It’s a tradition unlike any other. The UCF Knights are forever on the cusp of greatness. Tacko Fall dangerously close to being your favorite college basketball player. Johnny Dawkins constantly looms over the program, looking to take it to new heights in the AAC. Then that less fun school custom happens.
Injuries riddle the roster and the Knights are relegated to a bevy of what-if scenarios.
This season is no different. UCF has the same insane amount of talent, coupled with good coaching, that positions it for a run not only at AAC relevance, but a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, history has taught us that a caveat needs to be attached. The UCF Knights, Tacko Fall and so on, can accomplish all of these things… if they stay healthy.
If is such a horrible word to hurl around, if we’re being honest.
If the creators of Lost weren’t forced to outstay its welcome by ABC, maybe the show would have been more coherent. If we’d only do a better job understanding one another’s perspective, the world would be a better place. If Christina Ricci would only get to know me, maybe she’d realize we’re soulmates.
Ugh, what were we talking about again?
Having not reached the Big Dance since the 2004-05 season, but with the football program drawing national interest in its previous voyage, eyes should wander over to the basketball team even if UCF seems like an annual disappointment.
It’s not just hyperbole to believe the Knights can do well in the AAC. While CBB Today can be considered a bizarre website in which we’re a glorified Tacko Fall fan account, as I’ve been singing his praises for years, there’s data that suggests UCF is in a great spot to finally escape its middling position in the conference.
Over the last two seasons, Dawkins has led teams that have finished in the top-20 in adjusted defensive efficiencies in the KemPom model. Not exactly shocking when there’s a 7-foot-6 phoenix with shocking agility roaming the paint.
Fall, who isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, averaged 1.9 blocks and had a 9.6 percent block rate last season. He wasn’t even healthy to accomplish such positive numbers. The campaign prior, he was actually more effective in protecting the rim, averaging 2.6 blocks while playing roughly five more minutes per game.
Sadly for those who yearn to witness Fall in all his glory, he was hit by the UCF injury bug last season. A plague which has cost the Knights, who have had NCAA Tournament quality rosters the last two seasons, mightily for what feels like an eternity.
It isn’t just Fall, however. B.J. Taylor, another gifted talent who is often injured, is an offensive dynamo. While not as nationally popular as Fall — who has become a social media talking point for both good and nefarious reasons — Taylor is the better player.
Consistently a double-digit scorer since arriving on campus, Taylor only played 16 games last season, but still managed to score 15 points per game. In fact, over his three seasons with UCF, the 6-foot-2 guard averages 15.4 points per game on only 40 percent shooting from the floor, but an impressive 35 percent hit-rate from beyond the arc.
He’s more than a volume-scorer, too. Taylor has relatively gifted handles, and creates opportunities for his teammates. While his 3.1 career assists per game don’t do justice to his creation abilities, it does exist.
Unlike seasons prior, it shouldn’t just be (the idea of) the Tacko Fall and B.J. Taylor show. This is, inherently, a good thing.
Ceasar DeJesus was a bit of a phenom as a freshman. Injuries might have scarred the Knights for years, but it could end up being a blessing in disguise. DeJesus was talented enough as was to warrant big playing time in his first year actually on the hardwood with the Knights, but without players constantly falling over, it would be less likely that he would have seen 32 starts.
He gained an incredible amount of on-court experience in a short period of time, even sometimes forced to play above his means because of his colleagues’ woes. It puts him in a situation where he’s far beyond his projected development process.
The numbers are not gaudy, but the under-the-radar 2016 prospect managed to average 8.6 points per while being crazy efficient, shooting 42 percent from the floor and 38 percent beyond the arc — though, it is worth noting he only attempted slightly more than one from distance per contest.
Still, there’s the idea of natural development by DeJesus. That this late bloomer on the recruiting trail improved dramatically enough that he went from warranting little interest as a high school prospect to playing 27 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman.
That’s a testament to both him and the UCF coaching staff. It also lays the foundation for the belief he’s poised to make a near-perfect backcourt running mate to go alongside Taylor.
Since Fall is such a traditional big man, the sort unable to spread the floor, Johnny Dawkins is more than content with ho-hum shooters like Dayon Griffin (32 percent from three) chucking over five attempts per 40 minutes. UCF was not great at this last season, as the Knights finished 329th in attempted 3-pointers per, but expect to see that number rise with more willing and competent shooters in the rotation.
Oh hell, we haven’t even mentioned Aubrey Dawkins yet. The former Michigan Wolverines talent who missed all of last season with, you guessed it, an injury.
Dawkins could/might be UCF’s third best player. It’s hard to project that for sure, as he hasn’t played in over a year, but the little evidence we have on him does suggest it’s entirely possible the Knights enter the 2018-19 season a four-headed monster of Taylor, Fall, DeJesus and Dawkins.
When healthy back with Michigan, Dawkins averaged 6.7 points in 18.0 minutes per game, yet it is his efficiency that screams endless possibilities await the 6-foot-6 wing. In two seasons with the Wolverines, he shot 49 percent from the floor. More impressive than that, in nearly three attempts per game, Dawkins lit it up by hitting 44 percent of his 3-point endeavors.
Like DeJesus, Dawkins being potentially better than just good is more theory than practice at the time of this writing, but the projection is realistic. Assuming those two are above-level players isn’t like believing a fish can speak English with enough tutoring. Instead, it’s more like guessing the person tutoring the fish the new langue isn’t playing with a full deck.
Analogies and comparisons to English speaking fish and all that jazz.
Nevertheless, as mentioned to the point of nausea in this column, Johnny Dawkins and company will only be as good as the gods of health and labor allow it. There’s an insane amount of expertise on the roster, with a great mix of veteran guys with known skills and a few youngsters likely ready for breakout seasons.
And yet, as many of us have declared it the season of the UCF Knights offseason after offseason, all we can do is hold our breath, hoping to finally witness this program reach its full capabilities without the miseries the program can’t help from happening tearing it down.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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