Saturday, December 02, 2017

Game Preview - UCF

Alabama's homestand continues when UCF (a.k.a. the University of Central Florida) visits Tuscaloosa on Sunday afternoon. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Alabama enters the game at 6-1, ranked 24th in the current AP poll. UCF enters at 4-3. The Knights are currently going through a 3-game losing streak. As always, click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: Expectations were high for UCF entering this season after they won 24 games last season and advanced to the NIT Final Four. One game into the season, their best player, B.J. Taylor fractured his foot, costing him 4-6 weeks of the season. Without Taylor, UCF has struggled, losing three straight games coming into this one. With the exception of a 38-point demolition at the hands of West Virginia, UCF have been competitive in their other two losses, both 3-point defeats to St. John's and Missouri. The biggest issue for UCF has been scoring. In their three losses, the Knights are only averaging 49 points per game. Taylor, who was an 18-point per game scorer a year ago, would certainly help in that area if he was available.

Turnovers have been a real struggle for this UCF team. They cough it up 17 times per game, and a turnover percentage of 24.3% every 100 possessions. For all of their struggles on offense, defense has been a strength for the Knights. They enter this game ranked in the top 20 at KenPom in defensive efficiency, and teams are only averaging 65.4 points per game. It's going to be a tempo game - UCF wants to keep the game in the 50s/60s, while Alabama would prefer to score in the 70s/80s. Transition offense was atrocious at times for Alabama vs Louisiana Tech. It must be better this game. Our guys  must make the Knights pay if they continue to turn the ball over at a high rate.

Players to Watch: The transition from high school to college for John Petty had been going pretty well until the Minnesota game, when he struggled in that game, and hurt his ankle as well. Despite starting the game vs Louisiana Tech, John's struggles continued. Whether it was because of the ankle injury or just having a bad night, Avery was forced to sit John in the second half as he managed the lineup in an effort to find a group of players that could get the team back into the game and ultimately get the win. John sat for all but three minutes of the second half, and the broadcast showed him visibly upset and disengaged from the game, choosing to remain seated on the bench during team timeouts. As the game progressed, John seemed to regain his cool and rejoined the team during timeouts. 

It wasn't a good look for John, but I'm sympathetic to his situation if it was merely a case of wanting to remain in the game and be competitive, and showing frustration when he wasn't given that chance. Honestly, I would prefer a guy be upset that he couldn't compete whether than placidly take his place on the bench. My hope is that it was a learning experience for him. Adversity happens to all of us in one form or another; there's nothing we can do to avoid it. The key is how one responds to adversity, and that will be the challenge for John on Sunday. My hope is that he bounces back.

Tacko Fall is likely the most unique player Alabama will confront this season. Tacko is 7'6, you see. But he isn't just a big body. Since Taylor's injury, Fall has become the most important player on this UCF team. He's leading the team in scoring at 11.0 ppg, making 71% of his shots. The fact that there are three players that have double (or more) the shot attempts that Tacko has (32) to this point in the season is a head-scratching stat to me, and likely plays a big part in the Knight's 4-3 start.

Interestingly, Fall does not lead the team in either rebounds (that would be A.J. Davis who averages a double-double of 10.7 ppg/10.9 rpg, and will also be a focal point of the scouting report) or blocks at the moment. But he's a guy that cuts off a large swath of the floor because of his presence in the paint. In my opinion, Alabama has to go at him early and often to make him defend, and hopefully get him into some early foul trouble.

Prediction: UCF is hurting without B.J. Taylor in the lineup, but they still have a roster capable of coming into Coleman and beating Alabama, particularly if the level of play is anything similar to what we saw for long stretches on Wednesday night. But the fact remains that this UCF team is struggling. Alabama needs to play well and take care of business in front of what is hopefully an enthusiastic home crowd on Sunday afternoon. Alabama - 73 - UCF - 63

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