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NCAA Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off Championship

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MBB Scouting Report: UCF Knights

The Most Magical Place on Earth (to snap a losing streak)

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup: Baylor (14-5 / 3-3) @ UCF (12-7 / 3-4)

Time: Wednesday, January 31, 2024, @ 6:00 PM CT (7:00 PM local)

Place: Addition Financial Arena, Orlando, Florida

Where to Watch: ESPN+

Big Picture

The UCF Knights come in off a tough road loss at Cincinnati (a game in which they led by as many as 12 points and led for over 26 minutes of the game). In conference play, the Knights have alternated wins and losses each game. UCF hasn’t lost back-to-back games this season but also hasn’t won back-to-back games since December.

The Baylor Bears come in amid a three-game losing streak which has included 4 overtimes and 2 go-ahead field goals in the final 10 seconds. The Bears will be looking to avoid their first 4-game losing streak since 2019.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor and UCF have never faced one another.

Season Recap

UCF’s best wins this season were against Kansas and Texas. The Knights’ losses have come at the hands of Miami (FL), Stetson, Ole Miss, Kansas State, BYU, Houston, and Cincinnati.

The Knights haven’t been ranked in the AP Poll since 2019. KenPom has UCF as the 72nd best team in the nation while Evan Miya’s metric ranks them 68th nationally.

Knights’ Style

They play a lot of zone defense including primarily either a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone (very similar to the one deployed by Scott Drew for a big chunk of his tenure at Baylor). Their zone is effective because it is anchored by one of the best rim protectors in the nation. UCF will sometimes utilize man-to-man defense and Baylor must also be ready to face occasional full-court press and half-court traps.

Offensively, if they aren’t getting transition buckets off live-ball turnovers, they are an extremely inefficient scoring team. The only region of the floor where they are even average (compared to all D-1 schools) is on corner three-pointers (where they make over 37%). Unfortunately for the Knights, their modest corner 3% may just be a byproduct of the fact that only 2.4% of their field goal attempts this season have come from the corners.

cbbanalytics.com

Knights’ Strengths

  • UCF has elite rim protection (they lead the conference in blocked shots per game and are 4th nationally in Block Rate).
  • The Knights force a ton of turnovers which fuels their fast-breaking offense ( they are 4th among Big 12 teams in Steal Rate and in 96th percentile nationally in points-off-turnovers per game).
  • UCF is great at getting to the charity stripe and getting opponents into foul trouble (3rd among Big 12 teams in fouls drawn and FT Attempt Rate).

Knights’ Weaknesses

  • UCF has an extremely inefficient offense, especially in the half-court (they have the worst eFG% among Big 12 teams).
  • The Knights aren’t a great ball-movement team and they also struggle with turnovers (they have the worst Assist-to-Turnover Ratio among Big 12 teams).
  • UCF sends their opponents to the FT line way too much (they rank 13th among Big 12 teams in FT attempts allowed per game).

Players to Watch

Jaylin Sellers (Guard, No. 24, Junior, 6’4” 200 lbs.): 17.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, and 1.3 SPG on 43/28/85 splits. The Ball State transfer is the centerpiece of the UCF offense and the 4th leading scorer in the Big 12 this season. He is a physical guard who does most of his damage in the mid-range and at the rim. He is in the 95th percentile nationally or better in fastbreak scoring, FT attempts, and offensive rebounding.

NCAA Basketball: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson (Guard, No. 3, Junior, 6’1” 200 lbs.): 12.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, and 1.9 SPG on 38/36/80 splits. Johnson is the team’s primary facilitator and perimeter defender. He is the team leader in assists and is 6th among Big 12 players in steals. He has struggled with turnovers (no player in the Big 12 has accounted for more turnovers this season). He is the team leader in 3P shooting and does most of his long-range damage from the left side of the floor.

