Each week, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming events in UCF Knights sports. It’s a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.
In our first basketball roundtable of the season, Jeff Sharon, Derek Warden, Jeremy Brener, and Brian Murphy take their seats at the roundtable to answer questions about tomorrow’s contest against the 12th-ranked Houston Cougars.
1. What has been the most surprising aspect of the team so far this season?
Jeff Sharon: This is weird, but I think this team has not played up to its potential, especially in the rebounding department (as I’ve mentioned before). So the fact that they’re 16-4 and second in the league at 6-2 is pretty remarkable.
Derek Warden: Terrell Allen. He has been a steady hand at the 1, able to spell BJ from having to both run the point and be the primary scorer. Additionally, he’s shooting near 50% from beyond the arc, is 3rd in the conference and 16th in the nation in assists per game, at 3.23. He’s been a solid defender, too.
Jeremy Brener: The most surprising aspect we have seen thus far has come in the form of Collin Smith and Terrell Allen, who have both become necessary pieces for this team. They have stepped into their roles beautifully and it makes this UCF team much deeper and dangerous.
Brian Murphy: Their inability to win consistently on the boards. For this team -- one that has not only a lot of size but also a lot of veterans -- to be in the middle of the AAC pack in rebounding margin and third-to-last in offensive rebounding is kind of astounding. Rebounding is a lot about want and effort. Just look at Houston; the Cougars are an undersized team but can dominate on the glass. That could be a big problem for UCF on Thursday.
2. Who will need to step up the most in order to beat 12th-ranked Houston?
Jeff Sharon: Tacko Fall. This is an undersized Houston team. Yes, they run, but in a matchup of opposing styles where UCF’s job will be to slow them down, he has to take control of the paint, rebound like a man possessed, and cause havoc in the key on both sides.
Derek Warden: If Collin Smith is able to stay out of foul trouble, he will be the x-factor. He is our best low-post scorer when he gets the ball in his hands on the low block (Tacko is good if he can get the ball down low and make one pivot before scoring, but once he is forced to put the ball on the court he becomes a liability, and conference teams have been about adjusting to him after the first few minutes of the game). Smith’s post game can almost be called “old-school” and is not something most teams are used to facing in the era of big men who play outside-in. If he can give Houston something in the post they’re not used to, that could open up 1-on-1’s with Smith and a smaller defender, or if the double comes, a kick-out for an open 3.
Jeremy Brener: The fans. Yes, I said it. I think the Knights feed off of the energy from their home crowd. They tend to jump out to leads in the first half thanks to support from the crowd, but once it dies off at halftime, the opponent creeps up. Luckily for UCF, only one time has an opponent stolen a game at CFE (Florida Atlantic). Several players play better with the crowd behind them. Chad Brown, Aubrey Dawkins and BJ Taylor all fit this mold and I think they will feed off of the crowd’s energy tomorrow night.
Brian Murphy: Tacko Fall and/or Collin Smith. Again, Houston doesn’t have a lot of height. Breaon Brady at 6-foot-8 is Houston’s tallest impact player. Fall and Smith need to get on the block and assert themselves. Both of them need to be physical and determined.
Also, I don’t think this is a game that you can put on the shoulders of B.J. Taylor or Aubrey Dawkins because Houston’s backcourt of Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson is exceptional defensively.
3. What is UCF’s biggest weakness?
Jeff Sharon: Like I’ve said before, free throw shooting and rebounding. The free throw shooting is one thing. But the rebounding is a major problem. I think UCF needs better outside shooting. When Matt Williams was still around, defenses couldn’t leave him to collapse on Tacko, nor could they blanket the perimeter and leave Tacko one-on-one. So far, this team doesn’t have an analog to Matt, so Tacko, Chad Brown and Collin Smith are having to work very hard to just not get beat on the boards. Someone has to step up from outside or this trend will continue.
Derek Warden: Since free throws are the most obvious weakness, i’ll focus on something else: hustle. In games where UCF is not locked in right away, their effort and excitement suffers (except Chad Brown, he’s at 100% at all times). If the team comes out and busts their butts and fights for all 50/50 balls, all they have to do is be true to their offensive and defensive identities in order to beat this Cougars team.
Jeremy Brener: UCF’s biggest weakness is their depth. The starting five + Chad Brown is fine, but I worry with the group after that. Ceasar DeJesus and Dayon Griffin have been inconsistent this season. If we saw more offense from that tandem, this team would be strong enough for a deep March run.
Brian Murphy: Free-throw shooting. UCF is on pace to finish as the worst free-throw shooting team in the AAC for the second consecutive season. Yes, I understand that it would look better if you subtracted Tacko Fall’s outlier percentage of 28.1. But the Knights have never been a good free-throw shooting team under Johnny Dawkins. It’s confounding and can be a fatal flaw come tournament time.
It’s worth noting here that the Cougars are second-best in the AAC from the line, and Davis is shooting 91.9 percent. That’s sixth-best in college basketball.
4. If UCF pulls off the upset, why will they do so?
Jeff Sharon: They have to frustrate Houston and turn this into a slugfest. Houston’s going to try and run UCF out of the gym. So for UCF to win, they have to get second-shot opportunities, get back on defense, and hold Houston to just one shot each trip.
Derek Warden: It’s simple: if UCF matches Houston’s intensity, while playing their trademark defense, we should win by at least 8.
Jeremy Brener: They will do so because CFE will turn into a hostile environment, which will throw Houston off of their game and force them to make difficult shots. The team does not have a forward who plays big minutes, so the big men for UCF will need to step up.
Brian Murphy: Play tight defense and try to shut down Davis and Armoni Brooks from beyond the arc. The Cougars are not a one-dimensional offense, but more than a third of their points come from 3-pointers. They hoist the most 3s of any team in the American, led by these two guards, who are among the conference’s top five in 3-pointers made. Taylor, Dawkins, Terrell Allen, Ceasar DeJesus, etc. ... they all need to be locked in while guarding the perimeter.
5. Is this UCF’s best team in program history?
Jeff Sharon: I’m going to say no. The NIT Final Four team two years ago gets my nod. That team really was loaded, and with Matt Williams canning shots from the Softball Complex all night, that helped the interior players like Tacko in the rebounding and inside scoring department, because teams could not afford to collapse on him. Pick your poison. I wish we did that more now.
Derek Warden: It is by far our best team, talent-wise. Tomorrow’s game will determine how great this team is from a heart and effort standpoint.
Jeremy Brener: If they win this game, I’ll say yes. It’s a toss-up between this team and the 2016-17 team, but this is UCF’s first legit shot to make March Madness as an at-large team, which means people view UCF as one of the top 30 or so teams in the country.
Brian Murphy: Do we really have to ask this question early February? This team has the potential to be UCF’s best, certainly. Right now, you can argue that this is UCF’s most talented roster ever. But without an NCAA Tournament bid, I don’t think it can be in the conversation of actually being the best.