DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 15, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Dome (10,411) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: ESPNews. Home Record: UCF 8-6, USF 7-7. Away Record: UCF 1-7, USF 5-4. Neutral Record: UCF 0-0, USF 0-2. Conference Record: UCF 1-10, USF 3-9. Series Record: South Florida leads, 20-5.
GAME NOTES: A pair of Sunshine State rivals near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference standings meet at the Sun Dome on Saturday afternoon, as the UCF Knights come calling on the South Florida Bulls.
UCF's first run in its new league has not gone smoothly. The Knights, who were once a solid program in Conference USA, have gone just 1-10 in league play this year, which has them last in the AAC. They are also only 9-13 overall, with a bout against 10th-ranked Cincinnati next on the schedule.
South Florida has also struggled this season, with only three wins in 12 AAC contests. The Bulls have had more luck overall (!3-13), but with losses in seven of their last nine games, wins have become harder to come by in the second half of the season. They will take to the road to face 13th-ranked Louisville next.
Although it is new, this has the makings of an intriguing conference rivalry for years to come. The first bout between them as league foes certainly lived up to the billing as USF escaped with a 79-78 overtime victory on Feb. 5. The Bulls have won 20 of the 25 all-time meetings.
UCF hung around with 20th-ranked Memphis on Wednesday, but fell short in a 76-70 defeat. The Knights were outscored 18-8 at the free-throw line, while allowing the Tigers to shoot an even 40 percent from the floor. Tristan Spurlock posted 18 points and 10 rebounds in the setback.
While the Knights haven't picked up many wins and rank near the middle of the AAC in terms of offensive production (72.2 ppg, .439 FG percentage), they have done themselves proud on the glass. UCF is first in the conference and 24th nationally in rebounds (38.9 rpg), led by Isaiah Sykes. Sykes (15.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 3.6 apg) does a lot more than crash the boards, however, leading the team in scoring and assists as well. Against Memphis he tallied 14 points, but he hit just 6-of-16 from the field and turned the ball over seven times. Spurlock (10.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Calvin Newell (10.6 ppg) lend support.
USF came nowhere near a victory in its last outing, losing in an 83-40 rout to 24th-ranked Connecticut. The Bulls only accumulated 12 field goals on 24 percent shooting, while being outscored 26-6 off of turnovers. No player scored in double figures, with Musa Abdul-Aleem netting a team-high eight points.
The Bulls' offensive effort has been even worse this season, as they are netting only 65.9 ppg and shooting 43.1 percent from the field. Those marks rank 10th and ninth, respectively, in the AAC. Victor Rudd (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is really the only consistent offensive force on the roster. However, Rudd managed only six points and two rebounds, while sinking just 1-of-9 from the field against UConn. The effort ended a four-game streak in double figures for the 6-foot-9 forward. Corey Allen Jr. (10.1 ppg, 3 apg) is the next best option.
Sykes and Rudd are the best players on the floor in this contest. What will make the difference is the supporting casts and venue. The Knights may have more skill on the roster, but they are just 1-7 on the road. Expect USF to find a way to win another close one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 72, UCF 69
02/15 10:48:32 ET
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