The UCF Knights blew by the Southern Methodist Mustangs to advance to the C-USA Championship Quarterfinals against the UTEP Miners. The game is scheduled for tonight at 8:00 pm MST. The Knights were led by Taylor Young (15 points), Isaac Sosa (14 points), and A.J. Tyler (12 points).
UCF was 5/12 from beyond the arc in the first half of the game but struggled to continue that pace, finishing just 7/21. Despite that, the Knights were able to shoot a smoking 54.2% from the field. A.J. Rompza was masterful distributing the ball and finished with a game-high 8 assists. UCF had 23 assists overall while SMU only had 11. It's actually kind of difficult to play 40 minutes of basketball and only come away with eleven assists.
UCF was also far more aggressive on defense than the Mustangs. The Knignts had seven steals (3 for Marcus Jordan) while the Mustangs didn't have a single steal. Central Florida also forced 15 SMU turnovers.
UCF vs. UTEP Preview
Wat back on January 23, UTEP traveled to Orlando and pummeled the Knights 96-59. The Miners played absolutely incredible defense and held the Knights to an amazing 19% shooting from the field. Against the Miners, UCF shot 3/22 from three point range. Sosa, the Knights sophomore guard, is their best shooter. He hits an impressive 42.5% from the three point line and is one of the Knights most underrated weapons. However, against UTEP he only played 12 minutes and scored 2 points.
Randy Culpepper absolutely shredded the Knights. He scored 39 points, and hit 9/15 from three point land. The Miners dominated the glass; out-rebounding the Knights 42-30.
UCF Fear Factor: 5/10
Why So High?
The game is in March, on a neutral court, against a team that has absolutely nothing to lose. Beating the #21 Miners and making them sweat a little on Selection Sunday would be a season-defining moment for the Knights. Also, expect the Tulsa crowd to cheer against UTEP, especially if Tulsa gets past Marshall at 5:30. The Tulsa fans would love nothing more than tho have Tulsa face UCF in the semi-final and avoid playing the Miners.
Why so Low?
Quite frankly, because UTEP is the better team. The Miners have more depth and more talent than the young Knights. Against the elite C-USA teams (UAB, UTEP, Memphis, Marshall, and Tulsa) the Knights are 0-7. They entered the C-USA Tournament losing 4 of their last 5 with the only win coming against Rice in the season finale.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Isaac Sosa (G): Sosa's playing time has been up and down this season, and he is a streaky shooter, But, if the 6'2 guard gets hot, watch out. At Marshall, in that epic triple overtime contest, Sosa was 6/9 from the three point line and had 20 points.
A.J. Tyler (F): The 6'9" Junior is probably UCF"s most consistent player. A former Clemson Tiger, the transfer leads the Knights with 10.4 points per game. He also leads UCF in field goal percentage (48.2%).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Knights don't have any elite scorers. Marcus Jordan, yes the son of Michael, has become their "glue guy." He rarely comes off the court and is a good defender for a freshman, but he's not a consistent scoring threat yet. The Miners are a more talented and more experienced team. I believe that UTEP has done enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Every win from here on out, however, will only help cement that belief. A loss to UCF (RPI #194) would not be a good note to end the season on and would definitely cause a mad scramble among "Bracketologists" to take a closer look at the Miners resume. With that in mind, I expect Tony Barbee to have this team focused on the task at hand: beating the Knights.