Memphis entered the season with a C-USA win streak of 61 straight C-USA games (dating back to March, 2006) and then tied the all-time record of consecutive conference victories at 64 before losing to UTEP at home. That was the Miners' coming-out party, knocking the Memphis Tigers off the C-USA throne.
UTEP is still riding high, and takes one of the nation's longest winning streaks (12) into West Virginia tonight to take on the Thundering Herd of Marshall. The Miners will look to clinch the Conference USA title outright tonight after gaining at least a share of the crown against Rice last week. But don't expect Marshall to roll over.
The Thundering Herd are still fighting to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and a win over UTEP would certainly be a big one on their resume. They'll look to slow down UTEP's potent frontcourt of Derrick Caracter, Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams with their sensational freshman, Hassan Whiteside. The 6'11" athletic center leads the nation in blocks per game (5.5) and is coming off of Marshall's 7th straight win and his third triple-double this season. He is just the type of player to frustrate Caracter down low and keep the Miners' star in check, but Caracter plays aggressively in the low post and could get the freshman in early foul trouble.
While Tournament hopes and seeding are at stake tonight, so are draft stocks. After transferring from Louisville in need of a fresh start, Caracter has played well this season against the competition, recording double-doubles against Oklahoma's Tiny Gallon and Tulsa's Jerome Jordan. Tonight's matchup is just another step towards rebuilding his image with his exceptional play on the court. On the other hand, Hassan Whiteside didn't have any skeptics or doubters earlier this season because he was a relative unknown amongst NBA front offices. Rebound-after-rebound and block-after-block, NBA scouts and GMs have become familiar with the long, athletic big man. He reminds some of former-UMASS center, Marcus Camby- raw offensively, but a terror on the defensive end. A strong performance against a good prospect like Caracter would certainly help his draft stock.
Two surging teams. Two rising players. This a game to keep an eye out for tonight.