“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
With a win over FIU tomorrow, UAB will have had win streaks of six games or more in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Even more impressive, all the wins in both sets of streaks would have taken place in conference play.
For this season’s Blazers, it’s all about key players hitting their stride and getting hot at the right time. William Lee has been the recipient of most of the attention, but you can attribute the five game win streak to not only his play but the emergence of Deion Lavender, Denzell Watts, and to a certain degree Hakeem Baxter.
Lavender has scored in double figures three of his last four games after doing so just twice in the prior 15. Clearly his play off the ball has been the biggest factor in his increased scoring, and I believe playing the two spot has become even easier for him to find spacing having played the point guard position for 14 games this season.
Denzell Watts has 15 assists and 4 turnovers in the last five outings as the starting point guard and he hasn’t recorded more than 1 turnover in any of the games. He’s hit 11 of his 23 3-pointers good for 47 percent. All hail Zelly Buckets savior of basketball seasons.
Baxter’s UAB career high 20 point burst against Marshall was fantastic, but it’s been his defense that has impressed me the most. It’s hard to back up that statement with stats because so much of what he does defending the opponent’s best offensive guard doesn’t show up in the post game. Trust me when I say you’ll know just how great he is when he’s gone.
Scouting The Panthers
I typically try to touch on some positive aspects of UAB’s opponents, but it’s really hard to do that with FIU. They don’t do anything particularly well as a team other than bring pretty decent size and physicality to each game. They are 0-6 in conference play for a reason.
Not listed above of the five starters from the MTSU game is senior guard Donte McGill. His 18.9 points per game can be attributed to his volume shooting having taken over 250 shots this season, which is third most in the conference. FIU is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country and McGill is no exception. He lives on drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers. Corral him and it’s smooth sailing.
Senior forward and former Alabama bench warmer Michael Kessens has been a rebounding machine for the Panthers this season. He leads Conference USA in rebounds per game pulling down 9.5 per contest. The stat is sort of misleading though. It’s like when UAB led the nation in rebounds per game four seasons ago because the team couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. More missed shots equals more rebound opportunities.
You won’t see the barrage of 3-point attempts from FIU like you did Thursday from the Owls. The Panthers will look to slow this game down and muck up the flow and tempo for UAB. The Blazers fair well in that style of game and should be able to handle the physicality in the paint that FIU will be dishing out. Like last game, UAB only loses this one if they beat themselves.
3 Things To Watch For
- The Mayor – William Lee now has 198 career blocks and should break the 200 mark Saturday night. Alan Ogg’s career block record of 266 is approaching quickly.
- Turnovers – The transition to Watts running the point has been beneficial overall for UAB, but the team turnovers need to be reduced going forward. Tosin is averaging 3 turnovers per game himself in conference play. Maybe it’s time to stop passing him the ball. Please.
- Rebounds – UAB will need to be active on the offensive and defensive glass against a physical, older FIU squad. This is a game UAB can run away with early if they are hitting shots and they stick to their fundamentals.