With all of the buzz currently surrounding UCF Football and its 8-0 start, UCF Men’s Basketball has a tough act to follow when it opens up a new season at CFE Arena on Friday night. But the thing is, the Knights are certainly capable of rising to the occasion.
Spectrum Stadium has been home to one of the nation’s most exciting football teams throughout the fall, but as that season winds down, it’s about time for that excitement to shift over to CFE Arena for the winter and spring. This year is sure to be a special one for second-year coach Johnny Dawkins and his team.
There’s no getting around the fact that 7’6” center Tacko Fall is the player everyone will talk about, but the cast around him deserves just as much attention. Redshirt junior B.J. Taylor is back to lead the charge after averaging 17.4 points per game last year, while redshirt senior A.J. Davis also returns after starting 29 games a season ago. Junior Chad Brown will also chip in from the bench like he did last year.
But where the excitement really kicks in is with the Knights’ new additions. Of course, the season-ending shoulder injury for redshirt junior Aubrey Dawkins is a major bummer. Despite that, the roster is far more equipped this season to cover that kind of loss. UCF has several transfers ready to take the court after sitting out last year, including Dayon Griffin (formerly at Louisiana Tech) and Rokas Ulvydas (Texas Tech).
The roster itself is exciting, sure, but the schedule has some very intriguing matchups on it as well. There’s the AdvoCare Invitational during Thanksgiving week, which features a game against Nebraska and potential meetings with West Virginia, St. John’s or Oregon State. Then, on Nov. 30, Missouri and top prospect Michael Porter Jr. come to Orlando. The non-conference slate continues with a road game at Alabama before conference play rolls around in late December. The AAC has two teams in the preseason top 25, conference newcomer Wichita State and Cincinnati, both of which UCF will see twice.
The AAC, for good reason, is much more respected as a basketball conference. That’s what gives this season the potential to build on the success that Frost and his program are having. The Knights are popular picks to make a run to the NCAA Tournament, and for good reason. If the crowd at last season’s NIT quarterfinal against Illinois was any indication, the UCF fan base is ready to see its basketball program rise to the top. And for the first time in a while, that seems to be a realistic expectation.
By next summer, UCF could be fresh off a New Year’s Six bowl game and a March Madness appearance (that’s without taking into consideration what UCF Women’s Soccer, Volleyball, Baseball and Softball can do).
If that’s the case, athletic director Danny White will have to be ecstatic. His message all along has been that UCF has what it takes to be a top 25 athletics program all across the board. Thanks to his coaching hires and subsequent recruiting efforts by those coaches, his vision is looking better than ever.
The football program has been doing its part this fall.
Johnny Dawkins, your program is up next.