Cincinnati at Central Florida Preview

Cincinnati (15-9, 4-7) will try to end a two-game losing streak on Saturday when they travel to Orlando for a 4 pm tip off against the Central Florida Knights (13-10, 4-7).

Both teams are currently tied for 11th place in the Big 12 standings.

While Cincinnati's back-to-back losses have come at home to 5th-ranked Houston and 10th-ranked Iowa State, the Knights have lost two in a row on the road.

UCF lost at BYU, 90-88, and at Texas Tech, 90-88...two venues that UC went in to and won.

Johnny Dawkins discussed how pivotal a game this is for both teams:

UC jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first match up against the Knights but found themselves down 12 at the half.

John Newman's dunk over Ibrahima Diallo with five minutes left in the game kicked off the game-deciding 11-0 run to end the game. UC shot 63 percent in the second half and held UCF to 21 percent as the Bearcats won, 68-57.

Johnny Dawkins discussed what challenges UC presents and what his team needs to differently to avoid a similar second half collapse.

With this being the second meeting between the two teams, Johnny Dawkins discussed how that dynamic changes pre-game prep and overall scouting.

Keys to Victory:

1. Silence the crowd early

The last time the Knights were at home was in front of a sold-out crowd, just the third time in program history. UCF led wire-to-wire to defeat 23rd-ranked Oklahoma, winning by double digits, 74-63. Jaylin Sellers led the way in scoring with 20 points and was joined in double-digits by Antwann Jones who had 15 and Darius Johnson who dropped 14. The victory was the second over a ranked opponent this season, as UCF now has wins over No. 3 Kansas and Oklahoma in home games.

UCF shot 52 percent in the first half of the first meeting between these two. The Bearcats can not allow the Knights to have a similar showing in the return meeting. Defensively, they limited UCF to 0.92 points per possession for the game. They will need consistency for 40 minutes and a similar showing defensively to pick up the road win.

2. Rebound and Avoid turnovers

Cincinnati enters the contest with a NET ranking of 37, which is 29 spots better than UCF’s 66. Both squads have two Quad 1 victories.

The Bearcats have been one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, ranking 10th rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game and rebounding margin. UCF also ranks in the top 50 in offensive boards per contest, sitting at No. 35.

After being out-rebounded by Houston, 41-34, UC responded by out-rebounding Iowa State 37-23. The turnover differences in the two games were flipped.

Eight turnovers against Houston, but 25 against Iowa State. UC is 0-3 in games this season where they are out-rebounded but turnovers have also been an issue in losses. 

UCF is fourth in the Big 12 in forced turnovers per game (14.8). Keeping that number under 10 will be crucial in the Bearcats avoiding a three game losing streak.

3. Paint Play

UCF is not a great shooting team. They make 69 percent of their free throw attempts, 31.8 percent of their three-point attempts, and 41.8 percent of their field goal attempts for an average of 72 points per game. 

UC's defense has allowed 26.5 percent from deep the last three games, including Houston's season-low 18.8. UC's 68.1 ppg allowed in league play ranks third, while UCF is fourth (68.3).

Forcing the Knights into tough shots and not allowing them to get down hill going to the rim will be a big key defensively for UC. Wes Miller's squad out-scored UCF in the paint 36-20 and from the free throw line 17-7 in the first meeting. UC was also able to get 16 points off 14 UCF turnovers. Getting easy baskets and forcing the Knights into tough shots has to be a priority at both ends. 

Marchellus Avery and Jaylin Sellers both scored 19 points in the first meeting and combined to go 6-of-10 from 3-point range. Avery is averaging just 3 points per game over his last three, but Sellers is averaging 18 points per game over his last four. The duo combined for 28 first half points in the first meeting. Limiting those two early should be a focus defensively. 

Cincinnati is shooting 76.7 percent from the foul line the last four games.

Key UC Stats:

Dan Skillings has been UC's best player during Big 12 play. He posted his second double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday and is averaging 15.3 ppg over his last six games and leads UC in Big 12 (13.4 ppg) and overall (12.2) scoring. Skillings has scored in double-figures in all five league road games (15.8 ppg) and has six blocks in the last three games.

Jizzle James' 16 points against Iowa State marked the second-most by any freshman against the Cyclones defense this year. James' 7.5 ppg also makes him one of eight freshman Bearcats to average 6.0 or more since 2010. Six of those made the NBA.

UC will need those two to continue to play at a high level for them to finish the season strong. With Vik Lakhin struggling over the past four games, Jamille Reynolds has seen his minutes increase. The Bearcats will need to see consistency from their trio of big men down the stretch. Bandaogo finished with eight points, seven rebounds in the first meeting against UCF, while Reynolds posted six points, two rebounds. Lakhin did not play and has not been himself since returning from the illness that kept him out against UCF. 

Final Thoughts:

UCF enters the game as a 1.5 point favorite with the over/under set at 135,5.

If Cincinnati is going to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, today is a must win. You hate to use lines such as "must win" but we have entered that point of the season. UC has not been able to protect home court advantage throughout Big 12 play, so must find a way to win on the road. With four opportunities left on the road, the Bearcats will most likely need to split those games, while winning all three home contests to avoid a fifth consecutive season without a NCAA Tournament appearance. 

Following the Iowa State loss, Wes Miller had the following to say:

"I hate losing. I hate it. We are going to figure it out. This team is going to figure it out."

"You try to learn from everything and you try to grow in everything you're doing. If it's really damn hard and you get your butt kicked and you struggle, then embrace it and learn. That's how I'm going to approach it as a head coach every single day. I'm pissed. It hurts cause I hate losing but you embrace it and you learn and there's going to be things to learn from every night."



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