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September 11, 2008


Head coach: Mike Davis.
Last season: 23-11 overall, 12-4 in C-USA.
Postseason: Lost 75-49 to Virginia Tech in NIT second round.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

Few teams in the country are as deep and talented at guard as the Blazers. Consequently, they frequently will start four backcourt players. Channing Toney delivered in his first season of eligibility after transferring from Georgia, shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range. He had a stretch of nine consecutive games in double-figures to complement the scoring of Robert Vaden.

Paul Delaney III missed most of 2007-08 with a knee injury.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Aaron Johnson, 5-7/Soph.
9.6 ppg, 3.1 apg
G Paul Delaney III, 6-2/Sr.
16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 39.5% 3-pt
G Channing Toney, 6-5/Sr.
1.8 ppg
G/F Robert Vaden, 6-5/Sr.
11.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.1 spg
F Lawrence Kinnard, 6-8/Sr.
2.7 ppg
TOP RESERVES
F J.T. Thompson, 6-6/Soph.
5.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg
F Howard Crawford, 6-8/Jr.
4.6 ppg, 3.2 apg
F Jeremy Mayfield, 6-10/Jr.
3.5 ppg
G Ed Berrios, 5-11/Sr.
3.5 ppg
G Terrence Roderick, 6-6/Soph.
3.5 ppg
Vaden, another high-profile transfer who followed coach Mike Davis from Indiana, ranked third in Conference USA and 19th nationally in scoring. Only two players (Davidson's Stephen Curry and Houston's Robert McKiver) made more 3-pointers last season than Vaden's 142. He entered his name in the NBA Draft and went through the Orlando pre-draft camp, but ultimately decided to return to UAB for his senior season.

Davis has high expectations for Vaden, and why not? He's capable of fantastic numbers, and he has worked diligently in the offseason to ensure himself of NBA first-round status.

One big key for the Blazers to continue their climb nationally is a healthy return by 2006-07 all-league performer Paul Delaney III. That season, he averaged 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Just three games into last season, though, he suffered a torn ACL. Reports out of Birmingham are that his rehab has gone well and that he'll be 100 percent. The thought of Delaney and Vaden together should make other C-USA backcourts shudder.

Aaron Johnson, a 5-7 whippet out of Chicago, was a major factor as a freshman. He started 26 games and averaged 4.1 assists to rank sixth in C-USA and second among league freshmen to Memphis' Derrick Rose.

There is depth behind the starting four. Ed Berrios made seven starts, played in all 34 games and averaged 19 minutes. And the Blazers are high on 6-6 sophomore Terrence Roderick, a former three-star prospect who paid his own way at UAB last season and thus was not able to practice with the team. He's eligible and also expected to contribute.

FRONTCOURT

The mainstay in the frontcourt is Lawrence Kinnard, a senior who led the Blazers in rebounding and blocks last season. He also can step out and shoot the 3-pointer. He was second on the team with 49 treys. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders as the only starter in the frontcourt, but he's a solid role player and good defender.

He'll get some help from returning juniors Jeremy Mayfield and Howard Crawford. They lend size and athleticism. Crawford played 20 minutes only three times last season, but in those games, he averaged 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. Anything close to that kind of production would only serve to make the Blazers more dangerous.

OFFENSE

Coach Mike Davis wants the Blazers to get out and go. It's the advantage of having so many guards. If they're not scoring in transition and getting easy baskets, the game is not at their pace.

DEFENSE

It's time for the Blazers to break through. They finished 12-4 in C-USA last season, but a first-round loss in the league tournament relegated them to the NIT. If they had managed to take down Memphis, which they nearly did at home on Feb. 16 before falling 79-78, they probably would have been in the NCAA Tournament. Vaden had a breakout season and is capable of more. He wants to be a first-round pick, and he has hit the weights as well as the gym to work on his body, his speed and his jump shot - which already was pretty darn good. Delaney has the kind of all-court game that can complement Vaden. UAB is small and quick, so it causes a lot of matchup problems, but it faces plenty, too. It's long and athletic enough to defend well and hold its own on the boards. It's time C-USA sent at least two teams to the NCAA tournament, and the Blazers will be ready to punch their ticket.
Davis is a man-to-man proponent. The Blazers occasionally will apply pressure and pick up beyond halfcourt. If they run a zone, it'll be a 2-3, but don't look for it very often.

SHOES TO FILL

F Reggie Huffman. Huffman, a junior college transfer, spent only one season at UAB before deciding to pass on his final season to play overseas. He averaged 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 19.4 minutes, and he shot a team-leading 57.6 percent (second in C-USA).

MUST STEP UP

Delaney. If he's healthy, and these days guys come back from ACLs better than ever, he and Vaden could form quite the dynamic duo.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

G Terrence Roderick. He's a 6-6 combo guard out of Philadelphia, a haven for heady backcourt stars.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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