UCF (0-0) at South Florida (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 10, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Dome (10,411) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: Big East Network. Home Record: UCF 0-0, USF 0-0. Away Record: UCF 0-0, USF 0-0. Neutral Record: UCF 0-0, USF 0-0. Conference Record: UCF 0-0, USF 0-0. Series Record: USF leads, 19-6.
GAMES NOTES: South Florida is back and ready to prove that last season was no fluke beginning with a season opener against instate rival UCF at the Sun Dome.
A year out from joining the Big East, UCF is ready to build on its first back- to-back 20-win seasons since 2005. The Knights finished 22-11 last season, the second under head coach Donnie Jones. However no matter how successful Jones is able to make his team this season, it won't matter following the regular season with the NCAA ruling in August that the Knights are ineligible for postseason play due to recruiting violations. With that ruling a number of UCF players fled for greener pastures, as the NCAA allowed them to transfer to any school without the normal waiting period.
Last season was a year of constant surprises for South Florida. The Bulls finished with a 22-14 overall record, only their fourth 20-win season for the program since 1974. The Bulls also earned their first NCAA Tournament bid in nearly 20 years and advanced for the first time in school history. The Bulls came in as a 12-seed and took out California before upsetting five-seed Temple. Stan Heath's team was a punishing defensive force last season and had the element of surprise also working in his favor.
In 25 previous meetings South Florida has come out on top 19 times although the squads have split the last four.
A number of key players from last season left with the biggest blow being Marcus Jordan (13.7 ppg), who was one of the team's best scorers. Jones won't have to start from scratch entirely as he was able to retain the services of key players like Keith Clanton and Isaiah Sykes. Clanton is the big returnee as he has been a First-Team All-Conference USA selection in two of the last three seasons. The 6-9 forward was a force inside last season leading the team in scoring (14.5 ppg), rebounds (8.1 pg) and blocks (1.8 pg). He provides an excellent anchor in the paint for Jones' offense as it tries to reconfigure without Jordan. Sykes (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) may not have lit the conference on fire like Clanton, but he can play at a high level. Tristan Spurlock (7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will likely fill in the spot left behind by Jordan and will be called on to score as a starter after he did so primarily off the bench a year ago.
South Florida was an absolutely dominant unit last season, defensively. The Bulls had the best scoring defense in the Big East (56.6 ppg) which was also the seventh best mark in the conference. All that defensive pressure matched with a rather weak offense though (59.3 ppg), meaning the Bulls were often forced to grind out close wins. The scoring is expected to improve with freshman Javontae Hawkins, who could be the dynamic scorer the Bulls were without last season. Juco transfer Musa Abdul-Aleem could also bring offensive punch. USF relied on its frontcourt last year to drive the pressure and with Augusts Gilchrist (9.6 ppg) and Ron Anderson Jr. (6.9 ppg. 5.5 rpg) gone, the Bulls are left scrambling to try to replace there production. Victor Rudd (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will need to step up. Not to be forgotten is the return of point guard Anthony Collins (9.0 ppg, 5.2 apg), who can defend, score and distribute.
These teams match up well with both strong defensive units that get enough scoring to win. USF lost some key contributors, but Heath will still have the defensive play driving the team, If some of the new scorers come into their own, the Bulls are the team to beat in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 62, UCF 57
11/10 10:33:52 ET