By: Travis Kilpatrick
If you listen to the No Scrubs Allowed podcast on a regular basis, you will remember Producer Seal mentioning that I needed to start a “Below the Rim” segment. You may have even wondered if I had ignored it or forgotten about it. The most likely outcome is that you’ve completely forgotten by now that the idea was ever suggested in the first place. Well we’ve finally made it to the time when “Below the Rim” gets started, and nothing would be more fitting than making the first ever post be a homer post. Because of that, we’re going to write about… You guessed it… The UCF Knights!
As mentioned in my last post, “State of UCF Men’s Basketball”, the Knights were picked in the preseason to win the American Athletic Conference (AAC). After the non-conference games, everyone knew that the AAC would be a very tough conference to win with five of the twelve teams heading into conference play with two or less losses led by the Houston Cougars, who ran through the non-conference slate without a single blemish. We are now over a quarter of the way through the conference games. Let’s take a look at how the AAC race is going.
Standings (Conference record in parenthesis):
- #17 Houston Cougars (5-1)
- Cincinnati Bearcats (5-1)
- Temple Owls (4-1)
- Memphis Tigers (4-1)
- UCF Knights (4-1)
- SMU Mustangs (3-3)
- USF Bulls (3-4)
- Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-4)
- UConn Huskies (2-4)
- ECU Pirates (1-4)
- Wichita State Shockers (1-5)
- Tulane Green Wave (0-5)
UCF blew a chance at starting a relatively easy early conference stretch undefeated when they lost to Wichita State on the road. The Knights could not find a way to stop the Shockers at any point in the game as the second highest scorer in the conference, Markis McDuffie, racked up 23 points (18 in the second half) to upset the Knights. With the toughest games still ahead, the Knights can’t afford to let another “easy” win slip away from them. There are three games remaining before we host the nationally ranked Houston Cougars at CFE Arena, and we need to head in to that game at 7-1 in the conference. The combined conference record of our next three opponents is 6-10 although heading to Memphis is never easy.
As for the players on our team, everyone has been living up to their potential so far with guys like Terrell Allen even exceeding expectations (Allen is 5th in the AAC at 4.4 assists per game). The big three of B.J. Taylor (17.1), Aubrey Dawkins (16.0), and Tacko Fall (10.3) are all averaging at least double digits. Fall is also adding 7.0 rebounds and a conference leading 2.9 blocks a game. Our offense has been pretty good so far this season to compliment our stellar defense, and Aubrey Dawkins appears to be taking another step in conference play.
As I look ahead to the games remaining, there is one team that scares me outside of the major players in Houston and Cincinnati. That team, much to the dismay of our fans, is the USF Bulls. Yes, their record is 3-4 right now, but their 4 losses are AT Tulsa by 3, AT Temple by 2, AT Cincinnati by 8, and against #17 Houston by 9. The last three of those games were back to back to back. Only the Tulsa loss could even be considered a “bad loss” and all of them were by single digits. On top of all that, USF, not Houston, Cincy, or even UCF, boasts what I believe to be the best all around backcourt in the conference. Let’s take a look at their two starting guards:
- Sophomore, David Collins – 14.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.6 SPG (2nd in AAC)
- Junior, LaQuincy Rideau – 14.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 5.6 APG (1st in AAC), 3.2 SPG (1st in AAC, 2nd in NCAA)
If you’re looking at those stats and can’t figure out why I’m concerned then let me break it down a little further. While B.J. Taylor outscores each of these guys, the combined starting backcourt scoring is advantage USF (29.1-25.0). Both guards are better rebounding guards than our guards despite USF having the AAC’s leading rebounder in Alexis Yetna. As you can see from the stats, Rideau leads the conference in assists, and their backcourt is #1 and #2 in steals (With Rideau being 2nd in the entire nation). Oh… and did I mention they’re our rivals and rivalry games are always tough?
UCF has a good chance at topping the American Athletic Conference this year, but they will have to continue to bring their A-game every night!
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