The UAB Blazers managed to get past their opening-round Conference USA game with a strong second half. But dealing with Middle Tennessee didn't necessarily prepare them for what they are about to encounter in their second-round game on Thursday night.
The UTSA Roadrunners are a legitimate C-USA title contender, because not only do they have the explosiveness that comes with the backcourt of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, but also the ability to defend.
So the stage is set for one of these capable teams to move on to the semi-finals, as they tangle at the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, TX.
ABOUT UAB: The Blazers were behind by a point at the half against Middle Tennessee, but launched a surge in the second half, grew their lead to 15 points, and then survived a change to beat the Blue Raiders 70-61. They got to the line 24 times, while UAB played a relatively foul-free game, which was helped by the fact that MTSU made 30 of its 58 shot attempts from beyond the arc. Middle Tennessee went to the line only six times, and they needed to be more aggressive. So UAB, with a paltry five triples, gets by the first hurdle. Zack Bryant came off the bench to score 15 points. Lewis Sullivan, perhaps the team's most reliable player, had 17 points and six rebounds. This now makes UAB 19-13 straight-up (10-8 in C-USA) and 14-15-1 against the spread. Sullivan is in the nation's top 100 in Offensive Rating, and his 122.0 is the highest rating on either side in this matchup. It is going to be incumbent upon UAB to get something going on the inside. Sullivan may be part of that, as might Makhtar Gueye, who was somewhat silent offensively, with four points against Middle Tennessee. Only 34.4% of the Blazers' shots have come from long range, so they will be playing into a weakness of sorts in UTSA's defensive structure.
ABOUT UTSA: The Roadrunners have had several days to stew over an embarrassing 81-48 loss suffered at the hands of Southern Miss, in which they had only Giovanni De Nicolao in double figures (18 points). This was an uncommon experience for them, as the backcourt duo of Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace, which was not only 1-2 in the conference in scoring but the highest-producing pair of guards in the nation, was handcuffed. They scored a total of twelve points and shot a combined 4-for-29 from the field. Obviously they are going to be looking for some redemption, and there is some reason to believe that they can do some business against UAB's defense. In the two meetings against each other, they scored a combined 104 points. UTSA is the team that is going to try and force as many possessions as possible, although they don't really try to do it via forcing turnovers (they are 203rd in defensive turnover percentage). They are going to have a free throw advantage, as they hit 73.6%, but that may not be much of an edge, since they are next-to-last in C-USA in the frequency with which they get to the line. On the other end, the "free throw rate" they give opponents is also next-to-last in the league. UTSA is 17-14 straight-up (11-7 in C-USA) and 19-10 against the spread, and part of that was fueled by a string of nine straight covers earlier in the season.
1. These teams played twice this season; UAB won the first meeting 83-73 at home on January 19, while UTSA got revenge in the rematch to the tune of 76-70 on March 3.
2. It goes without saying that these teams will be playing at different levels of pace. UTSA is 49th in average possession length (16.2 seconds) while UAB is unusually slow at 19.2 seconds per possession (which is 336th).
3. UTSA's Jhivvan Jackson was named to the All-Conference USA first team this past week. His teammate, Keaton Wallace, made the second team, while UAB's Zack Bryant was named to the third team.
PREDICTION: UTSA 77, UAB 72Bet Now
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