The UCF Knights pretty much got it handed to them by the South Florida Bulls on Saturday, 64-48, for their third straight loss, and their first loss to South Florida in Men’s Basketball in the last ten games.
UCF is now 11-10 overall and tied for dead last in The American with Tulane at 2-7. Johnny Dawkins even said he thought it was the season’s low point.
I am not here to tell you it’s going to be alright, at least not for this year. But, as is usually my prerogative, I am here to tell you that panicking and asking “HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING?!?” is not the answer.
We knew this would happen. There’s only one way to go from here, and it’s not as far away as you think. But first, let’s establish some facts:
UCF was picked 9th in the preseason in The American.
Turns out UCF is almost exactly where everyone thought they would be when the season started. Don’t let the 9-2 start fool you, because that was against teams that were all no higher than 103rd in the NET, and six of them were against teams ranked 197th or worse as of this post.
Good as we’ve seen them and the newcomers like Dazon Ingram be at times, this is basically an expansion team, and it’s impossible for a team that had to be cobbled together like this to compete in one of the best conferences in the country. This was going to be a rebuilding year after all of the graduations and transfers, and this is exactly what a rebuilding year looks like.
UCF lost 80% of its scoring from last season.
Only Collin Smith, Frank Bertz and Ceasar DeJesus returned, and they accounted for a grand total of 19.3% of the scoring, 19.6% of the rebounding, and 21.6% of the total minutes from last year’s team.
This has manifested itself profoundly when you look at the numbers for this year. As Eric Lopez pointed out on our podcast, UCF is 9-3 when they score 70 or more points, but 2-6 when held to 69 or less. In addition, they’re just 5-4 in games decided by five points or less.
In close games, you need veterans to step up, show confidence, and get points when you need them, be they at the line or elsewhere. the closest thing UCF has to that is Collin Smith, and he’s a redshirt junior.
Three-point shooting has not been good.
Teams that are struggling can usually keep themselves in games with good three-point shooting. But even that has abandoned UCF this season.
The Knights are next to last in The American and 317th in the nation out of 350 teams in three-point percentage at 30.1%. Only two Knights are shooting better than 35% from the arc on at least 35 shots: Caesar DeJesus (15/39, 38.5%) and Darin Green Jr. (38/107, 35.5%). Matt Milon is shooting 30.8% from outside (24/78), and that’s 10 percentage points below his career-worst coming into this season.
Last year, four Knights were above 35% on 60 or more attempts, and Terrell Allen and Aubrey Dawkins were both over 40%.
When you’re down, you need threes to get back in it. So far, they haven’t been falling for UCF. You die by the three sometimes.
Now there are some things that we can look forward to here as the Knights wrap the season:
80% of the scoring load should return for next season.
Barring transfers, UCF should only lose Frank Bertz, Dazon Ingram and Matt Milon, the latter two of which are both redshirt seniors who transferred in as grad students. As of this post, UCF should return 80% of its scoring load, 72.5% of its rebounding (Ingram leads the team with 7.4 boards per game) and 75.4% of the total minutes played.
Couple that with a good recruiting class and next year should be better from an experience standpoint.
The schedule is somewhat more favorable the rest of the way.
We’re exactly halfway through the conference season. UCF’s first nine conference opponents’ average NET ranking is 84.2.
For the upcoming nine, the average NET ranking is 109.8. This includes two games against ECU (NET #227) and one more against Tulane (#173). There are also home games against teams they played on the road in the first half of the conference slate, including Wichita State and Southern Methodist. Five of the last nine are at home, compared to just four of the first nine.
So there are some opportunities for some home cooking in the final nine games.
UCF has stayed pretty healthy so far.
Of the top nine players in the rotation, eight of them have played in all 21 games so far. The only who who hasn’t, Dre Fuller, is back from his time away due to injury. In addition, we will likely see more of Ibrahim Famouke Doumbia and Tony Johnson Jr. in the coming weeks as the roster continues to develop.
So if the Knights continue their good injury luck, the kinks that are taking all season to work out may indeed get worked out to some degree in the latter part of the schedule, in time to perhaps cause some havoc in the conference tournament.
Losses suck, but they’re part of rebuilding.
Think back to 2016, when UCF Football had to rebuild under Scott Frost. They finished 6-7 and lost a bowl game in Orlando to Arkansas State. The losses were infuriating, but they got UCF to where it is now.
Now imagine if Scott Frost had to replace 80% of his roster in the process.
Johnny Dawkins has an even more difficult task ahead of him, and this is the first step in that. It’s not that he has to convince kids to come here - he’s already doing that. He’s now in the process of figuring out what he has and will have for the next three years. That is a painful process at times.
I don’t know what UCF’s final record will be, and it probably won’t be pretty, but we’re gong to learn a lot from these last ten or so games, plus the conference tournament. Things can turn around. The shooting can get better. Young guys can emerge. And by the end of it, hopefully we’ll have more things to celebrate in advance of 2020-2021.