UCF Basketball deserves your respect
Coming into the season UCF basketball had low expectations. I mean really low as in getting 14 wins would be a triumph. After all UCF was coming off of 3 consecutive losing seasons and a mess left by Donnie Jones. There had been massive transfers in and out leaving the Knights with essentially 7 active players this year. UCF was supposed to be the doormat. Along with Tulane and USF, the Knights were going to be what held the league back from being one of the better basketball leagues. It was a reasonable assessment given that Dawkins was new to the program and would have to fix an offense and defense that was awful last year. So everyone was prepared for another 12-13 win season for UCF. Well we were all wrong. UCF now sits tied for second in the American behind Cincinnati. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country and the offense that had no scheme has now become an efficient offense. What I am trying to say is that this UCF team is a tournament team.
If you listened to those outside of the UCF program, it would seem that the only good player is Tacko Fall. That is the only player that sadly gets any recognition. But that's not the case and this season has shown that. There is point guard BJ Taylor. Yes, he has struggled with freak injuries during his first 2 years, but when he is healthy BJ is one of the best point guards in the AAC. Taylor has the ability to take over the game. This season BJ is averaging 16.3 points per game. Since coming back from injury, BJ has scored 19, 18, 20, and 7 points. The offense appears to be smoother since Taylor regained his health. That has opened up the gameplan for players like Matt Williams to shine. Matt Williams is probably one of the most unheralded shooters in the country. He too averages 16.3 points a game and his 39% shooting from 3 is the highest of his career. This includes a superstar performance against against USF where Williams scored 38 points. They say to be able to make a run in the tournament a team needs to have good guard play. Well with Taylor and Williams, one could argue that UCF has great guard play.
Then there is the AJ Davis. The do it all forward for the Knights. Yes, his stats don't jump out right at you, he only averages about 8 points a game. But Davis has been the secret cog in the resurgence of UCF basketball. He does every little thing well with his 8 rebounds per game and close to 5 assists. When AJ went down with an I jury early in the season, the offense did not look as good. The team was not running the type of motion offense that Dawkins wanted. But once Davis got back, Dawkins offense has increased its efficiency according to KenPom. Then there is Tank Efiyani. Like Davis, Tank is a work horse for UCF. Having increased his minutes this season, Tank has seen an increase in points(10.8) and three point percentage (.285). Tank allows the Knights to be able to drag some of the other teams forwards out to the perimeter because of Tank's ability to hit a jumper. Then you have the bench of Nathan Laing, Chad Brown, and Nick Banyard. Depth had been a concern heading into the season, but these three have been phenomenal for the Knights. Without them, UCF wouldn't be where they are.
Everyone knows that I was not a big fan of the Dawkins hiring. In fact I hated it. But no one can deny the success that Dawkins has had. Not only the Knights 14-5 and 3rd in the American, it is the most wins any UCF team has had since entering the AAC in 2013. This is the same UCF team that gave Villanova a run for their money and utterly destroyed Mississippi State. But is how they have done it. UCF sits 67th in KenPom, before the season the Knights were 140th. Offensively UCF is 207th in KenPom. But it is the defense where the Knights have really shined. UCF is ranked 11th in defense efficiency according to KenPom and leads the American in field goal percentage. They say that defense wins championships and UCF has a top one. Now some will say, "well it's only because of Tacko." But that would be wrong. You see Dawkins has introduced a zone defense. Sometimes a 1-3-1 that will morph into a 2-3 zone. That plays into UCF's length, the Knights are the longest team in the country even without Tacko. The zone forces other teams to take contested inefficient mid range shots. That's the genius of Dawkins. He has taken UCF's biggest weakness last year, seriously the Knights were 157th in defense last year and made it the biggest strength. How Johnny isn't being mentioned for coach of the year is head scratching.
You know if Donnie Jones was still at UCF, there would be no enthusiasm for this program. The Knights would probably have a losing record and the fans would be calling for Jones' head. Of course Donnie would have his excuses lined up about only having 7 scholarship players. But that's the difference between Jones and Dawkins: Dawkins wins and takes accountability, Jones would try and take the used car salesman approach. But you see Donnie Jones was not a coach. He was a snake oil salesman that got in over his head.
Needless to say UCF finally has a real basketball coach. One that deserves the support of the alumni and the fan base. Who knows if UCF will be a NCAA tournament team. KenPom suggests that the Knights are a bubble team/high Nit seed. Whatever the case one thing is clear: is team and coach deserve the support.