Formerly a Conference USA member, the University of Central Florida has taken the American Athletic Conference by storm this fall, where their football program is 6-1 and sits a perfect 3-0 in conference action. This success has taken everybody by surprise as Louisville was expected to run away with the conference title. Will Central Florida also surprise people on the basketball court?
My answer is: kind of. I know — real definitive, right?
Last season, the Knights were 20-11 overall, going an impressive 15-5 at home. They did not gain a postseason birth since they lost in the Conference USA Tournament, but made strides as a program.
The team is led by senior guard Isaiah Sykes. He is the real deal, as noted by the media, who voted him to the AAC All-League Preseason Second Team. Last year, Sykes put up around 17 points a game. Redshirt senior forward Tristan Spurlock and senior guard Calvin Newell both averaged double figures as well. In addition, junior forward Kasey Wilson averaged just under 10 points a game.
The combination of experience and talent is hard to find, and Central Florida possesses just that. The question becomes, however, can this team stack up against the likes of Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis, South Florida, and Cincinnati? It’s hard to believe that they will be able to.
Let me explain why. Thinking back to last season’s 20-11 campaign, you might wonder why the team didn’t gain a postseason berth. They didn’t even make the NIT.
Let’s look at the facts. They had bad losses to Middle Tennesse State by 14, Marshall, UTEP, Marshall again, and Southern Miss. Every team in the AAC is at a much higher echelon than the teams above. Since the Knights are returning most of their key players, it is hard to believe that a team that is one year removed from those bad losses will make an impact in the AAC in 2013-14.
That being said, Sykes is an NBA talent, and that can go a long way in determining an outcome of a game. If he leads this team and his teammates believe in him, they might be able to surprise some teams and shock the college basketball scene.
Because of the experience and past production in the starting lineup, I have Central Florida surprising some people. But because of their inability to win the “gimme” games last season, I have them coming in at no. 6 in the conference, going 16-15 on the year.