4 UCF (22-15) vs. 4 TCU (24-11) NIT Semifinal Game Madison Square Garden (New York, NY) 9:00pm ET ESPN
The second game of the NIT semifinals will feature Johnny Dawkins and the UCF Knights of the AAC taking on Jamie Dixon and the TCU Horned Frogs of the Big 12. Both teams will be making their first appearance in the NIT semifinals in school history, with UCF making this run in the midst of its first NIT appearance ever for the program. TCU’s road to the final four featured some easy wins as well as some adversity: taking care of Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference at home (66-59), edging out the Big Ten’s Iowa Hawkeyes (94-92) on the road, and breezing by Richmond of the A-10 (86-68) in Fort Worth. UCF’s path to the semifinals, too, was anything but easy: notching a home win over the Pac 12’s Colorado Buffaloes (79-74), pulling out a last second win in Illinois St. (63-62), and finally, taking care of the Big Ten’s Illinois Illini at home (68-58). The teams will meet in Madison Square Garden, with TCU receiving one extra day of rest than UCF off of their win over Richmond on Tuesday.
For a team with only 2 winning seasons in the last decade, TCU experienced quite a turn-around in Jamie Dixon’s first year, going 22-15 overall and eventually making it all the way to the conference championship game with an upset over Kansas to get there. The Horned Frogs are a young team (208th NCAA), starting one senior, three juniors, and one freshman. They are most efficient on offense (39th), where they look to get the ball inside (58th) to 6’11” Junior Center Vladimir Brodzianski. Their biggest strength on offense lies in rebounding, where they use their height (57th) to thrive on the offensive glass (47th). The TCU defense (58th) is technically sound and disciplined, exceling at avoiding fouls and keeping opponents off of the free-throw line (73rd). They are also shot-blocking specialists (49th), and rating so highly in shot-blocking is impressive for a team that rarely fouls. Where TCU’s defense falls short is on the perimeter, where they allow at 36.5% three-point percentage (264th). That perimeter defense may prove crucial in this matchup with UCF, who generates 33% of its points from beyond the arc (114th).
UCF experienced a turn-around season this year as well in Johnny Dawkins’ first year joining the Knights from Stanford. After 3 losing seasons in a row under Donnie Jones, the Knights went 24-11 overall this year, finishing 11-7 in the AAC and making their first ever NIT appearance. UCF is a very experience team (51st); starting 2 seniors, a junior, and 2 sophomores. They are also, in terms of average height, the tallest team in the country, but the team average is skewed to say the least, with the presence of 7’6” Sophomore Tacko Fall in the front court. Defense (17th) is where the Knights make their name, featuring a zone that is the 2nd best effective FG% defense in the country and the very best 2P% defense. They are nearly just as good at defending the perimeter (23rd), ferocious on the defensive glass (29th), and top-notch when it comes to keeping opponents off of the free-throw line (2nd). The offense (164th) is, contrastingly, only average and mostly generates points at the free-throw line and from beyond the arc. They are very effective at getting to the free-throw line (64th) where they accumulate 20% of their points (120th), but shoot a poor percentage (66.1% 299th) when they get there. It’s been turnovers (339th), however, that have been the real issue with the UCF offense this year, and they will have to be limited to get the W against a TCU team that is better than average at coming up with steals (125th).
The matchup for TCU on offense is certainly not very favorable, for a team that generates 53% of its offense inside (83rd), the best interior defense in the country is not the matchup for which they were hoping. Where teams have beaten UCF is from the three-point line, but unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, they only shoot 35.8% from three (133rd), and don’t feature one shooter who goes for 40% from beyond the arc. TCU’s defense, though, should definitely hold the matchup edge over the UCF offense, and keeping UCF off of the free-throw line will be key to their success, a statistic at which TCU has shown to be proficient this year. Where TCU’s defense is exploitable, however, is on the perimeter (264th), and UCF, per usual, will look to generate most of its offense from three. How well the Knights are shooting from beyond the arc will most likely be a major determining factor on the outcome of this game.
UCF is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games.
UCF is 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games vs. winning teams.
UCF is 8-2 ATS I their last 10 neutral site games.
TCU is 9-2 ATS in their last 11 neutral site games.
Opening off-shore at TCU -2.5 -110, TCU has received 66% of the action and yet only the juice has moved at this point to -115. Interestingly, Pinnacle is the only book with extra juice on UCF, which may indicate of some sharp action on the Knights.