Tiny Dancers: UAB in NCAAs is a feel-good turn for Blazers fans

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Coach Jerod Haase is in his third season with the Blazers. (USATSI)

The NCAA Tournament always gives rise to tremendous stories.

Albany absolutely has one.

Texas Southern’s is interesting; it didn’t even have to win its league tournament to get an auto bid.

And on Saturday afternoon, UAB earned Conference USA’s automatic bid after knocking off Middle Tennesssee, 73-60. For the school, it’s a windfall of good news after a dreadful winter that saw the football program get cut due to budgetary concerns. Football still means a lot to that community, and the wound is still losing blood.

But UAB basketball also has a proud tradition, and earning a Dance ticket in this season, of all seasons, is a dose of good karma to the Blazers faithful.

Jerod Haase, a coach in the Roy Williams tree, gets UAB to the big show in just his third season with the school. The Blazers shot 52 percent from the field and owned the glass in their game against the Blue Raiders on Saturday.

It’s a surprise outcome for Conference USA, which saw UAB finish fourth in the league behind Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and UTEP, three teams that were trending earlier this season to be chic upset picks come March. Instead, UAB gets the glory. You never know what conference championship fortnight is going to give ya.

Player to Watch: It’s Robert Brown. He leads the team in scoring (12.8 PPG) and is second in assists, dishing three out per game. Brown was instrumental in UAB’s title-game win, scoring a game-high 22 in addition to nabbing five boards and passing four assists.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 19-15 overall, 12-6 in Conference USA
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2011 (lost to Clemson in the First Four as a No. 12 seed)
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
  • RPI: 139
  • KenPom ranking: 127
  • Sagarin ranking: 152
  • Best wins: vs. Old Dominion, vs. Louisiana Tech
  • Notable stat: 5.2. At 5.2 blocks per game, UAB is among the best teams at swattage in the nation. They’re not especially tall (99th in average height) but they are aggressive around the tin.
  • Closing quip: Can’t help but feel good for UAB, but this team’s probably going to be a No. 16. A 15 is possible, but yeah, it’ll feel weird seeing a team from C-USA seeded so low. Haase is only going to increase his profile by making an NCAA Tournament. The team isn’t that crazy run-and-fun group that you remember from more than a decade ago (those were Mike Anderson-coached teams), but it’s still got some push to it. And six players have taken at least 40 3-point attempts this season.

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