UAB Blazers (21-5, 11-2)
Middle Tennessee State (18-7, 10-3)
Series Record: 9-3, UAB
Game Time: 5 p.m. Central
TV/Live stream: CBS Sports Network
Radio: David Crane, 99.5 FM
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The UAB Blazers are just three weeks removed from their last bout for first place in Conference USA. On January 30 in Huntington, W. Va, the Blazers defeated then second place Marshall 81-78. Standing between UAB and sole possession of first place this time is Middle Tennessee who is one game behind the Blazers (11-2) in conference play at 10-3.
The Blazers own the all-time series over the Blue Raiders nine games to three. During Coach Jerrod Haase’s tenure, the teams have met eight times with UAB winning the last five.
The worst defeat coming at the hands of Middle Tennessee was during Coach Haase’s first year at UAB in 2012 when the Blue Raiders were in the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders won by the largest margin in the series history, 84-64. Middle Tennessee would go on to make the NCAA Tournament that year losing in the First Four to Saint Mary’s.
In Coach Haase’s second year and Middle Tennessee’s first in Conference USA, the Blue Raiders swept the two-game series, which included an over time victory in Murfreesboro. UAB has gone on to win five games straight over Middle Tennessee including a triple overtime win in Birmingham last February, and a win in the Conference USA Tournament finals last March.
Scouting the Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee, like UAB, is a team that likes to wear down their opponents by going deep into their bench. Coach Kermit Davis has been playing 11, and even 12 Blue Raiders regularly this season. Coach Haase has been pretty consistent with playing 10 or less Blazers in closely contested games. It’s not a coincidence that the top two teams in the conference both value bench contribution, however, it’s the starters for both teams that have propelled them to the top of the league.
The Blue Raider’s are powered by their four double-digit point averaging starters. A deadly inside and out game engineered by sophomore point guard Giddy Potts and forwards Reggie Upshaw and Darnell Harris balance the effective offense. Potts is eighth in the NCAA in three-point shooting percentage converting a mind boggling 50 percent of his attempts. The sophomore guard is one of only two players in the NCAA shooting 50 percent or better with at least 100 three-point shot attempts. It’s worth noting, Giddy Potts did not play in the previous game between the two teams in early January.
Giddy Potts outside shooting is largely attributed to the interior scoring threat of forwards Upshaw and Harris. To make matters worse for opponents, both forwards are very capable three-point shooters converting 38 percent and 39 percent respectively. Middle Tennessee as a team is second in Conference USA in three-point shooting percentage hitting 38 percent of their shots (UAB 37 percent).
Beating the Blue Raiders
If there is any weakness in this Blue Raiders team, it’s their free throw shooting. Middle Tennessee is 350th out of 351 NCAA teams in free throw shooting percentage (58.8 percent). Conversely, the Blazers shoot 72.7 percent, which is second best in Conference USA.
In the last meeting between these teams in January, Middle Tennessee hit 9 three-pointers in the first half. Given the Blue Raiders poor free throw shooting, expect Coach Haase to force Middle Tennessee to take the ball inside against the stingy #Blockingham interior. Both Tosin Mehinti and Chris Cokley fouled out in the January game. Forcing Middle Tennessee into the paint could get UAB in foul trouble again. It’s a risk worth taking when considering the Blazers’s interior depth and Middle Tennessee’s poor free throw shooting.
The Blazers and the Blue Raiders are two of the most physical teams in the conference due to their athletic and long forwards. Chris Cokley and Reggie Upshaw are both building strong cases for Conference USA First Team. Expect nothing less than a 12 round title fight on Sunday.
Sophomore forward William Lee has totaled 84 blocks through 26 games, which is tied for first in the NCAA. As a team, the Blazers have compiled 168 blocks, which is second only to the University of Washington who has 178.