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UCF’s Big 12 Questions: What Are Men’s Basketball’s Expectations in the Big 12?

We answer the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in 2023-24 and beyond

Photo: Derek Warden

The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next 12 days, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.

Our next question focuses on the team that had the most success in The American:

3. What should the UCF Men’s Basketball team’s yearly expectations be in the Big 12?

Jeff: This is tough because we don’t yet know what the level of investment will be in the program from the donors and fan base. We’ve gone on quite a bit over the years here about how UCF was a low investor in basketball compared to The American. Now they’re going into arguably the best basketball conference ever conceived, especially once Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado join the fray.

Now, merely existing in the conference will aid UCF’s recruiting and postseason chances. But the equation remains the same: You can only expect maximum output from minimum output so much.

My hope is that UCF will be scoring an at-large bid to the NCAAs or at least a shoo-in NIT bid every year. But beyond that, it will require more resources to enable UCF to recruit on a level consummate with being a yearly NCAA Tournament entrant.

Bryson: Given the amount of money UCF has invested into basketball at this point and the jump in talent between The American and the Big 12, I am not going to expect a single-digit loss season. I think the NIT seems like a much more reasonable expectation to have year in and year out.

UCF only needs to finish in about the top half of the conference to have a shot at a postseason bid. Last season, for instance, Oklahoma State finished 7th in the Big 12 (18-15, 8-10 Big 12) and was selected to the NIT.

There are 358 total NCAA D1 Men’s Basketball programs. 68 teams will have a chance to play for an NCAA Tournament title and 32 are selected for the NIT, which means that only about 30 percent of all NCAA D1 Men’s Basketball programs make some form of postseason tournament. Being in the top third of programs in the nation is not a bad way to finish a season, especially given the resources UCF is working with. So, as long as the Knights can make it to the postseason, they’ve met expectations.

And if they don’t meet expectations, then UCF has gotten out of the program what they put into it.

Derek: At a minimum, UCF should be in a postseason tournament every year. More often than not, that will be the NIT, but every couple of years an NCAA tourney run should be expected, now that we are no longer in a 1-to-2-bid league. Even this year, I think the team should make it to NIT.

Andrew: Expect a lot of losing. This transition isn’t too dissimilar to when South Florida went from Conference USA to the Big East. Despite what fans think, the UCF job is not all that attractive.

The school under-invested in the program during the AAC days which means they currently do not invest nearly enough into the program to give it the tools to be competitive in the Big 12. It was a welcome surprise that the program delivered better results where their relative financial position was within the AAC, but that’s not going to fly anymore. The Big 12 is the toughest basketball conference in the nation, so it’s going to take a while to build up a program that can win.

Anyone who comes to Orlando is going to come knowing it’s going to be rough and not everyone has the stomach for that. This isn’t like taking over a bad team in a smaller conference, which offers an easier path to winning. In those cases, you’re competing with a donkey against other donkeys. Now, it’s a donkey versus a bunch of thoroughbreds. Good luck.