Five questions for year one in the Big 12
The UCF Knights men’s basketball team is preparing to tip off the 2023-24 season schedule on Monday, November 6th, at home against Florida International. While many pundits and fans are expecting the Knights to finish last in the conference, coach Johnny Dawkins and his players are excited about the opportunity to compete. Their ability to have success might hinge on five key questions:
1. Can They Stay Healthy
If you’ve followed the UCF Basketball team since Johnny Dawkins took over in 2016, you know that injuries have played a role throughout his tenure. Who can forget Aubrey Dawkins missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, and Tacko Fall and BJ Taylor trading injuries in 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, the 2022 season was no different when star Forward CJ Walker was limited to just a handful of games with a leg injury and Point Guard Darius Johnson battled a calf injury all season. Now, these injuries cannot be directly attributed to Coach Dawkins, but to the extent luck is involved, it has certainly not been on his side. Playing game in and game out in the Big 12 will require depth and consistency, and UCF can’t afford to be without key players. (Spoiler Alert: Depending on when you read this, I have some bad news for you).
2. Can a system beat talent
Let’s face it, on most nights in the Big 12 UCF will probably not have the most talent on the court. That’s not a knock on UCF, but rather a statement on the level of talent in the Big 12. If UCF tries to “out-talent” other schools, it will be a rough season. However, can UCF find 5 players to play in a cohesive system and execute at a high level on most nights? And, can Johnny Dawkins devise the right scheme to put his team in position to win games? If so, UCF’s best player, or biggest talent, just might be their ability to consistently run a productive system. This will probably serve to be a tall task, but it might provide the Knights the best chance to compete in 2023-24.
3. Can they shoot the 3
This isn’t your Grandfather’s College Basketball anymore, and in 2023, you have to have guys who can shoot from the outside. There are various strategic and schmeatic reasons for this, including stretching the floor to open up drives to the rim. So, who are the shooters on the roster this season? Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of historical data that provides any real clarity, but Jaylin Sellers, a transfer from Ball State, shot 45% from 3 in 2022. The Knights have some young players on the roster, including Guards Mintautas Mockus and Nils Machowski, who each played significant minutes representing their home countries, Lithuania and Germany, respectively. The Knights will also need timely shooting from Guard Darius Johnson, who figures to have the ball in his hands at key moments this season. Lastly, on a recent edition of Sons of UCF LIVE, former UCF Development Coach Ben Hazel dropped the name of Marchelus Avery as a potential threat from 3.
4. Can they rebound the basketball
If the other team is going to be nice enough to miss shots, UCF is going to need to take advantage and grab rebounds. Simply put, the Knights cannot overcome consistently giving up second chance points. The leading rebounder for UCF in 2022 is now wearing an NBA uniform, so somebody is going to have to step up and clean the glass. The leading candidates would probably be the big guys, including transfers Ibrahima Diallo (7’0″) and Omar Payne (6’10”), along with returners Thierno Sylla and CJ Walker. But, don’t sleep on Guard Shemarri Allen, who averaged 5 rebounds a game last season at UMKC. Any way you slice it, UCF will face bigger bodies night in and night out, and they have to hold their own on the glass
5. Can UCF create a home-court advantage
Let’s face it, the attitude from fans around UCF Basketball in the last few seasons has been apathetic at best. Between the injuries, the roster turnover, and playing down to competition, there hasn’t been a consistent home court advantage at Additional Financial Arena. However, with such a tough road slate this season, the Knights really need to take advantage of whatever edge they can gain from playing at home. Do you remember the OT thriller UCF played against Memphis last season, well, we need that type of crowd for every matchup. The chants, the cheers, heckling the other team, all of it needs to help feed the energy inside AdFi. While it certainly doesn’t guarantee a win, it hopefully will serve as the building blocks for a new basketball tradition at UCF