Mid-Major Betting Report: Breaking Down UAB, North Texas & Florida Atlantic
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan Walker (UAB)
In this edition of the Mid-Major Report, I wanted to look at one conference specifically — America’s conference, one of the most well known and competitive mid-major conferences: Conference USA.
The Conference USA regular season championship has been won by a five different teams over the last four years, with two teams splitting the championship in each of the last two years.
A different team has won the conference tournament in each of the last five years. None of those teams have won it more than once during that stretch of time.
We came into this season with what most thought was a pretty good understanding of who would be the best in the league.
UAB and Jordan “Jelly” Walker were picked by nine of the 11 head coaches to finish first in the league.
WKU and North Texas each grabbed one of the remaining first-place votes.
Now with each team having played 5-to-6 conference games, some things are going as expected. But there’s one team that’s shining above all else that many didn’t expect.
The Blazers came into the season as the favorite, and through their first 14 games, that seemed to be deserved.
UAB finished non-conference play at 9-2 and opened up C-USA competition 3-0. However, those wins came against Charlotte, UTSA and UTEP (in double OT).
Those three teams have combined to be just 5-11 in conference play so far.
UAB has since lost three in a row for the first time since December of 2019 by dropping games at FAU and FIU before losing at home to WKU.
So, what has changed for the Blazers?
It’s no secret that their poor defense is a problem. The Blazers have allowed teams to average 77.7 points per game in conference so far. They rank seventh in defensive efficiency and are eighth in offensive rebound percentage allowed.
UAB has defended well around the rim, but is getting cooked consistently from beyond the arc.
Photo by CBB Analytics
Yes, the Blazers’ offense has been elite, but it doesn’t matter much if they’re giving up 9+ 3-pointers per game. That’s something they’ve done in six of their last eight games.
If the Blazers don’t find ways to improve their defense, I’m not sure how this team can win the regular season title, much less earn a bid to the Big Dance.
The Mean Green are the exact opposite of the Blazers, but their problems are very similar.
While UAB has an impressive offense and lacks defense, the Mean Green have a top-50 defense and rank outside the top 300 in a number of offensive metrics.
What separates North Texas the most is that it has suffered from its shortcomings much less this season. The Mean Green are 14-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play.
This is due largely to the fact that North Texas controls the pace of play and even if its opponent is an elite scoring team, limiting their time of possession plays a major factor.
No team in the country plays at a slower pace than the Mean Green, ranking 363rd in Adjusted Tempo.
However, their offense has costed them games that have mattered most — for example, one against conference leader Florida Atlantic and some of their toughest opponents like Saint Mary’s.
If they can’t improve on this, it will surely cost them come conference tournament time.
The Owls were picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason. Not only are they currently unbeaten in league play they’ve already beaten the two teams expected to finish first and second.
FAU currently holds the second-longest active win streak in the nation. It also ranks inside the top 76 when it comes to both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Owls are the only team in Conference USA currently ranked that highly in both.
So, what can stop them? What are the Owls’ issues?
First and foremost is that they may rely too heavily on 3-point shooting — 38.6% of the Owls’ scoring comes as a result of 3-pointers. Something to note is that they have yet to play the best team in C-USA when it comes to defending 3s (UTEP).
On the defensive side of the ball, they’ve struggled defending both the mid-range and above-the-break 3s.
The Owls have allowed opposing teams to hit 41.7% from mid-range. When it comes to above-the-break 3s, they have held teams to 31.7% on the season. But in conference play, they’re allowing 42.2%.
The Owls rarely give up turnovers and don’t foul much, ranking inside the top 100 when it comes to both. But they aren’t forcing turnovers or drawing fouls at an impressive rate, either.
Are the Owls going to go undefeated the rest of the season? It’s doubtful, but they’re the most balanced team, and I think they stand the best chance of currently winning the conference and the conference tournament.
Regardless of where this team ends up, I think the Owls are among the top three in C-USA and will be a threat in the postseason, whether that means the NCAA tournament or the NIT.