydus Verhoeven (11) and Williams (10) each hit double digits in scoring.
That's the recipe UTEP needs in order to have success in scoring.
A focal point in this game will be Boum. The junior guard torched the Owls over three games last year, averaging 22.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists against Rice. But this is a far different Rice team than we're used to seeing.
Prediction: UTEP 77 - Rice 75