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Tuesday, March 2, 2010
UAB's biggest week happens now

By Eamonn Brennan

UAB skipper Mike Davis has had big coaching weeks before -- a certain NCAA tournament run in 2002 comes to mind -- but the next few days are as important as any he's seen in a long time.

Mike Davis
If Mike Davis' Blazers can beat Memphis and UTEP, it will greatly boost their tournament chances.
Why? The NCAA tournament, silly: Davis' UAB team streaked to an 18-2 record to begin the season, looking to all the world like the C-USA team most ready to supplant Memphis' dominance in the post-Calipari era. Then a few losses in league play -- to UTEP (in overtime), at Memphis, and to Marshall -- put Davis' team squarely on the bubble, where they've stayed since. In his latest Bracketology, Joe Lunardi has UAB as a No. 11 seed, right on the fringe of demotion into the dreaded "first four out" field.

That could change this week. UAB plays Memphis at home Wednesday night, a game that could effectively swap the teams in the bubble conversation. (For what it's worth, Memphis isn't in Lunardi's bracket, but they are listed among his next four out, which is as good a summation of the bubble as you'll find anywhere.) UAB will then go to No. 21-ranked UTEP Saturday for a game that could decide UAB's season. A win would prove that Davis' team is good enough to beat surefire NCAA teams at their own arena (not to mention provide an outside shot at a share of the conference title, provided UTEP loses at Marshall Wednesday). A loss would keep the Blazers' tournament chances pretty much where they are right now, or worse.

Can UAB do it? Sure. UTEP is undoubtedly a more efficient team than the Blazers, but the Miners aren't particularly good at keeping opponents off the free throw line, which just so happens to be one of the Blazers' strengths. Both teams play solid defense; a close game would seem to favor the team most able to get to the line consistently. This is doable.

Of course, a win at UTEP is no guarantee of a tournament spot; UAB's nonconference record includes losses to Virginia and Kent State and only one quality win, which came over Butler. UAB will be a bubble team no matter what they do this week, but what side of the bubble they find themselves on will have a lot to do with their last two games. More than most, UAB controls its own destiny. Davis would surely prefer his team didn't have so much work to do -- but there are, as they say, worse fates.

It might not be A.J. Moye blocking Carlos Boozer in the Sweet 16, but yeah: This is a big week for Mike Davis.