Central Florida at Cincinnati Preview

After playing six consecutive games against ranked opponents, the Bearcats will play their first non-ranked Big 12 opponent when the Central Florida Knights visit Fifth Third Arena for a 7 pm tip off.

UCF (12-6, 3-3) enters Saturday's game with a 12-6 record and own wins over both Kansas and Texas. 

The Bearcats (13-6, 2-4) are coming off a tough 5-point loss at Kansas, 74-69, and now have four Big 12 losses by an average of just 3.4 points. 

"I thought our team has been really resilient these last three weeks," Cincinnati head coach Wes Miller said following the Kansas loss. "Six straight games against Top 25 teams is a heck of a challenge. You love that, but they haven't gone our way. We're a couple of possessions from being real good over that time."

Key Stats and Notes:

The Bearcats were 13-for-32 (40.6 percent) from deep their first two Big 12 games against BYU and Texas. During their last four games, they are 20-for-81 (24.7 percent). UC is 6-0 when making eight or more 3-pointers. They are 7-6 in games where they make seven or fewer. UCF ranks 11th in the Big 12 in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (33 percent).

- Following UCF's 72-59 home win over West Virginia, Johnny Dawkins' team is now up to number six in Kenpom's adjusted defense. They have been elite at that end of the court. They rank 10th in blocked shots (5.6) and are currently third in the Big 12, giving up 64.3 points per game. Offensively, Kenpom ranks the Knights 200th in adjusted offense. Kenpom ranks UCF as the 69th best team in the country.

- UCF is second to last in team field goal percentage (41.3) but have limited their opponents to an average field goal percentage of 39.8 percent, which ranks fifth in the Big 12.

- The gap between these two teams got closer over the past few years. Eight of the last nine contests between UCF and Cincinnati have been decided by less than 10 points, with the most recent of the meetings coming down to the buzzer. David Dejulius knocked down a mid-range floater with less than a second on the clock to beat the Knights in Orlando, 73-71. Cincinnati swept the season series last season, but prior to that UCF won four of the last six meetings, including a double overtime win during the 2020 season.

The Bearcats lead the Big 12 in rebounding and rank 10th nationally with a 10.0 margin. UCF has been one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the Big 12, averaging 13.3 per game. That mark ranks third in the conference.

Player to watch:

- 6'4 Junior Ball State transfer Jaylin Sellers is currently fourth in the Big 12 in scoring at 17.1 points per game. His 18 points on Tuesday night in the win over West Virginia marked the 16th time he has registered double-digit points in UCF’s 18 games. 

Sellers has struggled from deep to date (27.5 percent), but he made 54-of-120 three pointers last year, which was good enough for second in the MAC at 45 percent. He knocked down 4-of-7 from deep against Kansas in the upset win. Sellers leads the team in free throw shooting at 85 percent.

- 6'1 Junior guard Darius Johnson is the second leading scorer for the Knights at 13.1 points per game. A 37 percent three-point shooter, Johnson has knocked down two or more three pointers in 11-of-18 games this season. His best game of the season was against Ole Miss, in which he scored 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. Johnson also converts from the free throw line, making 80 percent of his attempts.

- 6'7 senior forward Marchelus Avery spent the last two seasons at New Mexico State, prior to coming to UCF. Avery has scored four or less points in five of the Knights' previous 6 games. The one game with more than four points was a 10 point game against Houston on 1-of-9 shooting and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Avery poured in 22 points against San Diego State. Avery averages 8.4 ppg but has made just 2 of his last 20 attempts from three point range. 

- Shemarri Allen was a second team all Summit League and All Summit Defensive Team selection last season at UMKC. The 6'4 fifth year senior is averaging 7.2 ppg and has struggled from deep (22.6 percent) but poured in 17 points in the upset win at Texas. Allen has seven games this season with three or more steals. and eight games with three or more assists. He has struggled from the field over the past two games against Houston and West Virginia (2-of-13 FG).

- After missing the first ten games of the season, 6'8 senior forward CJ Walker has returned to average 6.9 ppg, while pulling down five rebounds per game. Not a deep threat and makes just 33 percent of his field goal attempts, but Walker is a rim presence defensively. He led the American in 2020-21 in blocks per game (1.7). Walker was just shy of a double double (10 pts, 9 rbs) in the upset win over Texas.

-7'0 Fifth year senior Ibrahima Diallo has spent time at San Jose State and Ohio State prior to this season at UCF. Diallo was one of the nation’s best players in blocking shots at 1.66 pg, ranking 51st in the country, last season at San Jose State. He currently averages 6.6 points per game and leads the team in rebounds per game (6.8).

- The other two Knights who have seen consistent minutes this season are 6'10 fifth year senior Omar Payne (4.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and 6'11 sophomore Thierno Sylla. Both have similar stats, averaging right around five points per game, four rebounds per game. Payne's only two double figure scoring games this season were against Texas and San Diego State. Payne started his career at Florida then transferred to Illinois and Jacksonville before this season with UCF. Sylla is coming off a nine point outing game against West Virginia. He has attempted ten shots from deep the past two games, so a guy that you will have to defend out on the perimeter, despite his 6'11 frame. 

Final Thoughts:

UCF has limited four of their last five opponents to 63 points or less and have come back from double digit second half deficits to knock off both Kansas and Texas. This is a game where Cincinnati will have to play a full 40 minutes if they want to end their two game losing skid. The Knights lead the Big 12 in blocked shots per game and are fourth in steals per game. Limit turnovers and continue to rebound at a high level, not giving the opposition second chance points, and UC should come out on top in front of the home crowd. 

How to watch:

7:00  ESPN+

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