Men’s Basketball Preview: Owls Travel to Visit Top Two Teams in Conference USA in Middle Tennessee and UAB

FAU will attempt to give both teams their second home loss of the season


Head coach Michael Curry shares his plan of attack to FAU players during the Owls’ 78-66 loss to Old Dominion on Jan. 28. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

Chris Libreros, Contributing Writer

Men’s basketball is headed back on the road this week to take on the second-place Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Thursday, followed by a meeting with the first place University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers on Saturday.

The Owls (6-16, 4-15 C-USA) are coming off Saturday’s tightly contested home win over the Charlotte 49ers. The 49ers nearly overcame a 17-point deficit in the second half after cutting the Owls’ lead to four, late in the game before junior Adonis Filler converted on six free throws in the final minute of regulation to propel the Owls to a 82-77 victory.

Here’s what you need to know for both upcoming matchups:

Middle Tennessee, Thursday Feb. 4

Similar to the Owls, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (15-6, 7-2 C-USA) are coming off a narrow escape at Western Kentucky. The Raiders blew a 19-point second half lead to the Hilltoppers before trading baskets in a 66-64 thriller victory, behind senior forward Darnell Harris, who scored the Raiders’ final 10 points

Thursday’s player to watch is Middle Tennessee’s senior forward Perrin Buford. Buford is currently ranked fifth in blocks in Conference USA, averaging 1.2 per game. Buford’s rim protection will play a major role for the Raiders’ defense, especially late in a close game.

The key individual matchup for Thursday’s contest will be between FAU center Ronald Delph and Middle Tennessee forward Reggie Upshaw. Both players are key contributors on both ends of the floor, yet it’s their battle for boards that will ultimately make the biggest impact in this game, with both players leading their respective teams in rebounds per game.

Thursday’s matchup may come down between FAU’s keen ability to take care of the ball — fifth in Conference USA — versus one of the better scoring defenses in the conference — fifth in Conference USA — in Middle Tennessee.

The X-factor for this game is FAU’s freshman Jeantal Cylla. Cylla has played exceptionally well on the road of late.

Over the last ten outings, Cylla has averaged 16 points per game in the five games on the road as opposed to him averaging 8.4 points per game in the five games played at home respectively.

UAB Blazers, Saturday Feb. 6

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (18-4, 8-1 C- USA) are coming off their 81-78 road victory over Marshall that gave them sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the conference.

The Blazers’ great shooting, converting at a conference best .482 field goal percentage on the season, has led to much of their success. This can be directly attributed to their great ball movement, leading the conference with an average of 18.2 assists a game.

Their efficient offensive attack is led by their floor general, sophomore guard Nick Norton. Norton is currently tied for second in the conference with 5.5 assists per game, directing traffic for a team with three players averaging double figures in scoring.


Road wins at the collegiate level are something that should not be taken for granted, something the Owls can attest to with their 2-10 record on the road this season.

Unfortunately if the Owls are looking for wins on the road, they’d be hard pressed to find them in these next two games against the top two teams in the conference. In a best case scenario, the Owls’ best chance of splitting this road trip is with an upset win at Middle Tennessee.

However with these two teams being as dominant as they are on the glass — the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Middle Tennessee both placing in the top five for rebounding — they give themselves a significant advantage in a phase of the game FAU has struggled in, currently ranked last in the conference.

In the end, the Owls come up just short of the Blue Raiders: FAU 69, Middle Tennessee 74.

There is also a good possibility that by the time FAU meets with the Blazers in Birmingham this Saturday, the Blazers will be in the midst of an 11-game home winning streak since their last home loss in November.

With all cylinders seemingly working at maximum efficiency at home, the Blazers continue to protect their home floor with a solid win over the FAU Owls: FAU 68, University of Alabama at Birmingham 82.

Christopher Libreros is a contributing writer for the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter