UTEP Miners (6-2 SU, 2-2 ATS) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (8-3 SU, 4-5 ATS), 6:30 p.m. EST, Monday, December 21, 2009, Ford Center, Oklahoma City, Okla. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com
Point Spread: UTEP +3/Oklahoma -3
Despite losing Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the Oklahoma Sooners came into the season with high expectations. But they didn’t start out well at all, losing three games in a row in late November to VCU, San Diego and Houston. But the Sooners bounced back and have won six games in a row since then. They’ll go for their seventh win in a row against the UTEP Miners in the All-College Classic at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The Sooners have won six in a row, and that’s all head coach Jeff Capel can ask for, but the last two wins have been a bit shaky. On December 12, the Sooners had to take Utah to overtime on the road to pull out a hard-fought 78-73 victory. A week later, they barely survived at home against Northern Colorado, 80-79. In that game, Oklahoma trailed by 11 in the first half, but the hot shooting of Cade Davis, who finished with six 3-pointers and 25 points, and Tony Crocker’s 24 points and 10 rebounds, helped the Sooners take a 10-point lead in the final two minutes of the game. But still, despite leading by 10 in the final two minutes, Northern Colorado nearly came back and won the game but fell just short.
If the Sooners couldn’t even win by more than a point against Northern Colorado at home with a full week to prepare, it’s going to be tough for them to beat a much tougher UTEP team on a neutral court with only a day to prepare. The only break Oklahoma gets is that UTEP also only had a day to prepare for this game.
Oklahoma has multiple offensive weapons, but the go-to guy is sophomore combo guard Willie Warren, one of the best scoring guards in college basketball. Warren is averaging 18 points per game but he is really struggling with his outside shot, shooting just 25 percent from 3-point range. That is a real problem because he is attempting more than four of them per game. Warren, who has the ball in his hands a lot during the game, leads the team with 5.0 assists per game but is turning the ball over four times per game. Freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin has just about as many assists as Warren (4.9) and almost half the amount of turnovers (2.5) but he is only shooting 39.2 percent from the field despite shooting 43.6 percent from beyond the arc. Crocker, a senior, has been the one player who has been solid for the Sooners this season. He is averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range. Tiny Gallon, a freshman big man who was a highly touted recruit, is averaging 11.6 points and 9.0 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game while shooting 59 percent from the field. Off the bench, the Sooners have Davis and Steven Pledger to spell the guards. Ryan Wright (3.4 points, 3.7 rebounds) usually gets the start alongside Gallon in the frontcourt, and they are backed up by Andrew Fitzgerald. But the Sooners may go small against UTEP and start Davis over Wright for a four-guard lineup with Gallon as the only big man.
UTEP holds a 6-2 record but the Miners really haven’t done anything yet this season. They won their first five games over rather easy opponents and then lost their next two to New Mexico State and Ole Miss, before winning their last game by 60 over Alcorn State. This is a game that would be a huge win for the Miners’ resume and confidence heading into Conference USA play.
UTEP has had a very balanced attack this season with four players averaging at least 11.8 points per game. Randy Culpepper, a 6-foot junior guard, is the team’s leading scorer with 17.6 points per game. More than half of his shots (7.4 of 13.9 per game) are 3-point attempts, to Warren, Mason-Griffin and Crocker, will have to get a good hand up to stop Culpepper from draining long jumpers. Arnett Moultrie is a 6-foot-11 sophomore big man who is averaging 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. But it’s a bit easier for Moultrie now with Derrick Caracter by his side. Caracter, a 6-foot-9, 275-pound junior big man, was highly touted in high school and was even referred to as the next Shaq. But he has had his share of shaky moments in his basketball career and he found himself kicked off the Louisville team a couple years ago. He then transferred to UTEP and was eligible to play the past three games for the first time since 2008. Against Ole Miss, Caracter had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and against Alcorn State he had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Gallon, Wright and Fitzgerald may have a tough time containing both Caracter and Moultrie down low. Another major weapon for UTEP is Christian Polk, a transfer from Arizona State. He is averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting 48.5 percent from 3-point territory.
Ryno’s Pick: Oklahoma has not looked good all season long. After each of the VCU and San Diego losses, people thought the Sooners would get it together but they still didn’t. After wins over Arkansas and Arizona, it looked like they got their act together. But they need overtime to defeat Utah and they were lucky to survive against Northern Colorado. The truth is that they have some good players but they’re simply not a great team. UTEP has a chance to prove itself with a statement win over a vulnerable Big 12 team. With Caracter in the mix now and playing well the last two times out, the Miners have a nice inside-outside mix and the weak Sooners defense will have trouble stopping them. Meanwhile, Caracter and Moultrie will be there to bother Warren and Crocker’s drives to the basket and force the Sooners to settle for jumpers. Take UTEP +3.