UAB (17-4, 7-1)
Marshall (11-10, 7-1)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: David Crane, Blazer IMG Sports, 99.5
HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — Rarely are college basketball fans afforded the opportunity to witness a high stakes conference game in the month of January. Thanks to an earlier start in conference play, the two teams have each played eight games with both earning 7-1 records. Marshall’s lone loss came on the road in a 103-95 loss to Charlotte. The Blazers 14-game win streak was ended Thursday night in a 69-62 loss to Western Kentucky. UAB’s 62 points was it’s fewest since it’s loss to Illinois back on November 28.
Few who were paying attention through November and the first part of December would have expected the turn around Marshall has procured. The Herd started off the season 0-6 losing games by an average of 16 points. It was a three game mid-December home stretch that gave the squad a chance to begin to gel in Coach Dan D’Antoni’s fast paced system. Marshall averaged more than 90 points in those three games and improved their overall record to 3-6.
It wasn’t until Coach D’Antoni’s team traveled to the gambling mecca of the United States did the Herd begin to really find it’s identity. Marshall, along with eight other teams, squared off in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. Despite going 1-1 at the tournament, the Herd were able to bring home some positive trends.
Senior forward James Kelly scored a career high 38 points with 13 rebounds in a win over Wyoming in the semifinals. Marshall would go on to lose to Grand Canyon in the finals but continued their offensive success putting up 82 points.
In their 10 games played in December, Marshall averaged 79.5 points per game, which proved to be a good indicator of what was to come in conference play.
Marshall’s current conference record of 7-1 is it’s best start since becoming a CUSA member in 2005. The Herd’s average of 92.4 points per game is nearly 10 points more than any CUSA team’s average through eight games (Memphis 05-06, 82.6 PPG). Marshall’s current success can be attributed to Coach D’Antoni’s self named “organized chaos” attack at both ends of the floor.
The Herd plays at the fifth quickest tempo (76.9 points) in the NCAA and has the third shortest offensive possession length (13.9 seconds). To put their style of play in to perspective, Marshall has attempted more than 300 three-pointers than Old Dominion this season.
Junior guard Austin Loop has made 52 of the team’s 186 three-pointers, which both lead CUSA. Complimenting Loop is aforementioned star senior forward, James Kelly. The Miami transfer ranks in the top 5 of CUSA in points per game (19.6), rebounds (10), and steals (1.5). He also leads CUSA with 10 double-doubles, which he currently averages per game.
UAB vs. Marshall — The Series
The all-time series between UAB and Marshall favors the Blazers 15 games to six. Two games were played between the pair when Marshall was in the Mid American Conference and UAB was in Conference USA. Of the 19 games played as CUSA members, only one has gone to overtime, which the Herd won 75-73 in Huntington.
When the Herd and Blazers meet this Saturday, the outright lead in CUSA will be on the line. The pair will have a chance to meet again as they are set to play in Bartow a month from now on February 25.