“Balk the enemy’s power; force him to reveal himself.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Conference play is in full gear around the country and UAB is set to play their second and third Conference USA inter-league games this week. The Blazers will venture to the Dallas satellite city of Denton, Texas to face the North Texas Mean Green. UAB is 0-2 all time at North Texas’ arena — dubbed the Super Pit.
Each of UAB’s losses to North Texas came on the road under former coach Jerod Haase during his first two seasons at the helm. The Mean Green joined Conference USA during the 2013-14 season, and since that time the Blazers have won two of the three meetings with their win coming in Bartow Arena last year, 78-57.
North Texas is the only current Conference USA team that UAB doesn’t hold a win advantage over. The 2-2 series record consists of the three inter-league conference games mentioned and a UAB victory in Bartow Arena under Murry Bartow in 1997.
Scouting The Mean Green
If you take the time to watch the video above you’ll see North Texas’ starting five against ODU consisting of Jeremy Combs, J-Mychal Reese, AJ Lawson, Allante Holston, and Rickey Brice Jr.
Of the five I listed, I can realistically only guarantee Combs and Reese to start and play significant contributor-type minutes. North Texas lineups are a mess, and there’s been little continuity this season. Predicting who will play the bulk of the minutes is realistically impossible.
Since early December the Mean Green has struggled with starters missing games due to injury, the addition of SMU transfer Keith Frazier into the fold, and a revolving door of players varying in their minutes played per game.
Due to the erratic distribution of playing time I’m going to hone in on some of the players I think we’ll be difference makers whether the start or not.
Jeremy Combs ¦ 6-foot-7, 215 lbs, Senior
If you’ve payed any attention to UAB’s games against North Texas the last three seasons you’re well aware of the double-double machine Jeremy Combs. He’s had an underwhelming statistical season this year due to injury, but he in no way should be taken lightly. In their loss to ODU on Monday he had 11 rebounds and 7 points in 32 minutes. Pulling down double-digit rebounds against one of the best rebounding teams in the country tells me he’s close to 100 percent. He’s not a threat from behind the arc, but he is a handful in the paint.
Derail Green ¦ 6-foot-7, 220 lbs, Senior
Green was no where on my radar coming into this season joining the team after stints with Wichita St. and Incarnate Word. Due to the team injuries I’ve mentioned he’s seen significant playing time and he’s become a serious perimeter mismatch for opposing teams of late. His 19 3-pointers lead the team, and he’s not shy to get his shot up. It’s worth noting he has one more 3-pointer on the season than Deckie Johnson who has missed a lot of time in December due to a nagging hip injury. Deckie is another perimeter threat to watch if his minutes are closer to normal after playing just four minutes at ODU on Monday.
Keith Frazier ¦ 6-foot-5, 190 lbs, Senior
I have no idea what to expect from the former SMU 5-star Larry Brown recruit. I’ve watched him play a couple times now this season and he is still getting his feet wet with this team. His minutes have increased steadily to over 20 per game, and he was in the starting lineup Monday at ODU. His range is incredible and his length is similar to the combo guards UAB saw Texas roll out. He’s capable of knocking down threes and finishing at the basket like you’d expect a former 5-star recruit too. Ehsan will likely have to keep Dirk or Haha on Frazier to potentially match his skill set.
North Texas overall is very deserving of their 6-8 record. I could make the argument that they have some of the most athletically talented players in the conference, but the injuries and coaching faux pas have negated the potential of this unit to gel. UAB has an uncanny ability of catching teams at their best this season. This is not a team to take lightly.
5 Things To Watch For
- Effort – This will be a near empty arena Thursday night and distractions should be minimal. A early conference road win could propel the Blazers into the right direction, but it won’t come easily. If UAB plays to their potential they could win by double-digits.
- Chris Cokley – I’ve mentioned many times that this team’s success in conference will depend on the staff and player’s ability to find Cokley good looks. Every single team they’ll face from here on out will scheme to shut him down. Cokley’s supporting cast must collectively shoot better to give him more spacing to operate.
- Defense – Seems simple enough for me to sit behind my keyboard and say UAB needs to play better defense. The thing is, they have of late. It’s the offense that’s been lacking. Until the shooting gets better, the Blazers must create more steals and transition opportunities. With or with out Nick Norton, UAB is very good when they have the opportunity to run the court off turnovers.
- Roster Rotations – Ehsan played nearly the entire roster 11 minutes into the game against MTSU. I have a hard time believing this is necessary or effective. If the minutes distribution continues the way it has, I’ll be very curious to see how that reflects in wins and losses.
- William Lee – I’m somewhat content with what I’ve seen out of Lee. You could argue he disappears offensively at times, but what do you expect when you’re seeing just 26 minutes per game? The best player on UAB’s roster has had more than three fouls just once all season, and the only time he’s played more than 32 minutes was in the overtime win over Southern. Think about that.