When Donnie Jones was introduced as UCF’s new basketball coach at the end of March, he preached a motto of “Why not us, why not now”. Many presumably took it as a message of goodwill, but no one could have predicted the quick results Jones forecasted with that statement.
Now at 10-0 on the year after an 84-78 weekend victory over Miami in South Florida, the Knights find themselves receiving their highest piece of recognition to date, entering the week ranked 24th by the Associated Press.
“Being ranked is great for our school and great for our program,” said Jones about the possibility of the ranking following Saturday’s win. “We are really proud of that. That is a result of hard work but our goal is to be ranked at the end of the year.”
UCF is in a major basketball poll for the first time in school history. The Knights just missed the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, receiving the most votes outside of the top 25. Still, with the mentality Jones has instilled in his team, this ranking is merely a stop on a longer journey.
“[Getting ranked] is huge,” said Marcus Jordan. “I think this is the first time for the basketball program. We are just looking to take steps forward as the year goes on.”
The ranking is not the only piece of acclaim this Knights team has picked up along the way to their fast start. Praise has flown in from national college basketball pundits like Jeff Goodman, Andy Katz, and Dick Vitale. Goodman ranked UCF #16 and Vitale put them at #18 on their AP ballots.
Individual players have also gotten attention. Keith Clanton was called “one of the country’s hidden gems” by Yahoo’s Jason King. He is also the current CUSA player of the week after putting up a career high 28 points against Louisiana Lafayette and 14 points against the Hurricanes.
Vitale dubbed Jordan one of the most improved players in the nation and the sophomore has had multiple appearances on ESPN Top 10 plays already on the young season.
With wins over the BIG EAST’s USF, SEC’s Florida, and ACC’s Miami, UCF has considerable resume building material for a possible tournament bid in March. While their glistening 6-0 record against in-state teams could have them claiming the title of “State Champs”, this team is staying away from bold proclamations.
“I think we are where we are so that we can keep our heads down,” said redshirt sophomore Dave Diakite. “We can’t think that we are the best and get complacent.”
The Knights only have three games remaining in the non-conference schedule and their bid to remain unscathed out of Conference USA. On Wednesday, they will travel out of the state of Florida for the first time this season to take on 7-3 UMASS.
The Minutemen lost in the opener at UCF last year 84-67.
“UMASS is very good, it will be a tough challenge,” said Jones in an interview with UCFSports.com on Sunday. “They won seven in a row to start the season. They have had a great home court atmosphere for many years there going back to John Calipari.”
The upcoming game in Amherst along with next week’s UCF Holiday Classic will be just a few more steps for UCF Basketball in season far from over. While many experts are starting to consider the program a favorite in CUSA or a possible at large team into the NCAA Tournament, the Knights prefer to take the hype in stride.
“We are just really going at it,” said Jordan. “We are taking it a game at a time. You know, anybody that we play against, we are just looking to win.”
News & Notes
- The first ever national ranking for UCF Basketball comes on the heels of the first top 25 showing for UCF Football. UCF joined Ohio State, Missouri, and Michigan State as the only teams currently ranked in the Associated Press’ football and basketball top 25 polls.
- Marcus Jordan suffered an injury to his ankle in the waning moments of Saturday’s win in Sunrise. While he left the Bank Atlantic Center on crutches, X-rays came back negative. He has sat out of practice to start the week but is expected to play at UMASS on Wednesday.
- As a team, the Knights rank third in the country in field goal percentage. The 54 percent mark from the field trails only Kansas and Georgetown. They are also one of only nine remaining undefeated teams in the nation.