Preview: UAB

The Irish open up NIT play with a 9 p.m. home game tonight against UAB. The Blazers (22-11) are led by veteran group of players and have proven that they can win even when faced with adversity. Tonight's game can be seen on ESPN2.

If Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey needs a way to grab his team's attention before its opening round NIT game with Alabama-Birmingham on Tuesday night, the Blazers' record should do the job.

UAB's 22-11 mark more resembles a seventh-seed in the NCAA Tournament than the No. 7 seed in the NIT that the Blazers are. Despite its impressive record and 48th-ranking in the RPI, the absence of many big victories meant that UAB lost any chance to reach the NCAA Tournament when it lost to Tulsa in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament committee says that it does not look at RPI rankings when determining the field, but it is still one of the best methods of evaluating the chances of a team to get in.

UAB's strength of schedule ranking was a respectable 76th nationally, but the Blazers failed to capture many attention-grabbing victories outside of a 72-71 win over Arizona, who was one of the last teams into the field of 65, on Nov. 18.

By comparison, the Irish had the 43rd toughest schedule in the nation and only had a pair of wins over teams in the NCAA field, although one of them was a 33-point win over the tourney's number one overall seed Louisville. But Notre Dame's 18-14 overall record earned the Irish just the 78th spot in the RPI.

No matter the competition, anytime a team can win 22 of 33 games, that squad is going to learn how to win and believe that it can win. While Notre Dame struggled in the first two months of the New Year, the Blazers put together a run that included nine victories in 10 games in January and February.

And while there are very few wins on their résumé that jump out, a look at the teams the Blazers lost to shows a team that will compete. Of their 11 losses, more than half (6) came against teams headed to the Big Dance and four of those came against either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed (Memphis twice, Louisville and Oklahoma).

The only common opponents for the two teams are Savannah State and the Cardinals. While UAB lost to Louisville by 20 and the Irish split with the Cardinals, the Irish beat Savannah State by 32 and the Blazers defeated Savannah by 26.

UAB head coach Mike Davis is returning to the Hoosier State after six seasons as the first Indiana head coach to follow Bobby Knight. In three seasons at UAB, Davis has compiled a 59-38 record.

Davis has been short-handed for much of the season after losing four players in December. Ed Berrios and Jeremy Mayfield were dismissed for academic reasons while Terrence Roderick and Armon Bassett left the program on their own.

Berrios, who was the team's backup point guard, played the most out of the foursome. Berrios was replaced by Davis' son, Mike Davis Jr., who rejoined the team after sitting out with academic issues.

Despite the addition of the coach's son, the Blazers were left with just nine players and six scholarship athletes for the rest of the season. But UAB has still managed to receive contributions from a number of players despite the short bench.

UAB is averaging 72.6 points while allowing 65.9. Brey has compared the veteran Blazers to some of the guard-driven teams in the Big East like Villanova and Seton Hall.

Senior guard-forward Robert Vaden leads the Blazers with 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Vaden has launched 311 three-pointers on the season (Kyle McAlarney has taken 267) and has connected on 106.

Senior guard Paul Delaney III is scoring 16.0 points and shooting 37.9% from behind the arc while senior forward Lawrence Kinnard is averaging 14.2 points and 9.0 rebounds. Senior guard Channing Toney is contributing 8.9 points and junior forward Howard Crawford is putting in 8.0 points.

The Irish insist that they come into tonight's game ready to play and appreciative of the opportunity the NIT provides, but UAB could come in with a bit of a chip on its shoulder based on its seed.

In order for Notre Dame to finish this season with any positive feeling, it needs to make a serious run at the NIT title and that quest begins tonight. It will be interesting to see if the Irish are indeed motivated by that goal or if they checked out mentally after losing in the Big East Tournament. Top Stories