It’s kind of crazy to think about, but college basketball is back. After a long and pretty eventful offseason, teams will return to the hardwood for exhibitions this week with regular season games starting the following week.
UAB finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 17-16 (9-9) record and underachieved in the eyes of many. Yes, losing your starting point guard did not help, but many outsiders were expecting big things on the Southside last season.
The expectations are still the same in the Magic City, but not overly expressed this year. UAB has the talent to win the Conference USA Championship. UAB has the talent to make the NCAA tournament. UAB has the talent to win, period. It all depends on what team will show up.
With expectations not as prominent in the media, expect the Blazers to fly under the radar and hopefully just take care of business.
The out-of-conference schedule is nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t have to be. The NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn’t even know how it selects teams anymore, so the way to get in is to win your conference championship.
The Southside Dragons again have the talent and experience to return to the Big Dance, and it’s shaping up to be an exciting year in Birmingham.
Here are the Top 5 biggest games of the 2017-18 season:
5. January 20th — At Marshall
The Herd surprised everyone by winning three games in three days and upsetting the two seeded Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech to advance to the C-USA conference championship game where they ultimately lost to Middle Tennessee. Returning for the Herd is Jon Elmore who averaged 19.7 points a year ago. A player of the year candidate, he will once again try and lead Marshall back to the championship game. The Blazers and Herd split the season series last year with both teams defending home court. This is always a pretty good match up for UAB, and especially on the road it will show the Blazers where they stand in conference play. As long as D’Antoni is there you know the Herd will be shooting the three ball, and the perimeter defense will be tested for UAB. Look for the Herd BenchSquad to maybe get some minutes on the court this year.
4. January 13th — Louisiana Tech
We all know what happened last time the Bulldogs were inside Bartow Arena. Punches were thrown, players and coaches ejected, it turned into the Royal Rumble. In a game that will set the conference tone early for the Blazers, they face a team that won twenty-three games a year ago and made it to the conference tournament semis. Jacobi Boykins will make his return to the ring, I mean court, and look to build on his 14.7 points he averaged last year. The Blazers and Bulldogs met in the quarterfinals of the tourney last year where La Tech controlled the majority of the game and won 69-57, and it wasn’t that close. The Bulldogs are always near the top of the standings, so this will be a solid test early on for UAB at home.
3. December 30th — Middle Tennessee
Conference USA royalty will meet to start conference play for the 2017-18 campaign. The Blue Raiders and Blazers are the teams that have represented Conference USA in the Big Dance the last three years, winning at least a game in the tournament each year. UAB started the trend three years ago when it shocked third seeded Iowa State, while Middle Tennessee shocked the Spartans of Michigan State in 2016 and defeated Minnesota a year ago. Could this be the year a team from Conference USA wins two games in the tourney? The Blue Raiders are still led by head coach Kermit Davis and return Giddy Potts who averaged 15.3 points per game last season. Potts only scored seven points when these two teams met in Bartow Arena last season. Middle Tennessee loses JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw, but you know they will still be one of the favorites in the conference as they bring on the Alabama transfer Nick King. This is a team that won thirty games a season ago and is coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, so this will be a huge game to tip-off conference play for the Blazers and could set the tone for both teams.
2. December 9th — At Auburn
For not having played in fifteen years prior to the 2015 season, these in-state rivals have not disappointed on the hardwood their last two meetings. UAB traveled to the Plains to start the 2015 season and lost 75-74, and it came down to a last second block from Auburn’s Horace Spencer. Chris Cokley dominated with 25 points and 12 boards. A year ago, Auburn returned to Bartow Arena for the first time since 1995 and defeated the Blazers 74-70. UAB held the 4-point halftime lead, but freshman point guard Jared Harper had his coming out party with 21 points. I think we all can agree that last season there were some highly questionable calls, and the officiating did not give any breaks to the Blazers. The past two games against the Tigers were woulda, coulda, shoulda for the Blazers. As they say, the third time is the charm. UAB will travel to the Plains again this season as a cloud of uncertainty hangs overhead the Auburn basketball program with the FBI scandal and firing of assistant head coach Chuck Person. This is a winnable game for UAB, and would show the state that when it comes to hoops the Blazers are the cream of the crop.
1. November 30th — Memphis
What more needs to be said than UAB and Memphis? These two teams renewed their rivalry with each other last season with the Blazers traveling to the Fedex Forum where we dropped our sixteenth straight to the Tigers. Again, UAB had a 4-point halftime lead and looked to be in control, and were finally going to end the streak, but Dedric Lawson scored 24 points with 10 boards and the Tigers were victorious. Good news for the Blazers, both Dedric and K.J. have transferred from Memphis and taken their talents to Lawrence, Kan. They say it isn’t a rivalry if one team always wins, and you could say that has been the case in this series. Let me be clear, if UAB doesn’t beat Memphis this year, that streak may never end. The Tigers lose their two best players and are coming off a 19-13 campaign. This game will be the annual Gene Bartow Classic, and I can’t think a better night to end the streak than on that one.