CU men's basketball preview: Central Florida
MATCHUP: No. 5 Colorado Buffaloes (19-14) at No. 4 UCF Knights (21-11), NIT first round.
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 5 p.m. MDT, CFE Arena, Orlando, Fla.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN3 (streaming); Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (149-94; 205-160 overall); UCF — Johnny Dawkins, 1st season (21-11, 177-126 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G Derrick White, Sr., 17.7 ppg; Rebounding: G George King, 6.8 rpg; Assists: White, 4.3 apg. UCF — Scoring: G BJ Taylor, So., 17.2 ppg; Rebounding; C Tacko Fall, So., 9.6 rpg; Assists: Taylor, 3.6 apg.
NOTABLE: The last time the Buffs played in Orlando was in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when CU suffered a 77-48 loss against Pittsburgh...The winner will play either eighth-seeded UC-Irvine or top-seeded Illinois State in the second round at a date and time to be determined...This is the CU program's 10th NIT appearance. The last time the Buffs went in 2011 they reached the Final Four at Madison Square Garden...White averaged 28.5 points in two Pac-12 Conference tournament games last week, going 17-for-34 from the field and 16-for-19 at the free throw line...The Buffs are 4-8 in true road games this season...CU junior George King will look to shake off a 1-for-10 showing on 3-pointers at the Pac-12 tourney...
Even utilizing 7-foot freshman Dallas Walton, while wielding long, padded sticks in practice, hasn't truly prepared the Colorado Buffaloes for the defensive force of nature they will face Wednesday night.
If the CU men's basketball team expects to succeed in its first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament since 2011, they must first find a way to solve Central Florida's 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall.
One of the premier defensive players in the nation, Fall will be waiting every time guard Derrick White and the rest of the Buffs attempt to attack the rim in the teams' first-round battle at UCF.
"You've got to make good decisions when you go in there and know you can't just finesse it, or do things you might do to a 6-8, 6-9 guy," White said. "It's definitely a challenge and something I've never seen before. And nobody's ever seen before. Definitely going to be a challenge."
Fall has been one of the breakout stars of mid-major basketball this season, combining his unique size and out-of-nowhere back story (he's from Senegal and only took up basketball about four years ago) with a productive year on the floor that earned Fall the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year award.
Fall ranks third on the Knights with 11.1 points per game while leading UCF in rebounding (9.6) and blocked shots (81). He has posted 11 double-doubles, and his field goal percentage of .722 would rank second nationally if Fall owned enough attempts to qualify (he's 151-for-201). With Fall protecting the rim, the Knights lead the nation in defensive field goal percentage at .362.
The bulk of the defensive and rebounding responsibilities against Fall will fall upon the shoulders of CU senior Wesley Gordon and junior Tory Miller, both of whom are 6-foot-9.
"This is going to be rough," Miller said. "I guess the biggest challenge for me will be scoring over him, scoring around him. Rebounding. You can't teach height. Everybody else, I've got something I can do to with them. This guy, I've got to figure out something new. But that's the exciting part about basketball. You play different players at different times, but you have to figure out ways to beat them."
While head coach Tad Boyle and his staff has scrambled to do their homework this week on Fall and the rest of the Knights, UCF may enjoy a subtle game-planning advantage with first-year head coach Johnny Dawkins.
Dawkins spent the past eight seasons as Stanford, the final five of which featured CU as a Pac-12 Conference rival. The good news for the Buffs is that Boyle posted a 6-2 record against Dawkins' Stanford teams. However, Dawkins owns a track record of preparing for CU's personnel, and he also has led the Knights to 21 wins in his first season after UCF was picked eighth in the 11-team AAC preseason coaches' poll.
"It's a totally different team (than Stanford) and the personnel is totally different," Boyle said. "And they're a totally different team with Tacko Fall in the game versus him out of the game. He plays about 24 minutes a game, so it's almost like you have to have two game plans. One game plan when Tacko Fall is in the game, both offensively and defensively. Then one when he's out of the game, they're more of a traditional team and maybe don't have the interior size that some of the schools in the Pac-12 do."