Some familiar faces from last season’s Blue Raider squad are gone, but the same level of talent and experience return to Bartow.
You’d think with the all-time program player Reggie Upshaw and Conference USA player of the year JaCorey Williams graduating that Middle Tennessee would be in for some regression and rebuilding. Unfortunately for the rest of the conference this is far from the case as they acquired transfer Nick King in the off-season and he has now become one of the most dominate offensive players in college basketball this season.
King started his career at Memphis before transferring to Alabama in 2015 where he sat out the 15-16 season and had to leave the team in 2017 due to a lung infection. Kermit Davis and co. swept him up in the summer. The rich got richer as they say.
To put it in perspective just how big of a piece he has become for Middle Tennessee, he has the highest percentage of possession used in C-USA (32.6%) and is 15th nationally in this category. For comparison, Chris Cokley’s percentage is 24.6 percent. On paper it appears King is a bit of a one man show for Middle Tennessee, which has somewhat been the case, but what has made the Blue Raider teams of late so good is their role players and depth, which we’ll get into below.
Scouting The Blue Raiders
Before we move on to the role players, I’ll touch on a couple more things about King that are worth noting. As you’d expect with a 32 percent usage of their possessions, the dude gets up A LOT of shots. In Middle Tennessee’s win over Ole Miss at home he attempted 18 2-pointers en route to a 25 point night. He makes his living in the paint and mid-range, but he’ll stretch the floor as well having hit 13 3-pointers. To compare to Cokley again, he has attempted 57(!) more shots in 12 games compared to UAB’s 13 played.
The fly on the wall here is that stopping Nick King is Plan A and priority number one for UAB. Has anyone been able to do that this season considering he averages nearly 24 points per game? Well, sort of. In Birmingham against Auburn the Tigers were able to bottle him up for most of the night allowing him to only score 12 points in 31 minutes. I’d imagine our coaches will be looking at that game film a lot before Saturday.
The most familiar face UAB fans will see Saturday will be Giddy Potts who has been a NCAA tournament darling the past two seasons. For the most part Potts hasn’t had any spectacular games against us, but that’s no reason to believe he couldn’t go off in his last trip to Bartow. Potts has hit 29 3-pointers this season at a 40 percent clip, which is his known weapon of choice. I’ll be curious to see who will be marking him as Hakeem Baxter had previously handled that duty rather successfully the last two seasons.
One thing you’ll notice quickly Saturday is Middle can put some serious size on the court when they need it. Brandon Walters is 6-foot-10, Karl Gamble is 6-foot-9, and Nick King is 6-foot-7. Walters and Gamble play starter type minutes and will be testing Chris Cokley all game.
Of their guards, Tyrik Dixon is back serving as their point guard again after a very solid freshman campaign. One to keep an eye on is junior guard Antwain Johnson. He is a super streaky 3-point shooter having hit four against Miami in Hawaii on Monday and he plays tenacious defense. He can finish at the rim and in my opinion is their third best scoring option behind King and Potts.
Defensively Middle Tennessee is as good as they’ve been the past few seasons. Kermit Davis will zone us to death until we can prove we can shoot them out of it. Outside of Auburn this is the best defense UAB has seen. The Blazers will need a fast start like they had against Memphis and make some early 3-pointers to get the Blue Raiders out of the paint.
Three Keys to Victory for UAB
- This is the most reliant on one player Middle Tennessee has been in the last three seasons. If UAB can contain Nick King to some degree, they will win. The Blue Raiders are very good, but not significantly better than us like they were last season.
- Taking care of the ball will be huge Saturday as the Blue Raiders feast off of timely turnovers. Nick and Scootie will be pressured all day by veteran guards and will have to be smart with the ball.
- If there was ever a game for William Lee to shine offensively, it’s this one. UAB is going to have a miss-match, and I think it’s going to be Lee who will either have a less athletic big or a smaller Nick King on him. He needs to be aggressive early and often.