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Q&A with Black and Gold Banneret on FSU vs. UCF

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SB Nation’s UCF team site editor Eric Lopez discusses upcoming basketball matchup

Mike Olivella

Heading into their fifth game of the season versus UCF, #15 Florida State sits at 4-0 and 1-0 in the ACC. To get some extra perspective before the 9 pm Saturday night tip-off, we sat down with Eric Lopez, a writer and co-editor for Black and Gold Banneret, our SB Nation UCF affiliate.

Here’s what he had to say on what he has seen from Central Florida’s team so far and how they match up against the Noles.

Stay tuned for a Part 2 next week discussing the recent transfer of former UCF star McKenzie Milton to Florida State.

Austin Cox (AC): How do UCF players respond to having a legendary former player in Johnny Dawkins coaching them?

Eric Lopez (EL): The response has been very positive and it has made a big impact on the program. Dawkins brings credibility with his background that players can relate to. As a result, we have seen an uptick in recruiting and transfer players coming to the program.

AC: How tough was the close loss to Duke in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 and did that have an adverse effect on the 2019-2020 season?

EL: It was a crushing loss but yet an incredible performance and a positive for the program due to the national respect and recognition the program got from the game. It was a classic game and overall it was a memorable run as UCF won their 1st NCAA Tournament game in program history in that 1st round vs VCU.

Also, look at the exposure that Taco Fall has gotten in the NBA with Boston Celtics. You can argue that all really started at that NCAA Tournament and his matchup with Zion Williamson. The 2019-2020 season was more of a rebuild with basically a new roster as the 2019 team was full of seniors like Fall, Aubrey Dawkins, and BJ Taylor.

AC: What type of system does coach Dawkins run at UCF? Does he normally change anything or switch things up when facing a high-ranked opponent like FSU?

EL: He’ll mix man and zone based on matchups and game flow. Dawkins just wants his defense to be active and constantly moving. Always run at shooters. Always have quick hands, fight for rebounds. UCF’s defense is a mindset more than anything else. They will press at times, but they’re mostly content to play you in the half-court.

Offensively, It’s hard to say what his system is. It’s more down-tempo but not as slow as it was with Tacko Fall and company a couple of years ago. They run a lot of ball screens and try to either open up shots for Darin Green Jr or find drivng lanes to the basket. But with only two games of data and roles still being ironed out all across the roster, it’s difficult to say if there is an offensive set this team really leans on right now.

AC: Senior guard Brandon Mahan is leading UCF in scoring so far through 2 games, what are his strengths and weaknesses?

EL: Mahan plays with no fear. He’s athletic. Good length. He is at his best when he attacks and does not settle. He has been aggressive so far this season and has had more responsibilities on him with running more of the offense due to injuries to our 2 point guards Darius Perry and Tony Johnson.

AC: UCF brought in Oregon transfer C.J. Walker this offseason, how has the former highly-recruited forward looked so far?

EL: He is still adapting to team and trying to find his rhythm. He got in foul trouble in the last game at Michigan. He needs to stay on the court as he is their best rim protector and rebounder. He will get better as team plays more together and get more games in.

AC: Who else should FSU watch out for Saturday on the roster for UCF? Who is the top option coming off the bench?

EL: Isaiah Adams is UCF’s first ever Mr. Florida Basketball. He is the first guy off the bench and has provided a good scoring punch. We are very excited about his upside as he continues to develop. Dre Fuller is a talented 2-way player who usually gets assigned to the opponent’s best offensive player. So I expect Fuller to be guarding Barnes or possibly MJ Walker, with Mahan getting the other assignment. Fuller also has been running the offense as a point guard due to the injuries.

Darin Green is UCF’s best shooter but is off to a slow start. UCF will need his shooting and scoring to pick up.

AC: What would you say is the strength of this UCF team overall?

EL: Strength is on the defensive side of the ball. That is the calling card of this program and this year’s team has versatility and length especially in perimeter defense. Once the team can get healthy and build on chemistry by playing games, I would expect this team to win many games on defense.

AC: UCF has already faced off against 2 major programs in Auburn and Michigan, splitting the two games. What went right for UCF in the win against Auburn?

EL: UCF held Auburn to 32% shooting from the field while forcing the Tigers to turn the ball over 22 times while winning the battle at the free throw line going 14 of 19 from the stripe compared to 8 of 22 for Auburn.

Stay tuned for a Part 2 next week discussing the recent transfer of former UCF star McKenzie Milton to Florida State.