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UAB men’s basketball moves onto the big stage on Friday in an early season game that will begin to shape how the Blazers progress through non-conference play.

The Blazers, who have earned plenty of national praise heading into the season, take on two-time defending regular season MAC champions Toledo in the Barstool Sports Invitational at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Tip-off for the game is 4:10 p.m. CT and it will be telecast on Barstool TV.

For the Blazers, it is a chance to measure themselves against a Toledo team that is 113-51 since the start of the 2017-18 season and won 48 games over the past two seasons, including 26 a year ago. UAB is 49-15 in Andy Kennedy’s first two seasons as the program’s head coach. 

Both teams enter the game receiving votes in both major polls.

“Jelly Walker is one of the best point guards in the country,” said Toledo head coach Todd Kowalczyk. “They’re a heckuva team. They’re extremely well-coached, Andy Kennedy is a great coach. They’re picked ahead of us in the major polls and rightfully so, they’re very talented.”

Toledo’s only significant roster loss from last season was guard Ryan Rollins, who averaged 19 points per game and was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. Guard RayJ Dennis, who Kowalczyk calls the “most underrated player in the country,” had 23 points and five assists in 26 minutes during an 85-70 season-opening win over Valparaiso. He was 10-of-15 from the field and 2-of-4 on 3-pointers.

Dennis will often be matched up against Walker, who efficiently scored 38 points in a season-opening 111-70 win over Alabama State.

The frontcourt battle could be intriguing. Toledo forwards JT Shumate (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) and Setric Millner (6-foot-7, 205 pounds) were each selected to the preseason All-MAC team. Both averaged 15 points and six rebounds a year ago. Perhaps the most overlooked area of UAB’s team is a frontcourt that is led by returning starters Trey Jemison (6-foot-11, 260 pounds) and KJ Buffen (6-foot-8, 230 pounds). Newcomers Ty Brewer (6-foot-7, 200 pounds) and Javian Davis (6-9, 265) give the Blazers depth up front and could start at times.

“People are going to talk about our guards,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, Jelly is the reigning [Conference USA] player of the year, bringing in a guy like LeDarrius Brewer, bringing in a guy like Eric Gaines. Those guys get a lot of the headlines. But, I really think the frontcourt and the development of our depth along the frontcourt is going to be a huge key for us.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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