UCF (14-3, 4-1) fifth-year senior guard B.J. Taylor is a hometown kid in his last year and that finality is not lost on him.
“This is me, Tacko (Fall), Chad’s (Brown) last season as we always say,” Taylor said. “So we’ve got to make the most of it because this is our last shot to make a deep run in conference and into post-season tournaments.”
This is UCF’s best chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in program history. Much of that depends on Taylor, who is averaging 17.1 points per game. He was named the preseason player of the year in the American Athletic Conference and was a dark horse all-American candidate.
So it was no surprise that down the stretch in Saturday’s 64-62 win over Tulsa , the ball found its way into Taylor’s hands.
“We put B.J. on the ball. He’s played on the ball his entire career,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I thought putting him back on it in this game and have him kind of get us organized – use that experience as a fifth-year senior and he delivered.”
Taylor finished the game with 15 points, including the last five.
Now Taylor’s leadership will be put to the test as he has to make sure his team is prepared to go on the road and not have a let-down performance against Tulane, one of the worse teams in the American, on Tuesday. He said that the team needs to be focused and not take the Green Wave lightly.
“We know we control our own destiny and we know it’s on us to make happen what we want to happen,” said Taylor.
The Knights thought they had a chance at an at-large bid last season, but injuries ravaged them all season. UCF’s two all-conference level players, seniors B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall, only played in one game together last season while Aubrey Dawkins missed the entire season altogether. All three are healthy and along with sophomore guard Ceasar Dejesus, senior Dayon Griffin and junior Terrell Allen, they appear to be the best team in the American. Time to see how they play with expectations.
The Bearcats enter the season with quite a bit to replace. Kyle Washington, Jacob Evans and Gary Clark are gone as headcoach Mick Cronin looks to new guys to replace their production. With Cronin’s defensive system it won’t be as hard as it would be at other places. Expect Cronin to turn to juniors Jarron Cumberland and senior Cane Broome to fill in the blanks.
The Cougars are coming off of their best season since the early 90’s. However they have to replace one of the best guards in the country in Rob Gray Jr. The nation was introduced to Gray during the postseason, but everyone in Houston is preparing for life without him. Senior guard Corey Davis Jr returns as one of the best shooters in the country while his backcourt mate Galen Robinson will steady the ship. UMass transfer DeJon Jarreau and freshman Nate Hinton will also add a punch. The Cougars should be in the bubble conversation.
It ended poorly in Storrs for Kevin Ollie, but new head coach Dan Hurley has UConn fans excited for the future. With senior all-conference candidate Jalen Adams returning with junior Chirstian Vital the Huskies will have one of the best starting backcourts in the American. Just how good the depth of their backcourt depends on the health of sophomore Alterique Gilbert. If he’s healthy, Husky fans dreams of the returning to the tournament are not far-fetched.
Like UConn, the Memphis fanbase has been energized by a new coach. However, it’s ramped up by 1,000 in Memphis as Penny Hardaway has returned to lead his alma mater. Hardaway inherits a team that played good basketball at the end of the season. Seniors Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Kareem Brewton and Mike Parks will lead a team that expects to challenge the top of this league. With freshmen Alex Lomax, Antwann Jones, and Tyler Harris, the future is bright for Penny.
SMU is a team that started the season hot before being ravaged by injury. The team managed to remain competitive and never gave up on coach Tim Jankovich. Returning for the Mustangs will be senior guard Jahmal McMurray while the health of senior guard Jarrey Foster will be a concern. Transfer Isiaha Mike and sophomore forward Ethan Chargois will need to provide additional scoring.
Head coach Fran Dunphy is a Philly legend, but he’s entering his last season before handing the reigns over to Aaron McKie. This transitional year will be interesting as the Owls will have plenty talent in the backcourt with junior Quinton Rose and senior Shizz Alston. Those two will give opposing coaches headaches all season as they attempt to give Dunphy the proper sendoff.
Frank Haith continues to do an unremarkable job at Tulsa. It’s not one of the better jobs in the league, but the program is as lukewarm as lukewarm can get right now. For that to change, Haith’s trio of upperclassmen, seniors Sterling Taplin and Daquan Jeffries and junior Martins Igbunu, will have to step up to replace Junior Etou and Corey Henderson.
9. Wichita St
Not since Gregg Marshall took over Wichita St has he had a rebuild like the one he has now. The Shockers have to replace Shaq Morris, Landry Shamet, Austin Reaves and Connor Frankamp. Senior forward Markis McDuffie is the key returner and Shocker fans are still waiting for him to reach his potential. Expect freshmen Morris Udeze and Jamarius Burton to earn minutes right away.
Mike Dunleavy got his Green Wave off to a surprising start last season, but by the time league play started they had already come down to Earth. Melvin Frazier and Cameron Reynolds are gone off of a team that already struggled. So it will be up to juniors Ray Ono Embo, Samir Sehic and senior Jordan Cornish to try to dig the Green Wave out of the depths of the American.
11. East Carolina
Head coach Joe Dooley returns to ECU to try to do something no other coach in ECU history has done and that’s make the Pirates relevant. That won’t be easy, but at least he’ll have junior forward Seth LeDay at his disposal. The backcourt of sophomore Shawn Williams and senior Isaac Fleming will also help.
The Bulls probably won’t be that great, but that’s not indicative of the long-term prospects here. There’s a renovated on-campus arena and a second-year head coach in Brian Gregory with plenty to sell. Not much returns from last season, but there is a young nucleus featuring sophomore guard Davids Collins, freshman guard Xavier Castaneda and freshman center Michael Durr that could be the foundation of something big.
The No. 3 Houston Cougars (25-6) overwhelmed the No. 6 UCF Knights (19-13) 84-56 in the last game of the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals on Friday night.
UCF had been a great defensive team all year, but allowed Houston to shoot 58 percent while forcing only eight turnovers. Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said it was because his team’s familiarity with UCF.
“Because we played, we’re familiar with the teams, there’s certain matchups that we like and we try to go at certain matchups,” he said. “We talked about getting certain players in foul trouble before the game.”
The Cougars were led by junior guard Galen Robinson, Jr.’s 18 points and senior guard Rob Gray’s 17. Junior guard B.J. Taylor scored 20 for the Knights while freshman guard Ceasar Dejesus added 10.
Houston moves on to play No. 2 Wichita St on Saturday. UCF awaits word on a possible NIT bid.
The No. 6 UCF Knights used a late run to pull away from the No. 11 ECU Pirates in their 66-52 win in the first round of the American Athletic Conference Championship.
UCF’s defense stifled ECU for most of the night, but the Pirates were able to cut the Knights lead to 46-45 with 9:36 remaining after a 13-0 run. ECU head coach Michael Perry said he thought his team executed better during that period.
“I thought we were able to get the ball moving and ball reversal,” Perry said. “The ball didn’t stick and we didn’t over-dribble during that period of time.”
The Knights would respond with a 20-7 run to end the game. That run was due to UCF’s calling card; it’s defense.
“Well we needed to get back to the basics,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Usually we fuel what we do defensively and actually [UCF senior forward A.J. Davis] said in the huddle at that timeout and it was great because he was echoing the things that we know we talk about.”
Junior guard B.J. Taylor led the Knights with 17 points while Davis added 14. The Pirates were led by freshman guard Shawn Williams’ 17 points with senior guard B.J. Tyson chipping in 14.
UCF moves on to play No. 3 Houston on Friday night. The loss ends ECU’s season.
This was the most anticipated regular season in UCF basketball history. After making it to the NIT final four, many predicted the Knights may challenge for the school’s first at-large bid ever. However, the injury bug hit the Knights and derailed their plans a bit.
First there was the injury to junior guard Aubrey Dawkins in the preseason and then in the first game of the season; the team’s best returning player, junior guard B.J. Taylor, went down with a foot injury. Taylor is expected to return soon, but the question now is how will the NCAA selection committee evaluate the Knights?
UCF is currently 9-4 after last night’s 56-51 loss at SMU. It was the fifth RPI top-50 opponent UCF has faced without Taylor. They’re 1-4 in those games with the lone win coming at Alabama. They are projected to have a top-65 non-conference strength of schedule nationally and they get another shot at SMU, plus round-robins with Temple, Cincinnati, and Wichita St with another game with Houston at home.
Will the committee punish them for not doing better in the non-conference without Taylor or will it judge them for what they are with Taylor? They’re certainly a different team as Taylor presents a significant scoring option for one of the best defensive teams in the country.
As long as the Knights do as well in the American as expected, some interesting decisions will be made by the committee leading up to Selection Sunday.
Despite losing its head coach, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Andrew Chrabascz off of last year’s Sweet 16 team, Butler finds itself squarely in the discussion for another at-large bid. That’s because it challenged itself with a top-40 schedule and has solid wins over Ohio St and Utah. The Bulldogs are projected to have a top-20 strength of schedule by the time the season’s over. A 9–9 or 10-8 record in the Big East will probably be enough for them to get in.
Some will overreact to San Diego State’s loss at Wyoming last night. I won’t. That’s an in-conference loss to a RPI top-100 team. It’s not a bad loss and, long term, it’s not a damaging loss to their at-large hopes. They’re not in great shape right now, but they shouldn’t be panicking over bracketology at this point either.
Tonight’s Providence-St. John’s game is huge for both teams, but probably moreso for the Red Storm as Chris Mullin tries to make his first NCAA tournament. Right now, they appear to be the better team than the Friars and with road games with Seton Hall and Creighton to follow, losing this one could very well lead to a 0-3 start for St. John’s.
Today we’re going to examine the resumes of several teams on the bubble. Central Florida, Colorado St, Connecticut, Loyola Marymount, Miami(FL), NC State, Northwestern, Seton Hall, St. Joseph’s, Texas, Washington, Xavier
Record: 19-7 (8-4 Conference-USA)
Key Wins: Connecticut, Memphis
Key Losses: Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulsa
Outlook: UCF is just 2-4 against Memphis, Southern Miss, Tulsa and Marshall – the other top teams in Conference USA. Still has a road game at Memphis but will probably need to get to at-least the Conference USA title game to feel good about their chances.
Record: 16-9 (5-5 Mountain West)
Key Wins: Colorado, Denver, Wyoming, San Diego St
Key Losses: TCU, Boise St
Outlook: The Rams still have a road game at San Diego St sandwiched between home games against New Mexico and UNLV so the opportunity to make a jump is there. It’ll be difficult, but if the Rams can go 3-1 in their last four and get to the semi-finals of the Mountain West tournament then that will probably be enough for a bid.
Record: 16-10 (6-8 Big East)
Key Wins: Florida St, Harvard, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Seton Hall
Key Losses: Rutgers, Tennessee
Outlook: The Huskies will have one of the top two or three strength of schedules in the country. Despite the issue that have plagued them, they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. A split in their last four and a visit to the quarters will get them to the Big Dance.
Record: 18-10 (10-4 West Coast)
Key Wins: Saint Louis, BYU, Saint Mary’s
Key Losses: Columbia, North Texas, Morgan St
Outlook: The Lions’ wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Saint Mary’s are better than any wins many of the teams on this list will have. Those losses to Columbia, North Texas and Morgan St give severe pause though. May have to win the West Coast Conference tournament to get in, if they get to final they’ll be seriously considered.
Record: 16-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Massachusetts, Duke
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Miami has just one quality win, but a win in Cameron carries a lot of weight. The Hurricanes have a pretty solid strength of schedule, but are just 1-6 against the top 50. They go to Maryland followed by a home game against Florida St and a road game at NC State. Their margin of error is extremely slim.
Record: 18-9 (7-5 ACC)
Key Wins: Texas, Miami (FL)
Key Losses: Stanford, Georgia Tech
Outlook: NC State had the worst week ever last week. The Wolfpack lost a game it had won at Duke and then lost at home to Florida St where two of it’s legends were kicked out of the arena. Win those two games and they’re not even on this list. NC State has North Carolina and Miami at home coming up. The opportunity to solidify a tournament berth is still available.
Outlook: The Wildcats have never gone to the NCAA tournament before, but that all can change this season. They have Michigan and Ohio St at home along with trips to Penn St and Iowa. 4-0 definitely, 3-1 probably, 2-2 and they better get to the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Record: 18-9 (7-8)
Key Wins: Virginia Commonwealth, Dayton, West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh
Key Losses: Villanova
Outlook: Solid Strength of schedule, but still has a lot of work to do. The Pirates have Georgetown at home this week and that will go a long way. Remaining games versus Rutgers and Depaul are more can’t lose than must wins. If Seton Hall goes 2-1, one of those two needs to be against Georgetown.
Outlook: The Hawks are benefitting from a weak bubble. They’re currently 0-3 against Temple, Saint Louis and Xavier, which makes their game against Temple on Saturday uber-important. They lose that game and they’re probably looking at winning the Atlantic-10 tournament to get in.
Record: 17-10 (7-7 Big 12)
Key Wins: Temple, Oklahoma St, Iowa St, Kansas St
Key Losses: Oregon St
Outlook: The Longhorns host Baylor tonight and close the season at Kansas. They have four games remaining and I thing going 3-1 in those games will get them in. Under no circumstances can they lose to Texas Tech or Oklahoma.
Record: 19-8 (12-3 Pac-12)
Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona (2)
Key Losses: None
Outlook: Washington is going to have to finish at least tied for the Pac-12 regular season title and make it to the championship game to get an at-large berth. Whether the committee wants to admit it or not; winning the regular season title of a power six conference carries weight.
Record: 17-9 (8-4 Atlantic-10)
Key Wins: Vanderbilt, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duquesne, St. Josephs, Dayton
Key Losses: Hawaii
Outlook: While the Musketeers haven’t been playing as well as they had been before the brawl, they still have the same roster. That means this team is still capable of winning big games. One of the best resumes on this list and may have a larger margin for error than other team seen here. Still, I’d go 3-1 down the stretch if I were Xavier.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: St. Josephs, Connecticut, Miami (FL), Seton Hall
Last Four Out: UCF, NC State, Colorado St, Illinois
Good for games through of 2/19
1.Kentucky16.Vermont/Savannah St Louisville
6.UNLV11.Mississippi St Columbus
1.Duke16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Greensboro
While Kentucky gets pub for being a hotbed of college hoops; it’s neighbor to the east isn’t doing too shabby itself. The commonwealth of Virginia is having a great this season with mid-majors and Virginia Tech.
In the Colonial Athletic Association, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and George Mason all harbor at-large hopes after performing well in the non-conference. All have sub-60 RPIs and sit atop of the conference.
George Mason has the highest RPI with 29 with a resume, which on the surface, seems to be a bit inflated. However, the OPatriots’ wins against Harvard and Duquesne may become key parts of their profile.
Old Dominion is the second of the three with a RPI of 32, but it has stumbled a bit out of the gate in league play. That still does not fully diminish an extremely impressive non-conference resume which includes wins over Xavier, Dayton, Clemson and Richmond.
Virginia Commonwealth has a rather low RPI for a mid-major trying to get into the tournament as an at-large at 58, but don’t be fooled. This team beat UCLA on a neutral floor and won at Old Dominion. The Rams uptempo style is tough to prepare for and will put them in consideration Selection Weekend.
Virginia Tech checks in with a RPI at 63, but it’s set up so well for the home stretch. This extremely talented squad has a great opportunity to stack up a lot of wins in a power conference. The ACC is indeed down this year, but not to the point where five league losses won’t get you the tournament. That’s realistic for the Hokies in a year they may get them off the snide.
Now we come to Richmond. The Spiders have an RPI of 66, but has one of the best non-conference wins of anybody when the shocked Purdue in Chicago. They also lay claim to a win over Virginia Commonwealth and are sitting pretty in second in 3rd place in the Atlantic 10. This team hasn’t fully lived up to expectations so far, but it is capable of taking home the A-10 regular season championship.
Stock Up: Ohio St. I didn’t believe in the Buckeyes before the season started, but Jared Sullinger has made a believer out of everybody. He may be the toughest cover in college basketball and gives them so many options offensively. Last year was the Evan Turner show in Columbus, but Sullinger and company maybe in for an even better year.
Stock Down: Wake Forest. My apologies to the Auburn Tigers who I incorrectly called the worst BCS conference basketball team in the country last week. It’s clearly Wake Forest. I hope there’s a plan in place, but I didn’t think Jeff Bzdelik was a good hire and so far I’m being proven right. I know he has to get his players to fit his system but the Demon Deacons lost by 35 to Georgia Tech. That’s downright pathetic.
Stock Up: The Showdown in Provo. It might be the biggest game in the history of the Mountain West Conference on Jan. 26 when San Diego St travels to face BYU. Two top-ten teams and one of the best players in the country in Jimmer Fredette will take the national stage in the clear game of the night. So sad that it won’t happen next year with BYU moving on the West Coast Conference.
Stock Down: UCF. It was all good just two weeks ago. It’s not now. UCF has lost four of its five conference games and, in the process, ruined any at-large hopes it was harboring. The Knights have a chance to salvage their season, but they probably need an automatic bid to go dancing.
This Week’s Bracket Projections:
Last Four In: UCLA, Colorado, Richmond, Gonzaga
Last Four Out: Colorado St, Kansas St, Butler, Dayton
Good for games through 1/24/2011
1.Ohio St16.Tennessee St/Texas Southern Cleveland
8.Utah St9.Boston College
7.Tennessee10.UNLV Washington, DC
2.Villanova15.Coastal Carolina WEST
1.Kansas16.Florida Atlantic Tulsa
5.Florida12.Virginia Commonwealth Tampa
6.Florida St11.Wichita St Charlotte
7.Michigan St10.St. John’s Tucson
2.San Diego St15.Northern Colorado SOUTHWEST
1.Duke16.Long Island Charlotte
5.Minnesota12.Old Dominion Chicago
6.Vanderbilt11.Virginia Tech Chicago
7.Xavier10.Oklahoma St Washington, DC
1.Pittsburgh16.Long Beach St/Lamar Cleveland
6.West Virginia11.Memphis Denver
7.Louisville10.St. Mary’s Tulsa