Photo Courtesy: UCF Athletics
By John Weis (’94)
Next UCF Opponent: Florida Gators (16-16, 9-9 SEC)
2021-2022 Record: 20-14 (9-9)
Coach: Todd Golden (4th Season, 73-52 Overall, 1st Season at UF, 16-16)
Last Game: 3/10 vs. Mississippi State (L, 69-68 OT)
Opening Tip: 12/19 7:00 pm, O’Connell Center, Gainesville (TV: ESPN2)
Opponent at a Glance
Just when UCF fans (myself included) thought the season had come to an end, the NIT threw the Knights a lifeline. Better still, the Knights have been given the opportunity to replicate what their football team did at the Gasparilla Bowl in December 2021 – defeat their in-state rival, the Florida Gators, in postseason play. And it could happen.
The Gators are a talented team and will be playing on their home court, but right now they’re vulnerable. Their leading scorer and rebounder, 6’11” Senior Colin Castleton (16.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), was ruled out for the season on February 15 when he broke his hand in a game against Ole Miss.
In the three years Castleton has played for the Gators since transferring in from Michigan, the DeLand native has shot 54.1% from the floor and averaged 14.9 points per contest. They’re just 2-4 in the six games he’s missed; their only wins have come against SEC also-rans Georgia and LSU.
UF’s leading active scorer is 6’4” Sophomore Will Richard, the Belmont transfer who averages 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s a true three-point marksman who shoots 40.2 percent from deep.
The biggest beneficiary from Castleton’s absence has been 6’5” Freshman Riley Kugel, the Dr. Phillips High School product. After beginning the year slowly, he’s developed into a star in his own right as the season has progressed. He currently checks in at 9.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, but he’s led the Gators in scoring in five of the six games Castleton has been out of action … and has scored in double figures for the past nine straight games. In fact, over those last nine games, his numbers have escalated to 17.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 32.3 minutes of action per game. He’s the unquestioned future star of the team, provided he does not think there are greener pastures elsewhere (NBA or Transfer Portal) as has been rumored.
Next comes 6’3” Senior Kyle Lofton (8.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.6 apg), who arrived in Florida for his final season after previously playing at St. Bonaventure. Kowacie Reeves, a 6’6” Sophomore, contributes 8.7 ppg and rpg. Alex Fudge, a slender 6’9” Sophomore transfer from LSU (5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg); 6’0” Junior and VMI transfer Trey Bonham (5.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.2 apg); and 6’3” Senior Myreon Jones also see significant action. Jones transferred in from Penn State two seasons ago. Jason Jitoboh, a 6’11”, 300-pound native of Nigeria (3.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg), has taken Castleton’s place in the starting lineup.
Take note of the game time, 7:00pm; and where it will air, ESPN2.
The Web site I researched has installed the Gators as a four-point favorite
During the regular season, the Gators scored 71.9 points and gave up 68.7.
The Gators have drawn the #4 seed in their eight-team pod of the NIT bracket, behind only top seed Oregon, second-seeded Wisconsin and third-seeded Liberty. The winner of the UCF-UF contest will take on the winner of the Oregon-UC Irvine game either Saturday or Sunday.
This is the seventh consecutive year the Gators have seen postseason hoops action.
The Gators lead the all-time series 10-1. The lone win took place in 2010 in the Amway Center, where the Knights won 57-54 behind 18 points from Marcus Jordan; and 12 points and nine rebounds from Keith Clanton.
After former Coach Mike White shocked the Gator fanbase by leaving for conference rival Georgia last March, a nationwide search for his successor ensued. When the dust settled, Todd Golden made the cross-country move from San Francisco, where he was 57-36 in three seasons. White’s departure and graduations led to the need for a restocking of the roster, and Golden, a former Auburn assistant under Bruce Pearl, hit the Transfer Portal with a vengeance.
The Gators have regressed a bit since the days of Billy Donovan. Under Billy the Kid (who’s not a kid anymore), they captured back-to-back national championships in 2005-06 and 2006-07. They’re still the last team to accomplish that feat.
Speaking of Billy Donovan, who remembers the Donovan Era when he was Head Coach of the Orlando Magic in 2007? It was a fantastic six days, wasn’t it?
There have been a large number of former Gators who have played in the NBA; the Web site I researched found 34. This list includes successful pros like David Lee, Al Horford, Vernon “Mad Max” Maxwell, Chandler Parsons, Mike Miller, Joakim Noah, Matt Bonner, Neal Walk, Mareese Speights, Udonis Haslem, Dwayne Schintzius, Anthony Roberson and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams. But the most successful of the bunch thus far has been Bradley Beal. Drafter with the third overall pick by the Wizards in the 2012 NBA draft, Beal has spent his entire 10-year career in Washington and is sporting career averages of 22.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
John Weis is a freelance Writing/PR professional. His company, Weis Words (www.weiswords.biz) serves national clients such as advertising agencies, public relations firms and sports organizations, as well as small businesses and private individuals. A native Central Floridian and basketball enthusiast, he spent six seasons as Broadcast Coordinator for the Orlando Magic Radio Network early in his career. He graduated from UCF in 1994 with a degree in Communications and can’t wait for the Knights to move to the Big XII.