Fans can secure the best seats inside the UCF Arena for the showdown with the Bulls on Jan. 2 by placing a season ticket deposit today by calling the UCF Athletics Ticket Office at (407) 823-1000.
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF fans eagerly anticipating the Knights' 2013 entry into the BIG EAST will not only get a preview of what's to come early next basketball season, but they will also get to see UCF's biggest rival playing in Orlando.
UCF's men's basketball team will open next season at USF on Nov. 10 in the first game inside the massively renovated Sun Dome in Tampa. The 32-year-old facility just underwent a $35.6 million facelift where the lower bowl seating was transformed into an oval shape and a new LED, center-hung scoreboard was installed.
USF will play the Knights in the UCF Arena on Jan. 2. With USF already in the BIG EAST and UCF set to join arguably the nation's most powerful basketball conference in the fall of 2013, the two games next season should serve as a preview of what's ahead between the two arch rivals.
"I think it's great. It's a rivalry that's been created for us and with us going to the BIG EAST this (series) gives us an opportunity to get a jump on that," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "They've redone their arena and we'll have the opportunity to open up the new place and I heard it is terrific. And then we'll come back here later in the season and play in Orlando. I think it's a good time to do that before we go into the BIG EAST."
Both teams are coming off impressive 2011-12 seasons. UCF was 22-11 overall, 10-6 in Conference USA play and went 16-1 at home last season. The Knights defeated Memphis and UAB for the first time last season and reached the NIT, another first in school history. The Bulls were 22-14 overall, 12-6 in the BIG EAST and 14-2 at home. They won two games in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Ohio with a berth to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Jones, the architect of UCF's rise as a program the past two seasons, pushed hard for the home-and-home series with the Bulls because of the Knights' difficulty in scheduling opponents the past two years. UCF defeated Florida, Miami, USF and UMass in Jones' first season, and the Knights knocked off defending national champion UConn and Memphis this past season. Those big victories have made teams leery of traveling to Orlando to face the Knights.
"Last year it was harder getting games. And then we had a RPI of 51 last year. There were teams in the NCAA Tournament that didn't have a RPI that high," Jones said. "We've given ourselves a shot to get in the NCAA Tournament each of the past couple of years if we just could have finished a little better. But now, in Year 3, we return a lot of guys and we have some good guys coming in and hopefully we can play a little tougher schedule and have some success."
Jones said the prospect of joining the BIG EAST in the fall of 2013 has allowed him to make some headway with some of the nation's biggest recruits. Whereas UCF's ability to maximize exposure was limited in the past, Jones said he can now tell recruits that they will be playing in premier facilities and against some of the top teams in the country once in the BIG EAST.
"It's helped our recruiting on a national scale and even in the state of Florida from some kids that we never got a sincere interest from in the past because of the level that we were at with exposure," Jones said. "Now, in this situation we can recruit nationally, keep the kids that we want at home and get some others from different places."
With the return of the top four scorers and an influx of transfer talents - Calvin Newell (Oklahoma) and C.J. Reed (Bethune-Cookman) - Jones is confident the Knights can make a run to the NCAA Tournament next season. The schedule, which will be released fully in the coming weeks, has been upgraded, starting with the USF series in November.
"Hopefully it will be a schedule that will give us a chance to get into the tournament," Jones said. "With some experience coming back, we don't have to make as big of strides as we've had to make in the first two years. We're very excited."