Rompza returns to action in UCF Holiday Classic
Knights look to rebound in tournament against Stetson, others
Published: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 09:12
The UCF Knights (8-3) will look to conclude the calendar year on a good note and pick up some momentum as they gear up for their Conference USA slate when they host their annual holiday event, the UCF Holiday Classic, on Thursday and Friday.
The Holiday Classic will also mark the return of senior guard A.J. Rompza, who had to sit out the team's first 12 games after being suspended for NCAA rules violations.
The Knights have won 17-straight non-conference home games, a streak they will look to further when they take the floor against the Stetson Hatters at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
That contest will be followed immediately by a game between the James Madison Dukes and the Rhode Island Rams. The winners of the respective games will square off Friday at 7 p.m. in the tournament's championship, which will be followed immediately by the consolation game at 9:30 p.m.
Here's our preview of the UCF Holiday Classic, including a look at the rest of the field and some keys for the Knights to be successful.
Stetson Hatters (4-6)
The buzz: The Hatters share a common win and a common loss with UCF. Stetson took their season-opener against Bethune-Cookman, a team the Knights also have defeated, 65-60. The Hatters also fell to then-No.24 Florida State, 79-66. Stetson has gotten off to a slower start this season, including a current three-game losing streak, but the Hatters have a few bright spots, including sophomore guard Chris Perez. Perez is leading Stetson with 13.2 points per game. Also, former UCF reserve-guard Amara Thompson made his debut for the Hatters in their most recent contest, scoring five points in an 88-81 loss to Charleston Southern.
Rhode Island Rams (1-11)
The buzz: It's hard to find a lot of positives when you're 1-11. The Rams' sole victory came on November 25 against Hofstra, but aside from that Rhode Island hasn't had much success, and in many cases hasn't come close. The Rams have faced some notable competition that has contributed to their struggles, including Texas, Yale, Virginia Tech and Nebraska. Rhode Island is led by Jamal Wilson and has 16.4 points per game, and the Rams hope newly-eligible Virginia-transfer Billy Baron will be able to give the team a boost.
James Madison Dukes (6-3)
The buzz: The Dukes will be looking for a third-straight win when they take the floor against Rhode Island on Thursday night. James Madison has had some success this season, including important victories over Penn and George Washington. The Dukes have been effective from long-range, shooting 40.9 percent on 3-pointers as a team. Junior guard A.J. Davis leads James Madison with an impressive 18.3 points per game while senior guard Humpty Hitchens is averaging 16.4 per game along with 4.9 assists per contest.
Keys for the Knights
UCF had been riding high before falling to Lousiana-Lafayette on the road, 61-60. That loss, specifically to an opponent with a low RPI, hurt and should have the Knights look to rebound strong.
With Rompza returning to the rotation, questions are going to face coach Donnie Jones about how to alter the current guard rotations and how playing time for players like senior guard Jeff Jordan and sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes will be altered. Jordan has provided a defensive presence, containing opposing guards and helping run the point for the Knights while Sykes is having a breakout season, having further developed his scoring ability this season.
UCF should have a size advantage in the frontcourt in this tournament, as they have against a majority of their out-of-conference opponents. It will be on the Knights' big men as to whether they can assert their dominance, something that to this point this season has yet to happen consistently.