Basketball is back on the Southside, and again UAB is eyeing a run into the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
Three years ago the Blazers busted brackets and shocked the college basketball world when it took down the Cyclones of Iowa State as a 14 seed. After a NIT appearance in 2016 and not participating in a postseason tournament last season, UAB looks to find a path back into the Big Dance.
Conference USA has been well represented in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. As I mentioned earlier, UAB upset Iowa State in 2015. The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee in the past two years have also won a game in the tourney beating Michigan State in 2016 as a 15 seed and Minnesota in last year’s tourney as a very under seeded 12 seed.
This may be the year that Conference USA finally is a two-bid league and gets an at-large spot. The NCAA selection committee has done no favors to traditional mid-majors in years past, and it seems more and more like they are trying to weed out the Cinderella’s.
Monmouth was snubbed a few years ago, and if Middle Tennessee had not won the Conference USA Tournament it was no guarantee the Blue Raiders would have been selected.
The path for the Blazers this year is very similar to the one in 2015. Win your conference championship. This is really about the only option for UAB.
One could argue if the Blazers go undefeated in out-of-conference play, win the Cayman Island Classic, and only suffer one loss in conference then they may have an at-large case.
Like I said earlier though, Middle Tennessee was 30-4 last season and they were not guaranteed a spot. THIRTY WINS AND FOUR LOSSES!
UAB doesn’t have the out-of-conference schedule it did a year ago, so that hurts the RPI, but the games they have they will need to win. Teams like Chattanooga, Richmond, potentially Cincinnati, Auburn, Memphis — these are games that the committee will look at.
Being a mid-major is tough with scheduling, and it’s even harder when you get teams to play because then you have to win. It’s disappointing though when the committee is still not rewarding teams for winning these games.
UAB has the talent to return to the Dance, but really the only way I see them getting a spot at the table is with the automatic bid from Conference USA.
Being a top four seed and getting a first round bye in the conference tournament will be pivotal come March. The Blazers also will not have the friendly confines of Legacy Arena (which haven’t been real friendly the last two years) come tourney time as Conference USA has moved the tournament to The Star, the Cowboys practice facility.
The Blazers have a long way to go before this, and as cliche as it is, they just need to take it one game at a time. Get better every game and hopefully they will be playing their best basketball come March.
UAB will have to take the path less traveled to hopefully again shock the college basketball world and return to the Big Dance.