PROVO — With a No. 2 seed and a first-round home game, BYU has to be feeling good about its NIT seeding. For seven-seed UAB, not so much.
The Blazers won the Conference USA regular-season championship, but a first-round loss in the conference tournament ended their NCAA Tournament hopes. UAB was expected to be rewarded with a favorable NIT bid but was instead given one of the last eight seeds.
"I think players feel a little disrespected by the seeding, but head coach Jerod Haase doesn’t think there is a lot of separation between seeds one through eight," said Drew Champlin of AL.com. "I don’t think they had BYU in the back of their minds when it came to opponents, but that’s just how the draw fell."
Haase has a point. The BYU-UAB matchup could be as well-balanced as a No. 4 vs. No. 5 pairing. That's just how the chips fell, and it could be just as much an advantage as a disadvantage for both teams.
But mental blockades could be a big issue for the Blazers. As the heavy favorites in the C-USA tourney, UAB's loss to Western Kentucky was a tough one to swallow, and Champlin believes the players have not fully recovered yet.
"UAB (coaches and players) talked about the conference tournament all season long so right now, this is a disappointment," said Champlin. "I can’t pretend to know what’s inside the heads of the players, but pretty sure motivation isn’t it."
UAB is still as tough of a first-round team the Cougars could ask for, though. It ranks third in the nation in assists per game, and five Blazers average nine points or more.
Throughout conference play, UAB consistently played a 10-man rotation, headlined by guard Robert Brown and forward Chris Cokley. Both players average 13 points per game.
"Brown’s pretty tough to stop. He’s fearless and can pick the team up when it is struggling," said Champlin. "Cokley is a banger down low, and he’s confident when he gets the ball. Doubling down on Cokley would force him to look for the open man."
The Blazers should give the Cougars a tough test, but home-court advantage could be a big factor. Champlin believes BYU will advance to the next round after a hard-fought game.
"I’m not good with predictions but probably have a hard time picking UAB straight up in this road game," he said. "I’ll go BYU 85, UAB 78."
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @sambbenson.