“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Over the last four seasons the La Tech and UAB game result has directly effected the Conference USA title race, and this season is no exception.
In the prior five meetings of these two teams as conference members, one of the pair has been ranked first in the standings at that given time. This year will stray from that trend, but this game is just as important in that it will reward the winner with the second spot in the standings. Come early March, the second seed in the conference tournament will be as far from MTSU as a team can get, which is obviously ideal.
The Bulldogs have won three of the last five meetings, but haven’t won in Birmingham since March of 2014. La Tech’s last two visits have resulted in a 20 point loss at Bartow Arena on February 5, 2015, and a loss in the semi-finals of the Conference-USA tournament 72-62 on March 13, 2015.
UAB and La Tech have won the last three regular season titles with the Bulldogs winning in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and the Blazers winning it last season.
Scouting The Bulldogs
For those who followed La Tech fairly closely last season or made the trip to Ruston, you might see a couple familiar faces from that team that finished 12-6 in conference play. Senior Erik McCree and sophomore Jacobi Boykins are the two lone starters from the game that the Bulldogs won 85-76 last February.
Much like UAB, the Bulldogs didn’t capitalize on their non-conference opportunities against higher ranked teams. Tech lost fairly close games to South Carolina and Nebraska on the road and nearly knocked off California at their place in overtime late in November.
Let’s take a look at some of the players that have helped the Bulldogs win seven of their last eight games.
DaQuan Bracey ¦ Freshman Guard
This kid is a star. He’s second in the conference in total assists dishing out 114 this season. He’s just 8 assists behind Marshall’s Jon Elmore, but has turned it over only 33 times compared to Elmore’s 72. Bracey leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.5, and second place is nearly half that. He has won freshman of the week honors the past two weeks and has all but sealed the deal of freshman of the year.
Derric Jean ¦ Sophomore Guard
Jean is the steady hand at the guard position for coach Eric Konkol. While he’s not spectacular in any statistical category, he’s pretty darn good at everything you’d want out of a combo guard. When Bracey is taking a breather you’ll see him running the point. Jean has logged a lot of minutes since his freshman season and his consistent play shows.
Jacobi Boykins ¦ Junior Guard
The lanky shooting guard has been a consistent starter for the Bulldogs going on two seasons now. He is a Swiss army knife of talent. At 6-foot-6 he is second in the conference in made 3-pointers (58) and first in the conference in steals (45). During a stretch in mid-December, Boykins hit 7, 5, and 6 3-pointers in consecutive games.
Omar Sherman ¦ Junior Forward
The Miami transfer has been a perfect fit for La Tech in the interior. He doesn’t always bring his A-game, but when he does he shows why he was recruited at a power school. He and the next player I’ll mention are — in my opinion — neck-and-neck with UAB and MTSU in terms of size, skill, and experience in the front court. Omar will shoot the three as well so keep an eye out for that.
Erik McCree ¦ Senior Forward
McCree is arguable the most versatile player in the conference. At 6-foot-8 he is bigger, faster, and more skilled than Chris Cokley and he shoots the three really well. I’m not knocking on Cokley, I’m just emphasizing how good McCree is. He averages more than 17 points per game, is second in the conference in rebounds per game, and has hit 28 3-pointers (same as Lee) at a 33 percent clip. If there’s any thing you could pick at in terms of his game is he’ll occasionally start slow and be too unselfish offensively. This is not a guy you want to let see his shot start falling.
Depth is what separates teams like MTSU, UAB, and La Tech from the rest of the conference. The Bulldogs have a very nice supporting cast on the bench, and Eric Konkol is comfortable with going three to four players into his bench. One guy to keep an eye on is 7-foot sophomore Joniah White. In just 17 minutes per game he has 49 blocks, just three shy of William Lee. White, McCree, and Sherman will be one of the biggest front courts UAB has faced all season.
3 Things To Watch For
- Hakeem Baxter – If there was ever a game Hak was needed, it’s this one. He’s just the guy to bother a freshman point guard that has yet to be stopped in conference play. If he’s out, UAB is in trouble — no way around it.
- William Lee – We saw three games of brilliance only to see him disappear against FIU. Maybe Baxter’s absence through the team’s sync off, or maybe Lee never got off the bus from FAU. He’ll need to a factor on both ends of the court Thursday night.
- Tech’s Defense – Tech has a myriad of defenses that they’ll throw at teams early and often. The press, the zone, and they man up really well. Statistically they are the best defensive team in Conference USA. No team has broken 73 points in the Bulldogs last seven games.