Conference USA (23-8, 11-5)
Big Wins: 12/16 Cincinnati (64-47), 12/22 Butler (67-57), 1/26 Tulsa (65-55)
Bad Losses: 12/30 at Virginia (63-72), 2/13 Marshall (74-81), 3/11 vs Southern Miss (44-58)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2006, First Round loss to Kentucky
Coach: Mike Davis (7-4 in 4 NCAA appearances)
Why They Can Surprise:
UAB was slated by most to have a major rebuilding project in front of them after losing four key players from a year ago, including super scorer Robert Vaden. But Coach Mike Davis has taken his group to the next level in what has been a relatively competitive Conference USA. The emergence of 6-6 wing Elijah Millsap is the main reason for the surprising success of the Blazers. Millsap spent the 2006-2007 and the 2007-2008 season at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he played relatively well, but did not put up huge numbers. Those numbers got big in a hurry once he was eligible to play for UAB this season. On the year he is averaging an impressive 15.7 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Millsap’s ability to hit the glass has turned the Blazers into one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. Yet he gets plenty of help from 6-8 forward Howard Carter. Carter is an experienced player who has turned into a versatile scorer and a solid rebounder. He is often the only true forward on the floor, so he is asked to do a lot and most of the time does just that.
Why They Can Disappoint:
Without Vaden and a host of others who are now gone, the depth on the perimeter is a concern. Coach Davis usually will start Aaron Johnson, George Drake and Jamarr Sanders along with Millsap. That leaves nobody left on the perimeter to come in and provide a spark off the bench. The other issue is the backcourt creating shots for their teammates. Certainly UAB is not a high powered offense, but they are often forced to give the ball to Millsap at the end of the shot clock and force him to make something happen. Johnson is the other player who can create opportunities for his teammates and is averaging 4.8 assists on the season. Johnson and Sanders are also double-digit scorers and Drake has the potential to be a dynamic scoring threat when his shot is falling.
Who To Watch:
The depth in the frontcourt is less of a concern. Cameron Moore has started a handful of games during the 2009-2010 campaign and the 6-10 sophomore can at least clog the paint and grab some boards. Kenneth Cooper is another big guy who can play 15 to 20 minutes per game and eat up some fouls and hit the glass. The 6-10, 260 pound senior is also a capable scorer under the paint, but it is freshman Ovie Soko who has emerged as the starter late in the year when UAB wants a bigger lineup on the floor. Having those three available allows the Blazers to keep their scorers in the starting lineup, but also have enough big bodies on the bench to help on the glass and keep Crawford and Millsap fresh and out of foul trouble.
Aaron Johnson, Junior, Guard, 9.9 ppg, 4.8 apg, 1.5 spg
Jamarr Sanders, Junior, Guard, 10.4 ppg, 2.6 apg, 4.9 rpg
Elijah Millsap, Junior, Guard, 15.7 ppg, 1.8 apg, 9.4 rpg
Ovie Soko, Freshman, Forward, 1.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Howard Crawford, Senior, Forward, 12.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Kenneth Cooper, Senior, Center, 5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg
George Drake, Senior, Guard, 6.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg
Cameron Moore, Sophomore, Forward, 3.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 68.0 (198th in nation, 6th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 61.1 (29, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 42.5 (216, 9)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.1 (71, 5)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.4 (253, 9)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 31.4 (246, 9)
Free-Throw Percentage: 70.1 (133, 6)
Rebound Margin: 5.1 (32, 3)
Assists Per Game: 11.6 (265, 9)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.4 (144, 7)
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