Team: (3W) Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Location: Ruston, Louisiana
Record: 24-9 (13-5 SWAC)
NCAA Tournament History: The Bulldogs appeared in five NCAA tournaments between 1984 and 1991, but haven’t made it back since. This will be their fifth conference tournament championship game appearance (in three different conferences) since then.
How they got here: LA Tech started 9-3 in non-conference (including a road win at Santa Clara and competitive loss to LSU) and won their first six conference games to move to 15-3, before fishing the regular season 6-6. In the conference tournament, they dispatched of Marshall in the first round before holding Western Kentucky scoreless for over three minutes at the end of the game to sneak past them 59-57 in the quarterfinals. Yesterday, LA Tech battled through very low-scoring semifinal matchup with regular season champion and at-large hopeful North Texas to win, 42-36.
Team: (2W) UAB Blazers
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Record: 26-7 (14-4 C-USA)
NCAA Tournament History: A tournament regular, UAB has appeared in 15 NCAA tournaments, including a dominant stretch in the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, they’re looking for just their third appearance since 2006, and their first since upsetting Iowa State as a 14-seed in 2015.
How they got here: UAB had its eye on a potential at-large bid after racing out to a 17-4 start with a number of solid wins, before three losses out of seven in the middle of the year knocked them out of the conversation a bit. Still, it was another very strong year for the Blazers, who posted double digit conference wins for the sixth time in eight years. They received a bye to the quarterfinals, where they beat FAU, and then took out East Division number 1 seed Middle Tennessee, 102-98, in a marathon triple overtime game when it appeared they were up against it several times at the end of regulation and in the extra periods.
There are two must-watch players in this game, and both have very different styles. UAB sports the conference player of the year in Jordan Walker, who despite his small stature (5’11”) can really score, leading the conference in scoring (21.6 points per game) and assists (5.3 apg) in conference games. Then there’s LA Tech’s Kenneth Lofton, Jr., who commands the interior at 6’7” and 275 pounds, but is also a very skilled big man that averaged a double-double at over 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
LA Tech enters this game favored, naturally, with stronger offensive and defensive efficiency metrics (their offense efficiency is 31st in the country) and it starts with their play-making and experienced backcourt, led by Walker and senior Quan Jackson. They’ve won six in a row, and also took out LA Tech twice in the regular season by eight and 13 points. But starting with the end of the Western Kentucky game, it feels like LA Tech is figuring out how to play against the conference’s stronger teams, with increased defensive pressure and a slower pace. It wouldn’t be a major surprise if either team won, and both feel like dangerous potential first round matchups in the Dance.
Line: UAB -3
ML: UAB -155, LT +135
Time: 8:30 PM ET
Site: Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, TX
TV: CBS Sports Network