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The Mystery of the Missing Respect for UCF Men’s Basketball

Did people setting preseason rankings really sift through evidence? Or did COVID, quarantines, and injuries cloud UCF’s chances?

Johnny Dawkins

Fans of UCF Knights Men’s Basketball are probably wondering how they find their squad picked to finish fifth in the American Athletic Conference. But in fairness, there is an alibi to support this.

Last year, the Knights finished 11-12. And that’s with cancellations for two difficult games due to COVID on the schedule in Oklahoma and conference opponent SMU. So if Temple as the remaining canceled contest was a win, that’s potentially a 12-14 record for the year.

Combine that with the fact that UCF is returning their starting five including guard Brandon Mahan who pulled back from entering the transfer portal and a formidable out-of-conference schedule featuring Michigan and Oklahoma. All of a sudden the “lack of respect” seems like a slam dunk case.

But a good detective would wonder why Mahan would return after entering the transfer portal if bringing back the starting five implied a continuance of mediocrity.

However, last Thursday at UCF Hoops Media Day, head coach Johnny Dawkins provided a lead to another possibility when he cited stability as something that was different for the program between this year and last year. A potential case-cracker in the mystery of the misplaced respect.

“The COVID year was very difficult, “ said Dawkins. “The season got ended too soon for us to figure out how good we could be. Last season, we had four different stoppages or somewhere around there where we had to shut our program down or shut players down and you’re practicing with five guys for a week, and then two days later you’re practicing with the rest of your team but you play a game right after that. That’s very challenging.”

Coach mentioning a shortage of players in practice is a factor compounded by the fact that UCF has only three players that started 15 games or more last season in guard Darin Green, Mahan, and forward C.J. Walker. Over and above that, there were only three players that appeared in all 23 games. Those were Green, guard Dre Fuller, and forward Sean Mobley.

With all that unpredictability, one could see why Dawkins would mention inconsistency in the lineup as an issue. UCF also added a transfer in center Cheikh Mbacke Diong being added as a stabilizing force. Despite being a newcomer, he was elected a captain in the offseason season to prove that he has fit right in. Is it possible that this team is unfairly not getting respect? When one hears from forward Isiah Adams about how close this team has become in preseason workouts one has to wonder.

Perhaps all this time together has helped this UCF crew to play a faster breed of basketball. Adams himself has stated that #UCFast isn’t just a frame of mind for the football team.

“We’re a very tough and scrappy team,” said Adams. “We’re picking up 94 feet pressing full court. We’re just playing fast. We’re playing a lot faster than we did last year and I feel like that’s going to be our identity this year.”

So when you put all these clues together, it doesn’t take a gumshoe to figure out why coach Dawkins and his players believe they can make it to the NCAA Tournament this year regardless of where they were picked to finish in the preseason rankings.