#89 UAB Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

UAB Blazers
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #89
Conference Rank: #3 Conference USA
UAB returned most of their team from the 2015 NCAA Tournament that upset third-seeded Iowa State. But there was no NCAA Tournament magic left for the Blazers. Despite a very good season in which they went 16-2 in Conference USA play, UAB lost their opener to Western Kentucky in the conference tournament and had to settle for a trip to the NIT. Once there, UAB hit the road and lost 97-79 to BYU. That success has led to a coaching change after Jerod Haase took the Stanford job after four years with the Blazers. Coach Robert Ehsan takes over after spending the last four years as an assistant and then associate head coach under Haase. The new regime should continue the program’s success thanks to the frontcourt duo of Chris Cokley and William Lee. Cokley averaged 13.1 points per game and a team high 6.5 rebounds. Lee added 10.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. Lee is also a superb shot blocker and the big guy who can stretch the defense with his outside shooting.
2015-16 Record: 26-7, 16-2
2015-16 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Robert Ehsan
Coach Record: 0-0 at UAB, 0-0 overall
Who’s Out:
UAB only loses one player from last year’s 26 win team, but that player is Robert Brown. He was the guy who would take all of the big shots for UAB. He led the team with 14.0 points per game and knocked down 67 three-pointers. He added 3.1 assists per game too. All of those numbers are replaceable, but Brown’s leadership and clutch shooting ability will certainly be missed.
Who’s In:
The newcomers will not be asked to do much this year. Guards Javien Williams and Nate Darling are the two incoming freshmen. Darling is the one to watch for the future, but Williams knows how to score too. Southern Illinois transfer Deon Lavender will add even more depth on the perimeter. By the end of his freshman campaign with the Salukis, Lavender was a regular starter. On the year he averaged 6.6 points per game, but he was playing much better than that down the stretch. After a year off, if he can pick up where he left off, Lavender will find a spot in the regular rotation.
Who to Watch:
The backcourt is already pretty crowded though with Nick Norton, Hakeem Baxter and Dirk Williams penciled in for starting jobs. Norton dished out 5.1 assists per game and led the team with 1.6 steals too. He is a decent scorer, especially beyond the arc, but Norton does need to attack the basket and look to finish on occasion. Baxter did not have a great junior year in 2015-2016, averaging just 5.9 points per game, but he does everything else too. Williams was a superb sixth man during his first year with UAB after spending time at the junior college level. He averaged 9.3 points and proved to be a dangerous and consistent outside shooter. And, at 6-5, he can attack the basket too. Somebody on the perimeter needs to help replace Brown’s clutch shooting and Williams could be the guy. Denzell Watts will once again backup Norton at the point and players like Tyler Madison will have to compete with the newcomers for minutes behind Baxter and Williams.
Final Projection:
The depth in the frontcourt is not much of an issue either. Tosin Mehinti started 24 games last season in place of either Cokley or Lee. He is not a scorer like those other two, but he is a tough rebounder who can block a shot or two. With junior Lewis Sullivan in the mix as well, this is a UAB team with plenty of depth. But depth is not the potential issue for the Blazers. The issue is finding a scorer on the perimeter who can come close to replicating what Brown could do. Somebody has to start taking those big shots and if they are not falling, UAB could find themselves back in the NIT.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Nick Norton, Junior, Guard, 8.9 points per game
Hakeem Baxter, Senior, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Dirk Williams, Senior, Guard, 9.3 points per game
William Lee, Junior, Forward, 10.6 points per game
Chris Cokley, Junior, Forward, 13.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 79.0 (41st in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 70.4 (135, 4)
Field-Goal Percentage: 47.8 (26, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 41.7 (82, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.6 (118, 5)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 37.2 (53, 3)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.2 (90, 3)
Rebound Margin: 3.4 (66, 3)
Assists Per Game: 18.4 (3, 1)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.5 (161, 6)