The University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers have a chance — even though it resembles more of a Lloyd Christmas chance — to win the Conference-USA championship. Besides the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the conference does not have a definitive No. 2, write the Blazers as that No 2. Luckily for the Blazers, the Memphis Tigers are no longer an in-conference foe, giving them a bigger chance to win the conference.
Before the New Mexico game, the Blazers had an unblemished record against the likes of Columbus State, Rutgers and Troy. However, despite a loss to a top-tier Mountain West Conference team like New Mexico, the Blazers look to develop junior forward C.J. Washington. Washington leads the team in points (20 points per game) and is second in rebounds (almost nine per game).
Take the loss to New Mexico with a grain of salt, skeptics of the Blazers’ dark horse capabilities. The Lobos are ranked 19 early in the season, and there is a reason for that. The Blazers even pushed them to go into double overtime, despite being down by nine at the end of the first half. Coach Craig Neal has Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, three deadly scorers.
A neutral-site game at the College of Charleston for the Charleston Classic proved to be costly for the Blazers. The Lobos were too hot to handle.
However, there are not teams in the Conference-USA that can match up with New Mexico. Once the Blazers finish its non-conference schedule, which includes road games at Louisiana State University, Northeastern (who just dismantled the Georgetown Hoyas) and home games against UNC and a Georgia Southern Eagles team that took the Miami Hurricanes to overtime.
With the clear front-runners being the Golden Eagles, the Blazers have a chance to reach the tournament for the first time since 2011. Having three senior starters is a great way to become a dark-horse candidate for a conference that lacks depth. Coach Jerod Haase has his team primed and ready to make a huge tournament run, despite the loss to a Lobos team that is looking to make big things happen in the country.
Point guard Chad Frazier stepped up with eight points in the first half, and opened up the second half with the first three-point make of the game. With Frazier’s points came a huge down side; he had seven assists that killed the offensive momentum. The point guard finished with a game-high 34 points and committed only one turnover in the second half and overtimes.
Rebounding is the name of the game for the Blazers, as they currently rank fourth in the country at 51 rebounds per game, it shows that the defense is underrated, because they only allow one possession per defensive trip. Rod Rucker had 20 rebounds and 18 points on the night, one of the bright spots for the offense on the day.
The offensive struggles tonight are not much of a concern, as the Lobos rank near the top in defensive field goal percentage at 37 percent. Despite their 16 turnovers and 37 percent shooting, the Blazers managed take the Lobos into double overtime, but could not overcome them with the score 97-94.
John Lloyd is a PAC-12 College Basketball for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHLloydIII