AAC opponents have been the biggest thorn in UCF Men’s Basketball’s side to this point in the season. The Knights were 8-2 outside of the AAC, and are just 3-3 against conference foes. And if it was not for a miraculous 20-point comeback win on the road in overtime versus the East Carolina Pirates, they would be sitting at 2-4 in conference play, with NCAA Tournament hopes looking like somewhat of a pipe dream.
It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for UCF since the calendar flipped to 2022. A road loss to SMU was followed by a home loss to Temple, UCF’s first set of back-to-back losses of the season. They then took care of Memphis at home before shockingly being smothered by South Florida, 75-51. On Tuesday they completed that 20-point comeback vs East Carolina in Greeneville, in a game that looked grim at the half. So what has been the reason for the inconsistency?
In each of the losses, there has usually been one or two facets of the game that absolutely killed the Knights. For instance, against South Florida, UCF shot just ten percent from three-point range, a horrendous 2 for 20 from deep. They also could not rebound whatsoever, as the Bulls more than doubled UCF’s total rebounds, grabbing 53 compared to UCF’s 26. 21 of South Florida’s rebounds were offensive rebounds. That simply cannot happen, especially for a team with as many big bodies as UCF has, such as Cheikh Mbacke Diong, C.J. Walker, Jamille Reynolds, and Isaiah Adams.
A lack of a consistent offensive flow has been a major factor as well. Whether it be stagnant off-ball movement, lackadaisical ball security, or just straight up bad shooting, there’s been a lot to dislike about the offense of late. It seems like when one or two players are “off” offensively, it is contagious throughout the team. Yes, there are times for almost every team in the country where the shots just are not falling, but good teams must find other ways to score, whether it be by drawing fouls or getting the ball into the paint. Defense can only take you so far.
The team has also seemed reliant on one or two players getting hot, rather than playing team basketball. A lot of the time, UCF relied on Brandon Mahan. He has struggled in some games recently, and the team has suffered. A good example of the team’s tendency to rely on one or two guys was in the East Carolina game. Mahan was held scoreless in the first half—the Knights trailed by 16 heading into halftime. In the second half and OT, he exploded for 19 points, propelling UCF to the victory. There were other guys that played well, such as Darius Perry and Darius Johnson, but until the ball was consistently in Mahan’s hands, the team could not pull itself together. When it did make plays, there some big-time moments, as the following video displays:
So how can the Knights learn from these past few games moving forward? For one thing, they learned Tuesday that they are never out of a game, no matter what the score is. In the game verus USF, it looked like the team had given up about ten to fifteen minutes into the game, and so after that they did not stand a chance. In the games ahead, it’s likely they will fall behind early in games at times. They will need to continue to fight tooth and nail on every possession no matter how they have played to that point in the game.
Offensively, as previously mentioned, they are going to need to find alternative scoring methods in instances where the three-pointers are not falling. If Mahan, Perry, or Darin Green, Jr. are having a bad shooting night, the Knights need to trust other guys on the floor to make plays. The talent on the roster is good enough to compete with the best teams in the conference on both ends of the court, but the execution is what is going to make the difference down the road. The NCAA Tournament is still surely within reach for the Knights, but they are going to need to right the ship as soon as possible for that to remain true.
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