Thursday, January 6, 2011

UCF Knights Steadily Improving

Posted by CoHoops DeAnte Mitchell
Since joining the Division I one ranks, the UCF Knights, (14-0) before the season, only received a total of two votes from national polls. (No type, only two votes.)

This season, the Knights are off to their best start since the 1979-80 season, when the team started the year off with 15 straight victories.

This seasons UCF squad hasn't matched the historic start, yet, but is the first team to be ranked inside both national polls and has continued to do its share of re-writing the history book.

UCF's 14-game winning streak is the longest in school history since moving to Division I action in 1984.

While riding the streak, the Knights have reached as high as the No. 18 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN poll, and is currently ranked before formidable programs such as Michigan State, Illinois, and Conference USA foe Memphis.

The Knights bread and butter has come on the defensive side of the ball under coach Donnie Jones. "Our defense has been our staple all year long," said coach Jones. "Everybody thinks we're an offensive team, but the thing we preach the most is defense."

The Knights defense holds teams to a dismal 56.7 points per game, while holding their opponents to 35 percent shooting from the field, and 28 percent from deep.

UCF defense is better described as swarming. The Knights are extremely athletic and coach Jones has utilized each player to perfection.

He has a few human erasers inside, as well as great guards that can defend one-on-one on the perimeter.

Sophomore Keith Clanton has improved tremendously this season, and it has shown on the basketball court. Clanton not only averages 15.9 points per game, but pulls down 8.8 rebounds, and blocks 2.2 shots per game.

Clanton has become a great talent to commend rising star Marcus Jordan. Jordan has been the most consistent player for the Knights this year leading UCF to victory in nearly every game this season.

Jordan, the leading scorer for UCF with 16.7, has tallied two back-to-back 20-point efforts to pull the Knights over Princeton and Marshall.

"Every time I go to the paint I want to put the decision on the referee to either call a foul or a charge," Jordan said. "That's what I'm looking to do."

Jordan loves to penetrate the lane, and does convert when he gets to the line. Jordan is a 79 percent free-throw shooter and nails a team-high 4.4 free-throws per game.

Clanton and Jordan have developed into a wonderful duo, but the two aren't the only thing UCF has to lean on. Talented transfer Tom Herzog doesn't have the flashiest stats but gets it done on the defensive end and that's what makes him such a valuable asset.

Herzog loggs 17.8 minutes per game but still manages to block 2.9 shots per game, which is a team-high.

UCF opened conference play with a huge win over Marshall, led by Jordan's 18-point second half. The Knights have reenergized its fan base, and has many media outlets picking UCF to finish first in Conference USA.

The jump from Marshall to UCF has worked for coach Jones. His players are playing consistent basketball, as well as being discipline on both ends of the floor.

The Knights not only have a great lead guard in Jordan, but also an up-and-coming coach in Donnie Jones, who could be in contention for Coach of the Year honors if UCF continues to win ball games.

UCF will be on the road next to take on a Houston Cougars team that has struggled early, but is still capable of pulling off an upset.

"We have to realize that we have that target on our backs when we go on the road," said coach Jones. "We're in different waters than this program has ever been in before because we're ranked."

"We just have to realize that people are going to play at a different level against us night-in and night-out."

UCF played away from home this season four times, but only two true road wins, with the other two coming on a neutral court.

The upcoming game against Houston will be a great way to challenge UCF and see how well they handle playing on the road with the target on their back.

For more CoHoops news follow us on Twitter (@Collegiate_Hoop) or subscribe via email