Two Conference USA squads will participate in the inaugural BHM JAM on Saturday. The UAB Blazers will take on the Alabama A&M Bulldogs at 2:15 p.m., then the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will take on the Auburn Tigers at 5. Both games will take place at Legacy Arena in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham, Alabama.
UAB vs. Alabama A&M
The Bulldogs are arguably the worst team in Division I with an 0-10 record. The Bulldogs are one of the six teams in D-I without a win (five of those six teams are from the SWAC). UAB is 10-0 against AAMU all-time and has a 51-0 record against the SWAC. The Blazers come into the game with a record of 6-4, fresh off a loss to Auburn last Saturday.
UAB’s leaders this season have been senior forward Chris Cokley, freshman guard Zack Bryant, and sophomore guard Nate Darling. Cokley is 17th in the nation in double-doubles with five in the first 10 games (18.5 ppg, 10 rpg). “Scootie” Bryant has come out of nowhere to average 14 points per game and provide valuable minutes this season, and Darling has carried his strong ending from last season into this year and is averaging 9.8 points per game. The sophomore guard is dynamic with strong drives to the hoop and stellar outside shooting. Darling is also shooting 50 percent from behind the arc in his last five games.
Alabama A&M is led by former UAB assistant coach Donnie Marsh. UAB has struggled with three-point defense this year, but the Bulldogs are even worse, allowing 38.7 percent from outside (311 out of 351 teams). The Bulldogs are led by guards De'Ederick Petty and Julian Walters, both are averaging double figures. This game should be a breeze for UAB, but the Blazers can’t take anyone lightly after almost losing their SWAC undefeated record to Southern last year before a buzzer-beating layup by Cokley.
Prediction: UAB 92 AAMU 65
MTSU vs. Auburn
In the second game of the doubleheader, the MTSU Blue Raiders will face the Auburn Tigers. The game is another neutral court rematch of two years ago that saw the Blue Raiders battle for an 88-81 win in overtime. The Blue Raiders come in with a record of 7-1, while the Tigers come in 8-1.
MTSU is not afraid of the SEC. The Blue Raiders have already defeated Vanderbilt and Ole Miss this season. The Blue Raiders are led by forwards Nick King and Brandon Walters, and guard Giddy Potts. King is leading the team with 24.3 points per game (fifth in the nation) and six rebounds per game. The grad transfer from Alabama has fit in well with Kermit Davis’s system. Brandon Walters comes in averaging 13.3 and five boards per game. Potts is adding 11.1 ppg, but is looking for consistency after a slow start this season. If the three can contribute as much as King has, this team can be dangerous. King, Walters, and Potts all scored in double figures in their games against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. It would seem that if they can do the same against the Tigers, this could be an offensive shootout.
For Auburn, the Tigers are led by a talented backcourt with Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and Mustapha Heron. Brown and Harper are coming off of a lights-out shooting performance against UAB last weekend with the two combining to score more than half the team’s 85 points. Heron is still a question mark for the Tigers, who missed the UAB game with back spasms. Auburn was able to survive against the Blazers without Heron, but MTSU is not any easier on the same court, where they have won the last two Conference USA titles. The Tigers will need Heron, who averages 15.9 points per game, to balance the attack from MTSU’s frontcourt advantage. Inside for the Tigers, Anfernee McLemore could be great test for MTSU’s King. McLemore is averaging close to double digits this season and already has 32 total blocks.
This game could be another overtime thriller. Ultimately, it will come down to MTSU’s depth to contribute and not rely on King to carry the load. Auburn plays physical and MTSU can’t lose any big players.
Prediction: Auburn 88 MTSU 83