Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the team’s season opener against Mercer, UAB announced that the NCAA has granted the hardship waiver request filed on behalf of guard Jeremiah Bell.
As a result Bell, who averaged 14.2 points per game last season at Milwaukee, will be eligible to compete immediately.
“We are all extremely happy that Jeremiah has been granted eligibility to begin playing with us this season,” UAB head coach Robert Ehsan said in the release. “He has been a great teammate in practice and has driven his fellow teammates to continue to get better each day. I am really looking forward to getting to use him moving forward, as his leadership and presence on the court will be invaluable for our team.”
A 6-foot-1 guard from Louisville, Bell shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc last season. A second team All-Horizon League selection in 2017-18, Bell will have one season of eligibility to use at UAB.
GAME OF THE DAY: Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Gonzaga, 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)
The Panthers and Bulldogs made the long trek to Okinawa for their season opener, and it should be an interesting game between the two. Pittsburgh is looking to return to the NCAA tournament after narrowly missing out last season, with point guard James Robinson and forwards Jamel Artis and Michael Young leading the way. As for Gonzaga, Mark Few has one of the top front courts in the country at his disposal featuring Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis (who took a hard fall in their exhibition last weekend). The question for Gonzaga: how well will a backcourt hit hard by departures perform? We’ll get your first piece of evidence Friday night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 1 North Carolina vs. Temple, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
The Tar Heels enter the season as one of the favorites to win the national title, and they’ll be without their best player for the next couple weeks. Marcus Paige is out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, which means other perimeter options will be needed to step forward as distributors and perimeter shooters. Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson are three of the perimeter players to keep an eye on for the Tar Heels, who face a Temple squad that has to account for the graduation of point guard Will Cummings. The Owls are hoping to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons, and a good showing in Annapolis could help Jaylen Bond and company in that quest.
While there’s heightened optimism on The Plains thanks to the arrival of a talented recruiting class, and rightfully so, this is a dangerous opener to Bruce Pearl’s second season at Auburn. UAB returns all five starters from a team that won the Conference USA tournament title and upset Iowa State in the NCAA tournament, including forward William Lee and guard Robert Brown. The question for UAB is how they’ll match up with Auburn’s rugged power forward Cinmeon Bowers, who averaged 12.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a junior. Look for this to be one of the better games of the day.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1. Shaka Smart makes his debut as head coach at Texas and he’ll do so in Shanghai, with the Longhorns taking on a very young Washington team. Led by guard Isaiah Taylor, Texas returns four starters and added a talented recruiting class that includes Tevin Mack and Kerwin Roach.
2. There’s a lot of optimism in Milwaukee as Marquette’s talented freshman class led by Henry Ellenson opens up regular season play. However, they better be careful with a Belmont team that has plenty of experience and is the preseason pick to win the OVC. Senior guard Craig Bradshaw leads the way for Rick Byrd’s Bruins, who are tough to slow down on the offensive end of the floor.
3. The Mountain West will be involved in some intriguing opening night match-ups Friday night. Preseason favorite San Diego State hosts a dangerous Illinois State team, with another contender in Boise State visiting one of the preseason favorites in the Big Sky in Montana. And then there’s the battle of possible league dark horses, as Fresno State hosts an experienced Pepperdine squad.
4. Steve Prohm leads No. 7 Iowa State up against Colorado in Sioux Falls in his first regular season game as head coach. The Cyclones are expected to be contenders both in the Big 12 and nationally thanks to the return of players such as Georges Niang and Monté Morris. They’ll face a Colorado team that has a lot of questions to answer, but they’re anchored by one of the better post players around in senior Josh Scott.
5. Defending national champion No. 5 Duke opens its regular season with a home game against Siena. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils added a highly regarded freshman class to some solid returnees, including sophomore guard Grayson Allen who’s expected by many to break out this season.
6. No. 22 Baylor has a difficult season opener to deal with, as they’ll host Stephen F. Austin in Waco. Brad Underwood’s Lumberjacks have reached the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons, and this experienced group led by senior forward Thomas Walkup will not back down from this challenge. Baylor boasts one of the nation’s best front courts led by seniors Rico Gathers Sr. and Taurean Waller-Prince.
TOP 25 SCHEDULE
Colorado vs. No. 7 Iowa State, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Gonzaga, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
North Carolina A&T at No. 23 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.
Albany at No. 2 Kentucky, 7:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
No. 1 North Carolina vs. Temple, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Siena at No. 5 Duke, 7:00 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mount St. Mary’s at No. 3 Maryland, 7:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Morgan State at No. 6 Virginia, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Northern Michigan at No. 25 Michigan, 7:00 p.m.
Eastern Illinois at No. 15 Indiana, 7:00 p.m.