Ibrahima Diallo (Center, No. 11, Super Senior, 7’0” 250 lbs.): 6.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.0 BPG on 57/NA/57 splits. Thet former San Jose State and Ohio State big man came of the bench to start the season but has now started the last 6 games. His promotion is due in no small part to the fact that he is the most productive shot blocker in the Big 12 and also top 10 in rebounding. Don’t expect him to score much and if he is putting the ball through the hoop it’ll likely be in the form of dunks. He has only taken 4 shots outside of the paint this season.

Thierno Sylla (Forward, No. 31, Sophomore, 6’10” 210 lbs.): 5.3 PPG and 4.0 RPG on 36/30/61 splits. The second-year big man has been in and out of the starting lineup this season. After coming off the bench for the previous 7 games, he started against Cincinnati due to injuries. He is a deceptively solid shooter even from behind the arc (you don’t want to leave him completely wide open on the perimeter).

Marchelus Avery (Forward, No. 13, Senior, 6’7” 210 lbs.): 9.0 PPG and 4.3 RPG on 39/38/68 splits. The New Mexico State transfer is the team’s 3rd leading scorer despite almost exclusively coming off the bench. He is an above-average defender and ball-handler (for a guy at his position). Avery has struggled as a scorer recently (despite scoring 19 Saturday against Cincy, he averaged just 3.5 PPG on 19% FG over the 6 prior matchups).

Omar Payne (Forward, No. 5, Super Senior, 6’10” 230 lbs.): 4.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 1.3 BPG on 57/NA/69 splits. Payne is a journeyman, having played for Florida, Illinois, and Jacksonville before joining the Knights this season. He started the team’s first 13 games before being moved to the bench of the last 6 games. Payne is the team leader in both TS% and eFG%. Like Diallo, he is a great shot blocker (he is in the 96th percentile nationally in Block Rate).

Antwann Jones (Guard, No. 1, Super Senior, 6’6” 210 lbs.): 3.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, and 1.2 APG on 41/36/55 splits. The former Memphis, Creighton, and Louisiana transfer has seen a major uptick in his usage lately due to injuries. He is super aggressive defensively and a downhill driver with the ball in his hands. In conference play, Jones is in the 97th percentile nationally in Steal Rate. Notwithstanding his defensive aggressiveness, he hasn’t committed a personal foul (or at least hasn’t been called for one) in his last 4 games (57 cumulative minutes played in those games).

Shemarri Allen (Guard, No. 2, Super Senior, 6’4” 190 lbs.): 7.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, and 0.7 BPG on 37/23/60 splits. Allen is arguably the team’s best and most versatile defender. He has been dealing with an ankle injury which forced him to miss UCF’s last game.

CJ Walker (Forward, No. 21, Super Senior, 6’8” 210 lbs.): 6.9 PPG and 5.0 RPG on 33/14/65 splits. Walker also missed Saturday’s game with an injury. He is a defensive specialist.

Predictions

Key(s) to the Game

  • Make UCF score in the half-court (limit your live-ball turnovers and don’t bail them out with cheap fouls).
  • Ball movement will be key for Baylor’s offense. You can’t beat a zone unless the ball is moving constantly.

Player of the Game: Langston Love (Baylor): If Love comes off the bench again (as he has every game of his collegiate career), it might be one of the last times. He is making a serious case to be moved into the starting lineup (potentially in place of Jayden Nunn). He is tied with Ja’Kobe for the team lead in scoring in conference play and has made exactly 50% of his three-pointers since the start of Big play (no other Baylor player is even shooting 30% from deep in conference games). UCF’s zone defense should present an opportunity for Love to get good looks both from beyond the arc and in the mid-range.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score: Baylor wins 74-66 (the Bears should be able to build a double-digit lead, but UCF is a team that just won’t go away; strong 3P shooting for the good guys; Sic Em!).

Stats courtesy of cbbanalytics.com, sportsreference.com, kenpom.com, evanmiya.com, hoop-explorer.com, big12sports.com, ncaa.com.

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