SMU's 88-75 victory over UCF on Sunday wasn't all that interesting a game but there are some interesting things going on at UCF, a program operating pretty far below the national radar as a middle of the pack AAC team.
1) AJ Davis, the son of Antonio Davis, is a legitimate NBA prospect
Davis, a 6'9 215 combo forward, was a three-star recruit who played his freshman season at Tennessee in 2014 but transferred out when Cuonzo Martin was forced out. After sitting out as a transfer last season, he has emerged as UCF's best player and their primary option in the half-court offense. He's a pretty different player than his father - he's a very smooth perimeter-oriented big man who plays more like a guard than a post player. He's a good athlete for a guy with his size and he moves pretty well from side-to-side and can play above the rim.
The most intriguing part of his game is his ability to put the ball on the floor and handle and pass like a guard. His coach compared him to Jalen Rose and there's definitely some of that in his game in terms of being a 6'9 lefty point forward. In the stretches of the game where UCF was competitive, it was from Davis getting into the lane and setting up his teammates. He can make plays on the move and it's really easy for him to see over the defense and find the open man. Combine his ball-handling and feel for the game with NBA-caliber athleticism and you have a pretty interesting player.
What I like about him is I think his skill-set represents the future of the PF position in that you are just better off playing a tall wing at the 4 spot and spreading the floor - I'm thinking you could use him in a role similar to Harry Barnes on the Warriors. He's a 6'9 guard who can match-up with a lot of different players on defense. He can slide his feet on the perimeter and he can rotate over and block shots. He definitely needs to put on some weight but he has the building blocks of an NBA player.
A generation ago, Davis vs. Ben Moore would have been a match-up of 3's and now it's match-up of 4's. Davis struggled with Moore on both sides of the ball but Moore is a really good player and he does a lot of the same things that Davis does except better. What Davis has in his corner is that he's slightly bigger (I'd love to know what his wingspan is) and he's a slightly better athlete. He's averaging 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists (on 3.0 turnovers), 0.9 blocks and 0.7 steals a game on 47/17/87 shooting.
2) The only problem with Davis is his shooting but it's an awfully big problem
The one hole in his game is his outside shot, which is a little unusual for a lefty. His stroke doesn't look that bad but he's not very comfortable taking perimeter shots and they don't go in all that often. The problem is that if that doesn't get fixed it's going to take down the rest of his game. You never want a prospect to have any huge holes in their game but in the modern NBA shooting is the one that's really hard to overcome. Unless you have a guy like Andre Drummond, they have to be able to threaten a defense from all over the floor.
They are trying to play professional basketball and professional basketball is built around the idea of all 5 players being able to score away from the basket. A lot of guys can score in the paint but if they can't score from 20+ feet the defense doesn't have to guard them and if they don't have to be guarded who cares what else they can do. Once the league changed the illegal defense rule which forced defenders to stay within 5+ feet of their man wherever they were on the floor the game was changed forever and it made shooting - and the ability to drag a defender out of the paint - more important than any other skill.
3) Tacko Fall makes you appreciate Mamadou N'Diaye
Tacko Fall is a 7'6 300 freshman and there's no way to talk about UCF without talking about their massive center from Senegal. That's all everyone at Moody was talking about - your eyes are naturally drawn to a guy who takes up the entire lane and who makes a guy like Jordan Tolbert (6'7 240) look like a smallish guard. A guy as big as Tacko just throws off your sense of perspective when it comes to evaluating players because everyone looks tiny next to him. He looks like the result of someone spending too much time on the Create-A-Player function on NBA2K and overloading everything onto height and not leaving any room for any other skills. His name just kind of sounds made up and he wears a pair of oversized Rec Spec glasses that remove a lot of the intimidation factor that should naturally come with a guy of his size.
When it comes to evaluating his game, he's closer on the range to come gawk at this freakish looking guy than legitimate basketball player. He's not Mamadou - he can only score when he's right in front of the rim and it takes him a lot of time to react to the other team. SMU went right at him and they threw several alley-oops over his head. He picked up 2 fouls in the first 4 minutes of the first half and he was never really present in the game. SMU just ran him off the floor. They were too fast and they played way too skilled a game for him.
I got to watch N'Diaye play SMU in the NIT two seasons ago and I kind of think he has a chance to play at the next level. When people talk about N'Diaye they naturally assume he has a lumbering Goliath with hands of stone like Fall but that really isn't the case. Mamadou can create his own shot and he can score up to 10+ feet from the rim and completely lock down the paint. When he's in the game, UC-Irvine can play with just about anyone in the country.
4) Justin McBride makes you appreciate just how fat football players are
When Tacko comes out of the game, UCF rolls another freakishly proportioned C off the bench in junior Justin McBride (6'10 325). McBride can play and he really gave SMU's undersized big men a lot of trouble on the block. He has a big body and a massive frame and he knows how to use it. However, even though he has post moves, he doesn't look like a basketball player.
It's hard to put 325 pounds on a 6'10 frame without it looking ridiculous. Now imagine a 6'6 or a 6'4 or a 6'1 guy with that kind of size and you can see how absurd the proportions of an average college lineman actually are. It's hard to tell when they are all swaddled in pads and armor but there's nowhere to hide on the basketball court when you are just wearing normal clothes.
5) UCF's program is built around players with elite physical dimensions but they don't really play like a team
You can see what Donnie Price is thinking in building his program. He starts a 7'6 center and brings a 6'10 guy off the bench and plays two 6'9 forwards, three 6'6 wings and a 6'4 freshman PG. They are one of the biggest teams in the country and they have enough shooting to where they can spread the floor. The problem is they don't move the ball very well and they take a lot of bad 1-on-1 shots, which lets the other team get out in transition and run the ball back at them the other way. They are 274th in the country in assists and 94th in turnovers and it's hard to win too many games with that combination.
That said, they do have an interesting young core to build around in Davis (a redshirt sophomore), Fall (a freshman) and Chance McSpadden, a 6'4 freshman PG. Davis could be one of the best players in the country by the time his career is over and Fall is going to get better just through experience if nothing else and height is something you can never teach. McSpadden is the key to me - if he can develop into a legitimate lead guard who can control tempo and run the offense, they have enough shooting to put around him and Davis and they should be able to build an elite defense around Fall. Two seasons from now, when Davis is a senior and Fall and McSpadden are juniors, they should be an NCAA team.