Today's two opponents will be two of the most well-attended games of the season in Diddle Arena...for very different reasons. UAB is a perennial NCAA team with a name coach, and getting a school of UAB's stature into the friendly confines is always exciting. Eastern Kentucky is a cross-state rival, and Topper fans enjoy victories over the Colonels like no other. Only Murray State, Middle Tennessee, and maybe UL-Lafayette are even close. Kentucky and Louisville do not count, since those two avoid scheduling WKU like we were E Coli infested spinach/carrot juice/ground beef.
Side note: my copy of the Blue Ribbon basketball yearbook arrived today! It is officially basketball season.
UAB Blazers (24-7, 12-2 CUSA, NCAA First Round)
The Blazers will certainly have a different look than the past few seasons. Gone are eternal PG Sqeaky Johnson, F Demario Eddins, G Derrick Broom, and sharp-shooter Marvett McDonald. Also gone is former coach Mike Anderson who has taken his "40 Fastest Minutes in Basketball" to Missouri. Enter beleaguered former Indiana coach Mike Davis. Davis has Robert Vaden (an IU transfer) and Walter Sharpe (a Mississippi State transfer) waiting in the wings for next season, but this season looks a bit like a transitional year.
The Blazers do return backcourt players Wen Mukubu and Paul Delaney, as well as 6-9 F/C Frank Holmes, who all played significant minutes last year. Lawrence Kinnard and Brandon Tobias will also be called upon a lot more this season. UAB inked a big-time FR in 6-10 forward Jeremy Mayfield, who originally signed with Oklahoma, but was let out of his commitment after Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana. Mayfield was a top 50 player coming out of high school and is considered a top-five prep school player this season. Davis also signed JC All-American PG Andre White to help fill the enormous gap left by Squeaky Johnson.
Statistically, last year's number will not mean much since Davis will employ a much different style than Anderson's rip-and-run defense. As one might expect, UAB led the country in opponent's turnover percentage (#1). That's likely going to change under Davis. So, this looks like it could be a bit of a down year for UAB before they field a powerful squad next year with Vaden, Sharpe, and a more seasoned group of Davis-recuited players. Still, UAB should vie with Houston and a handful of others for second fiddle in CUSA. Memphis once again looks like the team to beat.
Eastern Kentucky (14-16, 11-9 OVC)
The Colonels were not a great team last year, so the fact that they lost the bulk of their scoring does not bode well. PG Matt Witt (18.5 ppg, 4.4 apg, and exhausting his 17th year of eligibility) is gone as is G Jason MacLeish (17.8 ppg, .479 from Three). They also lost Alonzo Hird, one of their top frontcourt players. They desperately need G Mike Rose, G Julian Mascoll, F Darnell Dials, and F Michael Brock to pick up the scoring slack, although not one of that quartet averaged more than 7.1 ppg last season. Dialls was impressive at times last season and probably has the most potential to become a go-to guy.
Statistically, EKU was one of the most horrid defensive teams in all the land, ranking #326 in Adj Def Eff. They were smack in the middle offensively and actually shot it quite well from the field as a team (52.4 on Twos, 36.5 from Three). The defense was simply terrible. With Samford and Tennessee Tech looking pretty solid, EKU does not figure into the OVC title chase this season. But, they can expect a salty student section when the visit the Toppers in Bowling Green on Sat., Dec 2. This is a long-time football and basketball rivalry and EKU stole one on the gridiron this season. The Topper faithful will be seething for this one.
Tomorrow, we preview a pair of 2006 NCAA teams in Montana and Southern Illinois.