The UTEP women's basketball team firmly believes the other programs of Conference USA are in an 11-way tie as the best squad it will see all year.
Someone, though, actually has to be, and that someone may be the East Carolina team the Miners face today in an early C-USA showdown.
The Pirates just beat league contender Rice 60-41 to improve to 11-3 -- the second-best mark in C-USA to UTEP's 13-1 -- and they lead the league in scoring margin (plus 15.1), scoring defense, turnover margin, steals, offensive rebounds and 3-pointers.
One of ECU's three losses was by nine points to No. 11 North Carolina and they have four players averaging 9.9 points or more.
Not much is decided in the first week of conference play, but someone is about to make an early statement. If it's UTEP, the resulting 14-1 mark would match the best-ever start.
"They're good," coach Keitha Adams said. "They transition, they take quick shots, they play an uptempo style. They shoot it, they go rebound, they play at a very fast pace.
"There are a lot of things they do. We're going to have to play well."
"It's always been hard to play against them," Anete Steinberga said. "Every conference game is big and this is big."
ECU's top two players are fifth-year senior twin forwards Britny and Whitny Edwards, averaging 11.3 and 11.8 points, respectively. They combine for 14.8 rebounds per game, and the 5-foot-11 Whitny is the team's top 3-point shooter at 26-of-80.
Adams, though, downplays the idea of making a statement in the second game of a 16-game conference schedule
"I don't think of it like that. It's a marathon, not a sprint," she said.
UTEP, as always, is focused on itself. The mostly freshmen bench is still adjusting to a higher level, transition and 3-point defense has been spotty, there have been occasional outside shooting struggles and the Miners are the same work in progress that any team is at the midpoint of a five-month season.
"We have to improve on every aspect of our game," guard Kelli Willingham said. "This game is really important, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish."
"We have to work on little things," said Kayla Thornton, who is coming off a 23-point, 12-rebound game against Tulsa. "We have to execute everything. We have to play hard against everyone.
"I know we can get better, there are a lot of things to work on."
Finding one key area in this matchup is difficult. Both teams are at or near the top of the conference in most statistical categories, and have shown few serious holes.
Conference titles usually come down to who wins on the road, and UTEP is off to a good start in that regard after winning at Tulsa Wednesday. Now they try to hold serve against a team making a 1,923-mile road trip.
"That means a lot," Steinberga said. "I don't like traveling over there. That's a bonus for us."
UTEP will try to turn that into a victory this afternoon.
Bret Bloomquist may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6359. Follow him on Twitter @bretbloomquist.