Florida Atlantic at No. 13 Michigan State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Fairleigh Dickinson at No. 11 Villanova, 7:00 p.m.
Maine at No. 20 Connecticut, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Saint Francis (PA) at No. 19 Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Northern Colorado at No. 4 Kansas, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Charleston Southern at No. 10 Wichita State, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Austin Peay at No. 18 Vanderbilt, 8:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
McNeese State at No. 21 LSU, 9:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
Western Illinois at No. 17 Wisconsin, 9:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Pacific at No. 12 Arizona, 9:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Stephen F. Austin at No. 22 Baylor, 9:30 p.m.
Southern Utah at No. 16 Utah, 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Rice at No. 14 California, 11:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Every March some plucky underdog seemingly comes out of nowhere to pull off an upset in the NCAA tournament, wrecking brackets across the country in the process. The key word in that sentence is “seemingly,” because each year there are teams that show signs throughout the season that they’re capable of winning once in the NCAA tournament.
Below are ten programs capable of pulling off an upset in the NCAA tournament as we approach the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
1. UAB: Jerod Haase’s Blazers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 NCAA tournament, as they sent home three-seed and trendy Final Four pick Iowa State in the round of 64. All five starters from that team have returned, including two players in forward William Lee and guard Nick Norton who ranked among the top freshmen in Conference USA a season ago and conference tournament MVP Robert Brown. Reigning C-USA Sixth Man of the Year Chris Cokley anchors a deep and experienced bench. And with Brown being the Blazers’ lone senior, they could be at the top of this list in 2016-17 as well.
2. Valparaiso: The Crusaders narrowly missed out on an upset back in March, falling by just three points to four-seed Maryland. Vashil Fernandez receiving his fourth season of eligibility means that head coach Bryce Drew can call upon one of the top front court tandems around, pairing Fernandez with junior Alec Peters. Peters was a first team all-Horizon League selection last season, with Fernandez being the Defensive Player of the Year. In total ten of the eleven players who scored a point for Valparaiso last season are back, with guards Tevonn Walker and Darien Walker and wing E. Victor Nickerson among those contributors.
3. Stephen F. Austin: Brad Underwood’s first two seasons at SFA have produced consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and the Lumberjacks have enough experience and talent to push that streak to three. Five seniors led by reigning Southland Conference Player of the Year Thomas Walkup have seen a lot in their college careers, including a wild win over VCU in the 2014 NCAA tournament. A group that was good on both ends of the floor (they ranked fifth in defensive turnover percentage, too) and won 29 of their final 30 games a season ago should pick up right where they left off in March.
4. Belmont: Like the three teams ahead of them on this list Rick Byrd’s Bruins reached the NCAA tournament a season ago, where they ran into a tough matchup in Virginia’s pack line defense. However it should be noted that Belmont scored 67 points in that loss, a mark met or surpassed by Virginia opponents just four times in 2014-15. Four starters from that team are back in Nashville, led by the OVC’s best player in senior guard Craig Bradshaw and the nation’s field goal percentage champion Evan Bradds (68.8 percent). The Bruins are highly efficient offensively, and that could make life difficult for an opponent unfamiliar with their style/personnel.
5. Old Dominion: Jeff Jones’ Monarchs fell short of their goal of an NCAA tournament bid a season ago, but they didn’t sulk once in the Postseason NIT. Trey Freeman and company reached the semifinals of that event, and the postseason experience should serve this group well. Freeman’s one of the best players in Conference USA, and in total ODU welcomes back three starters and four of their top six scorers. East Carolina transfer Brandan Stith pairs up with leading rebounder Denzell Taylor to help ODU account for the loss of Jonathan Arledge and Richard Ross from their front court, and this is a group that can be dangerous in a one-and-done scenario.
6. UC Irvine: The prohibitive favorites in the Big West, Russell Turner’s Anteaters had eventual Elite Eight participant Louisville on the ropes back in March. UC Irvine fell by just two points on that day, and many of the key contributors from that team have returned for another run at the NCAA tournament. That includes experienced guards Alex Young and Luke Nelson, wing Dominque Dunning and a front court with some serious size led by 7-foot-6 junior Mamadou Ndiaye. While UC Irvine isn’t an explosive offensive team, their defense is what makes them such a tough matchup for team not used to their style and personnel.
7. Iona: There’s no denying the fact that Tim Cluess’ Gaels are going to score points. Last season Iona averaged 79.5 points per game, and from an adjusted tempo standpoint only 11 teams played faster. Iona does have to account for the loss of MAAC Player of the Year David Laury, but four of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago are back led by high-scoring guards A.J. English and Shadrac Casimir. The key for Iona, especially in the MAAC tournament where they’ve fallen to rival Manhattan in each of the last two title games, will be their commitment on the defensive end. As we saw with Eastern Washington in March, being able to score doesn’t mean much if you can’t get stops.
