Overall Rank: #139
Conference Rank: #6 C-USA
2006-07: 22-9, 11-5, 2nd
2006-07 postseason: none
With a massive upgrade to their athletic facilities, UCF is the up and comer in Conference USA. The recruits are pouring into Orlando and the future is extremely bright. However, this season may be a small step back on the hardwood. The loss of Josh Peppers and Lavell Payne is a concern and the rest of the conference should be much better than last year. That will boost the conference RPI, but it will also make it much more difficult for the Knights, who are no longer Golden, to finish with another 11-5 conference mark.
It is not just about replacing swingman Josh Peppers’ 14.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest, it is about replacing the heart and soul of UCF. Peppers could hit the long ball or get to the basket, get on the glass or hit the clutch free-throw. Versatility and consistency like that of Peppers can be taken for granted, but the Knights will find out that it is difficult to live without. Payne, a 6-8 power forward, averaged 10.8 points and a team high 5.5 rebounds during his senior campaign, yet UCF has some talented youngsters who hope to replace the production. Jacob Loucks and Adam Gill are also not returning to the squad after seeing limited action in 2006-2007.
The brand new, not so cleverly named, 10,000 seat Convocation Center has helped UCF make the transition from the Atlantic Sun to C-USA and the recruiting is feeling the benefits. Wing Chris Baez may be the best of the class. The Kissimmee product is a talented shooter and will be able to get to the basket once he adds a little more bulk to his 6-5 frame. Small forward Cordell Pope can do a little bit of everything, but may find himself stuck behind a deep backcourt. Jean-Michel Yotio, the last of the incoming freshman, will likely spend the season adjusting to life in C-USA. Coach’s son Drew Speraw and freshman Taylor Young will also be looking for some quality minutes in the backcourt after redshirting during the 2006-2007 campaign.
Who to Watch:
The backcourt is full of talent, led by wing Jermaine Taylor. Taylor spent all of last season coming off the bench, but still averaged 12.7 points per game. UCF will need the junior in the starting lineup this year. Point guard Mike O’Donnell will give the big shots to Taylor, but the senior will be the new heart and soul of the team. Averaging 3.7 assists and just 1.7 turnovers, O’Donnell has already proven that he can be a leader on the floor, but with Peppers gone, O’Donnell will need to make this his team. The former NC State player is a great shooter and will look to score when his team needs him to do so. Dave Noel came on strong as a junior, averaging 9.1 points per game and starting all 31 contests. Noel will not shoot from beyond the arc too often, but he can get to the basket and is one of the best free-throw shooters in the conference. There is plenty of depth in the backcourt, most notably backup point guard Chip Cartwright and senior Mike Battle. Battle has plenty of potential, but struggled to regain his form last season following an injury that sidelined him during the entire 2005-2006 campaign.
It is not the backcourt that has UCF fans concerned. Tony Davis did a good job as a freshman coming off the bench, but is he ready for a starting job? The power forward is a solid rebounder, but has yet to prove he can be a scoring threat at this level. Continuing with the scoring concerns, Kenrick Zondervan lacks in that department as well. The 6-9 junior did all the dirty work in his 30 starts last year, but somebody in the frontcourt will have to develop into a consistent scoring threat. Stanley Billings is probably not the answer on the offensive end either, but the 29 year old senior is a presence under the basket on the other end of the floor. Despite battling injuries much of last year, the oldest player at the Division I level led the team in blocked shots. If the frontcourt develops quickly, UCF will be among the large group battling for Memphis’ reflective glory. Yet, in a few years, the Knights could actually put up a battle against Memphis.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Mike O’Donnell, Senior, Guard, 10.3 points per game
Dave Noel, Senior, Guard, 9.1 points per game
Jermaine Taylor, Junior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Tony Davis, Sophomore, Forward, 2.9 points per game
Kenrick Zondervan, Junior, Forward, 3.9 points per game