It’s that time of the conference season when we’ll regularly check the conference tournament bracket to see where UAB stands. With three games left to play, the Blazers are currently seeded 7th and are two games behind the 4th seed.
Here’s the reality — UAB doesn’t stand a great chance to break into the coveted top four seeds. UTEP and Old Dominion are both 10-5 and are currently the 4th and 3rd seed and both teams own the head-to-head tie breaker over UAB. If the Monarchs and Miners win tonight, we’ll be eliminated from the bye contention.
Scouting The Blue Raiders
At this point we know the guys above pretty darn well. Middle Tennessee is one of the highest rated mid-major teams in terms of RPI in the country and they are on the brink of breaking into the AP Top 25 this Monday. That is, if they can get past our Birmingham boys.
As they’ve been all season, the Blue Raiders are led by JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, and Giddy Potts. All three are ranked in the Conference USA all-KenPom.com top five, which is the most of any team since the ranking started four seasons ago.
UTEP has been the only conference team to break the Blue Raiders’ code, and I believe UAB has the personnel to do the same.
When the Miners pulled off the upset in El Paso they turned Middle Tennessee over 19 times and held Reggie Upshaw scoreless. The Blazers must disrupt the flow and not allow the game to be played in the half court where they’ll likely be exposed by various mismatches. They’ve won 24 games for a reason.
Turnovers are going to be the key for UAB on Sunday. The Blazers are at their best when they can run fast breaks off of steals or long rebounds. Middle Tennessee will expose all of our flaws if the game is slowed down and UAB is made to play deep into the shot clock.
Of course all of this is easier said than done against on of the best defensive teams in the country. The planets will need to align and every single Blazer will have to be at their best. It wont be easy, but, it’s possible.
3 Things To Watch For
- Chris Cokley – We’ve talked all season about how Cokley struggles against bigger front courts. He played just 15 minutes on January 1 in Murfreesboro but had some moments where we gave the Blue Raiders trouble. He’ll need to be patient and efficient and hope to get a foul at minimum when he gets his touches.
- Dirk Williams – Dirk must be a threat Sunday. Middle Tennessee is going to sell out in the paint and make UAB beat them with perimeter shooting. Their guards don’t have the size and length Dirk has and he’ll need to take full advantage of his mismatches.
- JaCorey Williams – Few teams have been able to stop Williams who is the most physical and skilled power forward in Conference USA. William Lee had some good defensive possessions against him early in their last meeting and they’ll like spar many times on Sunday. It will be a fun battle to watch.