The UCF Knights travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to to face the Golden Eagles who are 20-4 on the season and own a share of first place with the Memphis Tigers a top the Conference USA standings. A win today by the Knights would put them in a second place tie with the Golden Eagles and potentially the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the conference standings with seven contests remaining. The top four seeds in the conference get an opening round bye during the CUSA tourney and with UCF's lack of roster depth at this stretch of the season, an extra game off would be a welcome reward.
The task later today is no easier than it was two weeks ago when Southern Mississippi came into Orlando and dominated the Knights for most of the game. In that contest, UCF got out to an early lead and the game was even at 37 points apiece two minutes into the second half. From that point on, Southern Mississippi asserted their will on the court and dominated every facet of the game and closed the game on a 41 to 28 run. In that game, the guard combination of Neil Watson and Darnell Dodson torched the Knights for 45 points on 11 of 22 shooting, were 5 of 9 from behind the arc, and a lethal 18 of 23 from the free throw line. UCF attempted just 20 free throws in that contest as the Golden Eagles shut off the paint and forced many poor shots by the Knights while holding UCF to just 40 percent shooting from the floor and forcing 15 turnovers.
The Golden Eagles are undefeated at Reed Green Coliseum and UCF has not won there since the 2008 season. The last time these two schools faced off in this setting, Southern Mississippi put the game away with a 21-2 run in the second half in a 17-point blowout win. The Knights are already at seven conference wins, besting their total from each of the past two seasons. The team has no mid-week game this week before returning home to host a struggling East Carolina team in February 18th.
Statistically speaking, this game favors the Golden Eagles and Vegas has put them at seven-point favorites. Southern Mississippi is the best free-throw shooting team in CUSA play converting 75 percent of their free throws while UCF is better than only Marshall as the Knights shoot just 63 percent from the line. UCF is the worst three-point shooting team in the conference converting on just 30 percent of their attempts while the Golden Eagles are third best hitting 37 percent of theirs. UCF has the advantage on reboundings, steals, and blocks, but they must avoid the same mistakes that crippled them the last time these two schools faced off. UCF lost the rebounding battle by two and hit 17 of their 20 free throws, but were forced into many poor offensive sets. The Knights scored just 35 points off turnovers and in the paint while the Golden Eagles piled up 57 points in those situations.
Tip-off is at 5pm ET today.