I'm not gonna act like this is some long-awaited matchup. Sure, I wanted to play UCF in football this past year, but that'll come in time. Plus, the Central Florida men's basketball team (9-7) shouldn't get many excited.
The Knights have feasted on dismal competition: 4 wins against teams with RPI's of 300+. And they're 1-4 in AAC play - the lone win coming against Temple. Just when I thought we were finished previewing the dregs of college basketball...
- Game: Thursday, January 23, 2014; 9:00pm EST
- Location: Fifth Third Arena/Shoemaker Center; Cincinnati, OH
- TV/Radio: CBSSN (you guessed it - Johansen/Wolf); 700 WLW
I don't mean to be negative, but Cincinnati's off to their best start under Mick Cronin (17-2), and they're ranked 15/16 in the polls. Remember that scene in Tommy Boy where he's sitting motionless in a sailboat? That's exactly how much momentum the Bearcats will have if they lose to UCF at home, and the Mick-bashers will be out in full force.
The Knights have four guys who average double digit points on the year, but only 2 of them have carried that average into conference play: Isaiah Sykes (#03) at 18.8 in AAC play & Eugene McCrory (#05) with 10.4.
Sykes is a 6'6" guard who's averaging over 50% from the floor on the year while also bringing down over 6 boards a game. In fact, UCF as a whole is a great rebounding team; they have 3 guys averaging right around 6 boards a game. As a team, they're tied for the lead in offensive rebounds per game (with Cincinnati) and they're second in defensive rebounds per game.
And with Lawrence still out, I think the Bearcats have very real rebounding concerns.
The other guy I mentioned, Eugene McCrory, is a curious one because he's been inserted in the starting lineup the last 4 games. He's a 6'8" forward who actually won the JUCO national title last year - and you can see him start to gel now at the next level. The Bearcats will have to keep an eye on him this Thursday.
What the 'Cats have to do to win:
- Put 'em on the line: Well, don't go out of your way to foul them, JJ, but UCF is the worst free throw shooting team in the AAC (60%). Easy buckets need not happen.
- Own the paint: The Knights are also dead last in the conference when it comes to blocked shots. Work the ball inside with Jumping Jack and watch him hit cutting guards all day.
- Turn 'em over: Notice I didn't say the Bearcats had to outrebound UCF. They don't - as long as the turnover margin is somewhere near +4 in favor of Cincinnati.
My prediction: While UCF's rebounding prowess scares me a bit, no one in their right mind can predict an upset here. Statistically, the Knights have put up a decent amount of points, but that's dropped off in AAC. And that'll continue on Thursday: Bearcats win 67-56