Thanks to a 7-0 start, the Knights are buzzing
Published: Friday, December 10, 2010
Updated: Friday, December 10, 2010 22:12
Normally, a game against a .500 team like Bethune-Cookman (4-4) is not considered to be a big game. This Saturday, however, is a huge game for the Knights (7-0).
The Knights now find themselves in a situation where every game is crucial. For the first time ever, they're receiving votes in the polls, and people are talking.
The only way the Knights can build on that kind of momentum and recognition is to keep winning.
A combination of beating the then No.16 Florida Gators and rival USF of the Big East, being undefeated, being fourth in the nation in field goal percentage at a little over 52 percent, and Marcus Jordan popping up in the SportsCenter Top Ten Plays has gotten people to talk about this program.
Forget that it's his first year with the program, new head coach Donnie Jones has gotten results in the first few months of his tenure. The Knights received 28 votes in this past week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, and four in the USA Today coaches poll, unofficially ranking 30th and 38th, respectively.
FoxSports.com analyst Jeff Goodman takes it a step further. He named the Knights his "Mid-Major Team of the Week" and has them ranked 24th. Dick Vitale named Jones his coach of the week and applauded the Knights hot start while commentating on the Memphis-Kansas game Tuesday night.
Why all this chatter about a basketball team that was relatively unknown in the past? Donnie Jones.
People who follow basketball know who Donnie Jones is. They know about his time at Florida under Billy Donovan. They know that he was turning around Marshall's program. And they are going to be keeping an eye here on Orlando to see what he does with this program.
Just Thursday Jerry Palm wrote a blog for CBSSports.com projecting the 2011 NCAA Tournament field. While it's certainly debatable as to how much stock to put into a tournament projection written in early December, you had to like where he had the Knights. In a "if the tournament started today" style prediction, he had the Knights winning Conference USA and being a seven seed.
It's buzz. And it's building.
For those on the outside, it's fantastic. Fans are all crossing their fingers that the Knights can persist through the rest of their out-of-conference schedule, perhaps entering C-USA play which starts January 5, still undefeated at 13-0.
That's only six games away. Of those six, the toughest two games will probably be a neutral site match-up with Miami in Sunrise and a road game against Massachusetts. If enough fans make the drive to Sunrise on December 18, then the game against UMASS becomes very interesting, being the Knights first true road game.
The Knights did play away at Stetson, but how much of a road game is it when over a quarter of the fans there are yours and at one point start a rather loud chant claiming "This is our house"?
For those on the inside, players and coaches, the growing buzz is great, but you've got to believe Jones is looking for ways to downplay it. The team has to.
Getting caught up in things like this is a great way to lose a game you should win. So far the Knights have done a great job of destroying teams that they should destroy (see the five teams not named Florida or USF) -- a credit to the team and Jones -- something that didn't always happen in the past. That sort of execution will be a key as the Knights close out their out-of-conference schedule.
The Knights are going to lose a game at some point, whether in conference play or before. If not before, then certainly in conference play as the schedule gets tougher and play challenging games against Memphis and UTEP on the road.
Handling losses when they happen is a test of a team's resolve and resilience, posing the challenge of not letting one loss turn into more. At some point this season, we're all going to see what this team is truly made of.
For the moment, though, there is a buzz.
It hasn't been a normal fall semester for UCF Athletics, in general. The football team is ranked for the first time ever. This basketball team may soon be ranked, again for the first time ever. Both soccer teams were ranked. Athletic Director Keith Tribble must be a very happy man.
Still, success is best handled in stride. Forward Keith Clanton exemplified the right mindset while being interviewed right after the Florida game at the Amway Center. He seems to know the real price of attention is, well, more attention. The price is getting every team's best shot because they know who you are.
"We put our program on the map and everyone's going to be looking out for us," Clanton said. "It's going to be harder to win from here on out."
If all the Knights have that sort of mentality, by season's end the Knights may be a lot more than just buzz.