Where to Watch
Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Tip Time: 9:20 p.m. EST
Television/Streaming: TNT/March Madness Live
DraftKings Betting Line: Houston -8.5, O/U 136
This Blazers team is loads of fun and can kill you in many ways.
Andy Kennedy has come back to his alma mater and continued its history of success. Not only have they won 49 games in his two-year tenure but if a game did not result in a win this year, there was a good chance that it was a loss by two possessions or less. Only once was it more.
They say that the modern recipe for a March upset is shooting the three-ball well, and the Blazers do just that. UAB ranks seventh in KenPom on 3-point percentage, and a lot of it is thanks to one of the most electric players in the country: Jordan “Jelly” Walker.
Jelly has full control of this offense, taking a third of the team’s shots while averaging 20.4 points and nearly five assists per game. As mentioned, the three-ball is his specialty, and he has drained 113 of those against Division I opponents this season. Against Louisiana Tech in late January, he drained nine. This season, he has hit 40% from behind the arc.
Not only that, but he has swag unlike any other player in this Tournament. Just watch this interview after they won the conference tournament on Saturday night.
@jellyfam_j @UAB_MBB pic.twitter.com/dzHbKJHOoy— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) March 13, 2022
Just like Jelly, his battery mates are transfers from southern schools.
Michael Ertel came over from Louisiana Monroe and can shoot the three-ball as well. Coming into the Tournament as a 39% shooter from behind the arc, Ertel drained six against Middle Tennessee in its conference tournament semifinal.
Shooting isn’t his only specialty though as only seven players in the NCAA Tournament force more turnovers than he does. Tavin Lovan is right behind him.
Although Lovan isn’t one of those transfers, he’s still a crucial part of this Blazers team. He is one of only a few Blazers to have spent their whole career in Birmingham.
One of those transfers in the backcourt is Quan Jackson. The former Georgia Southern Eagle steals the ball more than anyone else in the NCAA Tournament and shoots nearly 50% from the field as well.
He was the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year back in his day and is one of the more well-renowned Blazers on this deep team.
Now that’s enough about the offense, let’s talk about the defense. KJ Buffen is a Brickhouse down low, averaging 6.7 rebounds per game as the Blazers rank 84th in the country in opponent’s two-point percentage.
His defense isn’t even one of the two best on the team though as both Jackson and seven-footer Trey Jemison rank on KenPom in defensive rating.
Based on all this, you must think they’ll win a game in the Big Dance, right? A first-round win is no stranger to the program as they’ve won three of four Round of 64 games since the turn of the century.
I think that the Blazers get it done. Although Houston may be the metrics darlings, I think that the three-ball will keep UAB in this game. When games come down to the wire, free throws need to be made. That is one area that Houston really struggles in. Expect Jelly to drop about 30 as a Houston team who had no regular-season wins over the Tournament field falls by a score of 86-85.