UAB (11-3) at Middle Tennessee (10-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 11, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,520) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: CSS, CSN-HOU. Home Record: UAB 9-0, MTSU 7-1. Away Record: UAB 1-1, MTSU 2-3. Neutral Record: UAB 1-2, MTSU 1-1. Conference Record: UAB 0-0, MTSU 0-0. Series Record: UAB leads, 5-1.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will make their Conference USA debut on Saturday. as they play host to the UAB Blazers at the Murphy Center.
UAB is no stranger to C-USA, and has enjoyed a solid start to the campaign. The Blazers are 11-3 after their non-league slate came to a close last Saturday against Newberry College. They have not had many chances away from home, with a split of two true road tests. A return to Bartow Arena is next on the docket, as Texas-San Antonio and Texas-El Paso come to town.
Middle Tennessee has spent the last 13 years in the Sun Belt Conference, winning regular season titles in three of the last four seasons, and making a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. The Blue Raiders' non-conference slate saw them go 10-5, which includes wins in each of the last two outings. They get to host their next game as well against UTEP.
These teams actually met last season with Middle Tennessee defending its homecourt in convincing fashion (84-64). It was the first time in six total matchups that the Blue Raiders topped the Blazers.
UAB had an easy time of it in the recent romp over Division III foe Newberry. The Blazers sank just 47.9 percent of their shots from the floor, which while solid, was not as dominant an effort as one would expect. However, they forced 19 turnovers and held a 50-32 edge on the boards, leading to nine more field goals than the competition.
In fairness, the shooting percentage UAB had against Newberry was a step forward for the team. The Blazers are only connecting on 42.2 percent of their shots from the floor this season, raking them 15th in the league. However, missing shots rarely affects them as they lead the nation in rebounding (48.5 rpg). The frontcourt quartet of C.J. Washington (14.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Rod Rucker (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Fahro Alihodzic (10.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Robert Williams (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) are the core of the roster, but Chad Frazier (17.6 ppg, 5.1 apg) is the leading scorer and spends most of the time on offense with the ball in his hands.
Middle Tennessee matched up with in-state rival Tennessee State last time out and captured a 74-66 victory. The contest came down to turnovers, with the Blue Raiders claiming an 18-4 scoring advantage off takeaways. Neiko Hunter scored a team-high 19 points and Shawn Jones posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Even though they have yet to get a taste of C-USA competition, the Blue Raiders have done themselves proud in comparison to the rest of the league, at least in non-conference play. They are currently ranked fifth in the conference in scoring (75.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (.453). Jones (13.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Hunter (13.6 ppg) do most of the heavy lifting, but there is a solid balance on the roster, with six players scoring at least seven ppg. Kerry Hammonds (12.2 ppg) is the club's third-best scoring option, but he shoots just 36.9 percent from the floor.
With the trio of Hunter, Jones and Hammonds doing their thing, the Blue Raiders have the talent to at least be competitive in their new league. However, the Blazers are overwhelming on the inside, and Middle Tennessee doesn't have the personnel to match.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UAB 77, Middle Tennessee 72
01/11 12:26:11 ET