8. Evansville: The Purple Aces have one of the better inside/out combinations around in high-scoring guard D.J. Balentine and forward/center Egidijus Mockevicius, who combined to average 32.6 points per game in 2014-15. That tandem helped lead Marty Simmons’ team to the CIT championship, and with all five starters back expectations are high for the Purple Aces. They’re in position to challenge preseason Missouri Valley favorite Wichita State, and given their talent and experience should Evansville reach the NCAA tournament they can cause trouble.
9. Central Michigan: Keno Davis’ Chippewas won 23 games and a MAC West Division title last season with an offense that shot the ball well and took good care of it too. All five starters, led by guard Chris Fowler and forward John Simons, are back on campus which should allow them to hit the ground running in 2015-16. The key for this group will be to get better on the defensive end of the floor (MAC foes shot nearly 54 percent from two), as they ranked 11th in field goal percentage defense, seventh in three-point percentage defense and ninth in effective field goal percentage defense (conference games only).
10. Louisiana: The biggest reason for the Ragin’ Cajuns’ inclusion on this list is the fact that they’ve got a likely pro in Shawn Long in their front court. The 6-foot-11 senior is the preseason pick for Sun Belt Player of the Year, coming off of a junior campaign in which he averaged 16.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. All five starters are back for head coach Bob Marlin, and while the Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t reach the NCAA tournament they did play in the CIT (losing to Evansville in the quarters) so there is some postseason experience to call upon.
Five others to keep in mind: Hofstra, Columbia, North Florida, Stony Brook, Pepperdine
Half of 2017 Cayman Island Classic field announced
In mid-April it was announced that beginning in November 2017, there would be an in-season tournament played on the Cayman Islands. Wednesday half of the field for the eight-team event was revealed, as Global Sports Management announced that Cincinnati, Iowa, UAB and Wyoming have committed to making the trip.
All four of those teams participated in the NCAA tournament last season, with Cincinnati, Iowa and UAB each picking up a win once there. Entering the 2015-16 season Cincinnati is viewed by many as a contender in the American Athletic Conference and the same goes for UAB in Conference USA. Iowa has some key personnel losses to address but returns seniors Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury, and Wyoming lost four starters from last season’s Mountain West tournament champion team.
Of course November 2017 is a long way off, so it remains to be seen what each of these teams will look like from a personnel standpoint when the time comes.
No specific timeframe was given in regards to when the other four teams participating in the inaugural Cayman Islands Classic would be announced.
UAB is losing rising sophomore guard Jarvis Calhoun to transfer, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 6-foot-0 native of Alabama didn’t see much playing time during the 2014-15 season and with the Blazers returning all five starters, playing time would have been tough to come by this season.
Calhoun scored a season-high three points against UCLA this season and had a total of five points and two rebounds during the season. This is probably the best move for both parties, as Calhoun can get a fresh start at another school with more playing time, while the Blazers get another scholarship to use on the recruiting trail.
A prolific high school scorer from the Birmingham area, in Trussville, Alabama, Calhoun missed some time during his senior year with injury and has never received enough playing time to regain his form.
UAB’s Jerod Haase addresses non-conference scheduling issue many programs face
For the blue bloods of college basketball putting together a non-conference schedule isn’t a particularly arduous affair. While there may be an opening or two to fill in the spring/early summer period, that status generally makes it easy to put together a slate that works to the program’s advantage.
That isn’t the case for some programs that don’t have that kind of cache, especially if they’re hoping to get a home game out of a series. For UAB head coach Jerod Haase, who’s team not only reached the NCAA tournament last season but knocked off Iowa State once there, getting a fair scheduling agreement has proven to be a bit difficult.
Haase, however, wants to fill Bartow Arena too. And he’s not willing to sacrifice his team’s record or morale just to play more attractive schools.
“I’m not going to go 47 times to Alabama (and we play) and one time at UAB,” Haase said. “I have to do what’s best for our program too. And to be honest with you, we think pretty highly of our program right now.”
It should be noted that while UAB begins a four-game series with Auburn this coming season, with the Tigers hosting two of the meetings (UAB will host one at Bartow Arena in 2016, and the 2018 meeting will be played at Legacy Arena in Birmingham), UAB and Alabama have only played once in the history of the two programs. Hence Haase’s comment regarding scheduling, as he’s looking to put power conference opponents on UAB’s schedule in hopes of boosting his team’s profile come March.
In recent years Conference USA hasn’t been a major player when it comes to at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, so at the very least a quality schedule can help its automatic bid recipient seeding-wise. But that doesn’t mean the league’s coaches should agree to unfair scheduling agreements in their non-conference games, because they need to generate home ticket sales as well.