Thursday night in the college basketball world brings us a critical matchup in the AAC between the no. 12 Houston Cougars and the Central Florida Knights. Despite being the road team, Houston is favored by two points against UCF.
The Cougars have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season. They began the season unranked, but a 4-point road loss to Temple has been their only blemish of the season. Houston has won six in a row since that loss, including a win in a rematch against Temple. They currently sit at 8-1 in AAC play and 21-1 overall, giving them a chance to win a conference title and earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, UCF hasn’t been too bad this year either. They are currently 6-2 in conference play and 16-4 overall. However, the Knights are lacking quality wins, putting them squarely on the bubble despite their impressive record. Needless to say, a win over Houston would give Central Florida the kind of quality win they need to impress the committee and secure a tournament spot for the first time since 2005.
The Knights have been led this year by their backcourt tandem of senior B.J. Taylor and junior Aubrey Dawkins, a transfer from Michigan. Together, the pair is scoring 32 points per game to lead UCF. However, neither is a pure point guard or an exceptional outside shooter. The Knights rely on sophomore Terrell Allen to distribute the ball and hit the occasional deep shot, although his inconsistency has hurt Central Florida against some of the better teams on their schedule.
UCF also has an intriguing frontcourt with two big men in 6’10’’ Collin Smith and 7’6’’ giant Tacko Fall. Despite that impressive size advantage, especially for a mid-major team, neither big man is averaging double-figure points per game. Also, the Knights have only won the rebounding battle in half of their conference games, so they haven’t always been able to use their size to their advantage, especially against some of the better teams in the AAC.
Wear You Down
A big part of Houston’s success this season has been the ability to wear down their opponent over 40 minutes. The Cougars have nine players who average at least 15 minutes per game, boasting both depth and athleticism. While they are lacking the size of Central Florida and many power conference teams, Houston rebounds as a team and competes hard on the defensive end, which has helped them have such an amazing season to this point.
Of course, the Cougars do have plenty of star power on the offensive end. Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks both score over 14 points per game, while senior point guard Galen Robinson Jr. distributes the ball well with over five assists per game. With that trio leading the way and plenty of depth behind them, the Cougars are averaging better than 77 points per game in conference play, which has been tough for most AAC teams to match.
On paper, Central Florida is one of Houston’s most challenging games. However, the Knights don’t have enough scorers to match the Cougars, especially with the way Houston can get after it on defense. The 2-point spread seems small given Houston’s near-perfect record. Bet on the Cougars winning and covering against UCF on Thursday.