Central Florida head coach Johnny Dawkins motions to players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
- The Memphis Tigers (9-6, 5-3 AAC) host the UCF Knights (4-7, 2-6 AAC) Monday, Feb. 1 in the first of a two-game series
- Both teams are coming off losses, with Memphis losing to SMU in Dallas Thursday and Central Florida falling to Wichita State on the road Saturday
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The Memphis Tigers (9-6, 5-3 AAC) will try to win their fourth game in five outings when they host the UCF Knights (4-7, 2-6 AAC) Monday, Feb. 1 in the first game of back-to-back contests against Johnny Dawkins’ club. Tip is set for 8 pm ET at the FedExForum.
The Tigers scored a season-low 23 points in the first half against the SMU Mustangs on Thursday, but still had chances in the final moments to escape the Metroplex victorious. Meantime, the Knights blew an 8-point advantage over the Wichita State Shockers in the final minutes of regulation on Saturday, then surrendered a 5-point lead in overtime to lose 93-88 in the Sunflower State.
UCF vs Memphis Odds
|UCF Knights||+8.5 (-110)||+370||Over 131.5 (-110)|
|Memphis Tigers||-8.5 (-110)||-480||Under 131.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Jan. 31 at FanDuel.
Memphis furiously fought back in the second half against SMU, putting together a 21-4 run that turned a 16-point Mustangs’ lead into a 1-point Tigers’ advantage. But a game-high 19 points from leading scorer, Landers Nolley II, wasn’t enough to overcome 17 turnovers and that brutal first half.
Meantime, Central Florida lost a game for the first time this season when it was leading in the final five minutes. The 5-point loss by the Knights was their sixth straight to the Shockers since Wichita State joined the American Athletic Conference.
The Tigers enter Monday’s affair tied for third in the AAC, while the Knights are winless (0-3) in conference road games so far this season. That explains why Penny Hardaway’s club is a 8.5-point favorite.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Despite the 67-65 loss to SMU, it’s hard not to be impressed by Memphis’ second-half comeback. Hardaway’s club — rated No. 57 (good for fourth-best in the AAC) by KenPom — could have easily folded up the tent in Dallas. But the Tigers almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We played them until the end, and the guys are going to bounce back,” Hardaway said after the game. “It’s a learning experience for sure. You definitely want to capitalize on these opportunities when you get them. We’ve got to learn how to win at the end of the game.”
UCF presents that next opportunity. Nolley has had 10-plus points in five of the last six games, while junior forward DeAndre Williams has scored in double-figures in four-straight games. The team’s top two scorers will be a challenge for a UCF squad reeling from Saturday’s bitter loss.
Central Florida owns an impressive 86-74 victory against then-No. 15 Florida State in Tallahassee Dec. 19. But since that unlikely win, the Knights have dropped three straight on the road — which is where they find themselves Monday. Asking Dawkins’ group to rebound from such a heartbreaking road loss while facing another game away from Orlando might be too tall of an order. Of course, UCF was coming off an 80-58 loss at Michigan prior to that season-defining victory over the ‘Noles.
Four players are averaging in double-figures for the Knights, led by senior guard Brandon Mahan’s 14.5 points per game. Mahan and freshman forward Jamille Reynolds each had a team-high 17 points against the Shockers. Dawkins commended his team’s effort Saturday, but noted there was a critical element missing.
“I thought it was a really good basketball game, but we need to play with more composure down the stretch,” Dawkins said. “They showed more composure down the stretch of the ball game. They made more plays.”
If UCF wants to win its first AAC road game of the season, Mahan and Co. need to stay sharp the entire game.
Even thought KenPom still has UCF rated fairly high in spite of its 4-7 record, it feels like the Knights are going in the wrong direction. Central Florida is rated No. 94 overall; only three-win Cincinnati (at No. 84) has less victories and is rated ahead of Dawkins’ team.
Meanwhile Hardaways’ group — which was picked to finish second in the AAC in the conference preseason poll — seems like its rounding into form. The Tigers have won four of their last six and are projected by KenPom to beat the Knights 69-62. I concur with that projection, and then some.
Pick: Memphis -8.5 (-110)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.