It’s fitting that the Cincinnati Bearcats have a game on Feb. 6 since they were just elevated to the No. 6 ranking in the most recent AP poll. That game is against the UCF Knights, which makes for a rematch of a defensive rock fight from earlier this season. This time, the Bearcats (21-2, 10-0 AAC) get to host the affair at BB&T Arena and put a 14-game overall win streak and 37-game home win streak on the line.
Who are the UCF Knights?
Injuries have really mucked up what could have been a breakout year for this program. For much of the campaign, the team had to play without top scorer B.J. Taylor and, right after the junior guard came back, defensively-gifted big man Tacko Fall was lost for the season. Fall’s absence is perhaps even more difficult to deal with, since UCF gets it in on defense, where Fall excels. With a defensive rating of 85.6, Fall controlled the paint for a team that is still ranked No. 7 in the country in adjusted defense.
The Knights have still defended OK without Fall, but their success on the court overall has dipped. A 2-2 record in the last four games has them at 14-8 overall and 5-5 in American Athletic Conference action. With UC dominating at the top, the Knights are in the midst of a fight for a favorable seed in the AAC tourney, rubbing shoulders with Tulsa, SMU, Memphis and Temple.
In their most recent contest, the Knights nearly notched what would have been a critical win for their NCAA Tournament resume. However, a 69-65 loss to Houston will go down as just another could-have-been. A.J. Davis tallied 13 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the contest, but shot just 28.6 (4-of-14) from the field. Taylor added 15 points which just happens to be his scoring average for the season. Davis will be a force on the glass and is easily the best interior contributor for UCF now, averaging 10.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
However, the Knights run on a razor thin margin for error, as despite allowing just 60.6 points per game, lacking many impact offensive threats beyond Taylor and Davis has limited their offensive output. They are netting just 63.9 points per game while ranking 277th in adjusted offense.
The Day the Offense Died
When these teams met up in Orlando on Jan. 16, there should have been a parental warning attached because the game was brutal. As two of the best defensive teams in the country clashed, points were hard to come by. UC trailed 19-15 at halftime but eventually found some footing to capture a 49-38 victory.
The game was played at a pretty slow pace, which was compounded by effective field goal percentages below 40 for each team. UC won the game by 11 points despite posting an offensive rating of 81.7 because it just so thoroughly roughed up the Knights. Taylor returned for this game but only had six points, which was just one short of the team-high mark from Terrell Allen and Fall.
Gary Clark was the only player on either team that really seemed to have a handle on how to play offense, as he scored 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting to go with 15 rebounds.
Kyle Washington’s Hot Streak
As the Bearcats continue to pile up wins in all manner of ways, Kyle Washington has suddenly flipped a switch and gotten to a new level. With 13 points and 11 rebounds in a rather yawn-inducing win over UConn this past Saturday, he had yet another strong game. In the last four games, Washington has averaged 13.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting .510/.500/.750.
Washington needed to play as well as he did against UConn because Clark had an uncharacteristically pedestrian game. With only three field goal attempts, Clark had only five points and six rebounds. If both Washington and Clark can be hitting on all cylinders at once, the Bearcats will be tougher to beat than they already are, if that’s even possible.
With Fall not there to influence the play down low, Washington and Clark are going to eat. That will be bad news for the Knights who desperately need to control the interior for a chance to slow UC’s offense. Otherwise you can expect more open looks for Jacob Evans and company as the Knights scramble to protect the interior.
No matter how you slice it, its difficult to see how the Bearcats can lose this one. Even when UCF gave them a full-strength haymaker for 20 minutes, the Bearcats rolled out a 34-point second half and won by double digits. With even more working for them this time, the Bearcats are destined for that 11th conference win.
Cincinnati 66 UCF 50