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Basketball Q&A: UAB Blazers

Our friends from The Daily Dragon join us to talk Auburn-UAB

NCAA Basketball: UAB at Middle Tennessee State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn Basketball is hitting the road for the next 2 games. It’s first stop is in Birmingham to take on the UAB Blazers in the Mike Slive Invitational inside Legacy Arena (AKA the BJCC)tomorrow evening. Then, they will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack Wednesday. But today is all about the Blazers, and I appreciate our friends from UAB’s SB Nation site, The Daily Dragon, for taking some time to fill us in on what’s been happening with UAB so far this year.

When it comes to how UAB has looked so far this season...

“If you’re looking strictly at UAB’s record of 6-3 one could think they’ve had a pretty decent start to the season. However the reality is UAB has looked over matched against every good and great team and they’ve played down to bad teams that in year’s past they would have beaten handily. The team is young, undisciplined, and lacking in identity. Is the talent there? For the most part I think so but under this staff there has been little shown to me over the years that would make me think this team will develop beyond what they are now -- a borderline top 200 team.”

Over the past 3 seasons, the Tigers have faced off against Chris Cokley, who had 26 points and 9 rebounds in last year’s game and William Lee, but both players have now graduated. This will be a different looking Blazers team than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

“Their absence has been glaring and the void they’ve left is massive. Cokley was a high producing offensive presence in the paint and this year there isn’t a player even remotely close to doing what he did for us. And Lee gave us a stretch four presence that we are trying to duplicate with Makhtar Gueye and Lewis Sullivan this season but so far we haven’t had much consistency in that regard. The offensive rebounding has been surprisingly good despite the fact that UAB’s front court is super thin this season. When our JUCO big man Will Butler who is 6-8 255 isn’t on the floor we’re typically playing a small ball type of line up with the two forwards I just mentioned. Austin Wiley might score 100 if they get in to foul trouble.”

One of the bright spots on this year team has been sophomore guard Zack Bryant. A member of last year’s Conference USA All-Freshman team, he’s the leading scorer on this year’s UAB team at 12.9 points a game.

“Bryant is one of those hard nosed guards that may not have the prettiest jump shot but knows how to get to the rim and score. He’s a SEC-type guard that we’re super fortunate to have. With that being said, something has changed in the dynamic between he and the staff. Supposedly there has been some spats and recently he was held out of an entire game and wasn’t even present. It’s just another obstacle this UAB team is facing this season. The battle he and Harper will have should be quite entertaining. Bryant is capable of taking a game over and early on in this season that’s been one of our only options to stay afloat.”

While Bryant may be UAB’s leading scorer, the Blazers have another guard that Tiger fans will have to keep an eye on come Saturday.

“Jeremiah Bell can be a really dangerous three point shooter when he gets going. He is a transfer guard from Milwaukee that was given a waiver to play for us immediately this season. He is smaller like Harper and Zack Bryant but what he lacks in size he makes up with his athleticism and basketball IQ. He’s streaky and could be a handful for Bryce Brown to chase around but that street goes both ways.”

UAB played Florida State earlier this year, a team that has similar depth and aspirations as Auburn does this year. The Blazers hope to be able to use some of those things that worked well in that game in Saturday’s game as well.

“Our first half against FSU was the best we’ve played all season. We used a lot of full court zone early and really put a lot of pressure on their bigger guards to pass up the court. The difference with Auburn is as you know you can’t really pressure Harper given how quick and skilled he is. We don’t have the bodies to match up with Auburn’s front court so we’ll be relying on traps, ball pressure, and prayers.”

Finally, over the last 3 years of this series, each of these games have been close, exciting and competitive. Auburn won 75-74 in 2015, 74-70 in 2016 and 85-80 last year. Personally, I think it’s fantastic that these two schools are playing on a yearly basis and hopefully it will continue as this game is the last of a 4-game series between Auburn and UAB. When it comes to what UAB has to do in order to make this year’s game competitive:

“UAB has to hope Auburn is having a cold shooting night. That’s their only hope. Wiley will need to get in early foul trouble and Harper and Brown will have to be really careless with the ball resulting in some UAB points of turnovers. One thing UAB has shown at times this season is they can force steals in their small ball line up. Maybe Purifoy’s return causes some chemistry issues and UAB is able to capitalize on that? Who knows? What I hope for is a competitive game and some signs than my Blazer’s season isn’t going to be a total bust. An exciting finale to this renewed series would be fitting and great for basketball in Birmingham and Alabama.”

Tip-off is set for tomorrow night at 6:30PM on the CBS Sports Network.