2013-14 Preview: UCF Knights

Isaiah Sykes-led Knights not yet ready to challenge top foes in new league

Updated: October 16, 2013, 9:47 AM ET
By Jordan Brenner | ESPN Insider

Isaiah Sykes Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesIsaiah Sykes led the Knights in scoring (16.0 PPG), assists (4.5 APG) and steals (2.3 SPG) last season.

2013-14 American Projected Standings

1. Louisville | 2. UConn | 3. Memphis | 4. Cincinnati | 5. SMU | 6. Houston | 7. UCF |
8. Temple | 9. South Florida | 10. Rutgers
Links to every conference


UCF Knights

2012-13: 20-11 (9-7 Conference USA)
In-conference offense: 1.04 points per possession (6th in C-USA)
In-conference defense: 1.04 points allowed per possession (7th in C-USA)

"Our team has to be versatile," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "We have to be different." How different? Try a starting lineup where the primary ball handler plays small forward and the nominal 5-man led his conference in 3-point shooting a season ago.

Projected starting lineup

Pos. Name Year
F
Kasey Wilson
Jr.
F
Tristan Spurlock
Sr.
F
Isaiah Sykes
Sr.
G
Calvin Newell
Sr.
G
Daiquan Walker
So.

As UCF moves from C-USA into the tougher AAC, it won't be able to challenge the likes of Louisville and UConn through a conventional approach -- at least not yet. That's why Jones' philosophy is so intriguing. He's not afraid to put his five best players on the floor together, regardless of position. The presence of Isaiah Sykes makes that strategy much more effective.

The do-it-all Sykes starts at the 3, but at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, he really can play any position from point guard to power forward -- often at the same time. He led the Knights in scoring (16.0 PPG), assists (4.5 APG) and steals (2.3 SPG) last season, while ranking second in rebounding (7.5 RPG). After declaring for the NBA draft, he withdrew in June, and he should ease the Knights' transition to a tougher league. "He's Mr. Versatility," Jones said.

Sykes' job will be easier if Kasey Wilson continues the growth he showed last season. After attempting just 24 3-pointers as a freshman, the 6-7 forward hit half of his 84 treys last season. That makes him an incredibly important floor-stretcher who can draw an opponent's big man away from the basket. And he'll be even more valuable if he can increase his 4.5 rebounds per game, especially because rebounding figures to be a weak spot for the Knights. After all, it was last season (66.9 defensive rebound percentage, 229th in the country), and that was with Keith Clanton in the lineup. Now without the school's all-time leading rebounder, UCF has some serious issues inside, especially after allowing foes to shoot 49.4 percent from 2-point range. Jones hopes Eugene McCrory, a 6-8 junior college All-American last season, can make a difference, and that two sophomores who played sparingly (Staphon Blair and Dylan Karell) can contribute.

If not, Tristan Spurlock (11.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG) will carry a heavy burden inside, even though that doesn't suit his game. His scoring at the 4-spot should be a constant, though, along with shooting guard Calvin Newell, who averaged 11.1 points per game last season. That perimeter punch makes UCF dangerous, especially coming off a third straight 20-win season. But dangerous in this conference means fighting for fifth place, not contending for a league crown.

Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 7th

Jordan Brenner | email

ESPN The Magazine contributing writer
Brenner writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider. He covers the NBA and college basketball.

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