Tonight (or, really, in a few moments), the Rebels face what should be their toughest remaining out of conference opponent aside from Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountaineers squad in a neutral site game against the University of Texas at El Paso Miners at the nearby DeSoto Civic Center. UTEP, sitting at 5-1 after having lost the second game of a two-game series with rival New Mexico State (a 3-6 team), is getting fair praise as a potential postseason team out of the feeble Conference USA.
Our Ole Miss roundballers, coming into this game after back-to-back suspect wins to far inferior teams talent-wise, will need to really amplify their game if they're hoping to win tonight. Sayeth the RotW:
"We have to come out with the right mindset and take every team as if they're a good team," Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice said. "We didn't do that (against McNeese), and in the first half, they gave us what we deserved."
But why? It's only UTEP, right? Consider the following.
UTEP is a program which won 23 games last season. There is winning experience on this current team and in this program in general. They are second in CUSA in scoring, third in scoring margin, tops in field goal percentage, third in opposing field goal percentage, and third in shooting percentage from three-point range.
UTEP's top three leading scorers hail from Memphis, because their head coach, Tony Barbee, was a Memphis assistant before taking the job. None of those scorers had another offer, according to Rivals, but all are averaging double digits this season for UTEP. Shows you that even basketball recruiting is at least a little bit of a crapshoot.
The Miners are shooting .480 as a team. We are shooting .470 which isn't much lower, but it seems that every team we play against has their best night all season shooting garbage shots. Zach Graham and Eniel Polynice will have to return to being excellent perimeter defenders for the Rebs to adequately contain the Miners. Reggie Buckner will have to be on his game to stop sophomore big man (6'11") Arnett Moultrie from having a huge day. Moultrie is averaging 14 points a game, and he's one of the better bigs we have seen so far this season.
It's going to be a hard fight and an exciting game. If we win this one, our only remaining non-conference hurdle is West Virginia. Coming out of this off-season schedule with only one or two losses would put us in a good situation for the postseason. I know it's a little late to say this, but go if you can.