The University of Central Florida (16-4, 6-2 AAC) has been solid this season, but conference play is about to get tough for them — and it all starts tonight against 12th-ranked Houston (21-1, 8-1 AAC) at CFE Arena.
After tonight, seven out of the last nine games for UCF comes against the top teams of the American Athletic Conference — including another matchup against the Cougars, as well as a game against conference co-leader Cincinnati.
For the Cougars, they bring a nearly undefeated 21-1 record into the game, and on top of that, they’re currently on a six-game winning streak. Houston is currently tied for the lead in the AAC with an 8-1 conference record.
The Cougars haven’t played in exactly a week. Last Thursday, Houston would take a 73-66 victory over Temple — their only loss of the season came against the Owls in Philadelphia.
For the Knights, they’ve won three out of their past four games, but the competition that they’ve faced hasn’t been the best. They have yet to play the Cougars, Bearcats and still haven’t played the University of South Florida either — a top-five team in the AAC. Also remaining on the schedule for UCF is top-five teams Memphis and Temple.
Needless to say, tonight’s game against Houston is massively important for the Knights — a contest that will be decided in both the defensive and backcourt battles.
Running things in UCF’s backcourt is senior R.J. Taylor and junior Aubrey Dawkins. They’ll be facing off against another senior-junior combo in the Cougars’ Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks.
All four place in the top 15 in AAC scoring, with UCF having the top two out of the four:
- B.J. Taylor, UCF: 16.9 PPG (8th)
- Aubrey Dawkins, UCF: 15.1 PPG (11th)
- Corey Davis Jr., HOU: 15.0 PPG (12th)
- Armoni Brooks, HOU: 14.3 PPG (15th)
The Knights also have another advantage going for them: Tacko Fall.
The senior has been an absolute force this season with his incredible 7-foot-6 height. Fall is currently ranked eighth in the nation with his 2.8 blocks-per-game average, and he’s also sitting at fifth in the AAC with 7.1 rebounds-per-game. He’s also solid in scoring at 9.8 points-per-game.
Here’s the problem for UCF though: Houston comes into the game tonight with the sixth best defense in the country with a tally of 60.5 PPG. The Cougars also place second in both allowed field goal percentage and three-point defense. From the field, they only allow the opposition to hit 36.3% of their shots, while they only allow 26.2% from behind the arc.
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson put it all into perspective.
“We win with defense,” Sampson said to reporters. “The thing we hang our hat on — and good teams have something they can hang their hat on — is the way we defend and rebound.”
But with all that being said, it’s not to say that the Knights don’t have a great defense themselves. In scoring defense, they place 25th in the nation only allowing 63.9 PPG into their net, and they’re also 14th in field-goal percentage defense at 39.3%.
In their last game against Connecticut, they held the Huskies to just 22 points in the first half.
Former Dukie and current head coach of UCF, Johnny Dawkins, was also very impressed with the first-half defense from his Knights.
“I thought the first-half defense was some of the best first-half defense that we’ve played all year,” Dawkins told reporters after the win over UConn. “To hold them to 22 says a lot about our guys.”
Another bright spot for Central Florida is their ball handling. They rank 14th in the country with just 233 turnovers on their resume this season.
All-time against ranked opponents, the Knights are 5-44. However, two of those wins have come in the Johnny Dawkins era the past two seasons.
Tip-off between Houston and UCF is scheduled for 7:00 PM ET and will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN). The Cougars enter tonight as the -2.5-point favorite.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHECK THE NUMBERS
The Cougars come in with three out of the four main line statistical categories, and they’ll need it being on the road. On the offensive side of things, Houston has a +2 edge with an average of 75.5 PPG, however, in field goal percentage, that’s where they see their only negative sitting at -3 at 46.8 FG%. On the rebounding end, it goes right back into the direction of Houston: +4 at 41.7 RPG. In defensive play, the Cougars hold that edge as well with an elite 60.5 PA — they have a +3 advantage in that department.
For the Knights, they better feel lucky that the game is in Orlando tonight because they hold one out of the four main statistical categories on paper. Starting off offensively, UCF is sitting at -2 with a scoring average of 73.6 PPG, though the Knights do pull a positive in field goal percentage — they’re +3 at 46.8 FG%. On the rebounding end, UCF is back in the negative at 37.2 RPG — that’s -4. On the defensive end, it’s another number in the red at -3, but the Knights’ defense has been pretty elite at 63.9 PA.
Even though Houston holds three out of the four statistical categories (points-per-game, field goal percentage, points against, rebounds-per-game), UCF counters them with similar fire-power and homecourt advantage. The odds-makers agree: Houston is only a -2.5-point favorite coming into tonight. Needless to say, expect a pure battle.
The scoring and shooting percentage from both team’s backcourt is very similar when you check out the numbers on paper, and that will be a major factor in who will score the most points tonight. Another key factor is the defensive play: Both numbers, again, are very similar, with Houston having a narrow +3 advantage. (Houston: 60.5 PA // UCF: 63.9 PA) When you go by the numbers, you have to place Houston on tremendous upset alert tonight.
With Houston having the slight leverage in star-power, on offense and defense, you have to give the edge to the No. 12 team in the nation tonight — despite being on the road. But it’ll be a thoroughbred dog-fight, definitely bet on that. Take the Cougars for the win in a close on due to the slight advantages just mentioned, but don’t take them to cover the -2.5 spread — the game will be way too tight, and UCF will have Houston under tremendous upset alert. Go ahead and take the over in the O/U at 132 — I have 136 total points being scored. Both offenses are potent, so some points should be scored tonight, but not their usual 70 marks due to great defenses that both teams have.