Dec. 16, 2011
Read John Denton's Knights Insider | Follow us on Twitter | Get social with the Knights on Facebook
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Finished with the first of a two-a-day set of practices earlier this week, UCF forwards Keith Clanton and P.J. Gaynor tried settling the debate of who is taller by playfully standing back to back.
Gaynor, who is listed at 6-foot-8, barely got the nod, but it was largely because of his bushy hair. Clanton, UCF's 6-foot-9 standout, explained the measurements away because he was wearing flip flops at the time.
The height debate is of special interest now because UCF's frontline will be put to the test on Saturday when the Knights (7-2) host rugged Old Dominion (5-4). The Monarchs feature two players on the frontline who average 9.8 and 6.2 rebounds a game and they have used their tough interior defense to reach the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons.
Clanton knows that UCF's fate in the 5 p.m. game at home will likely rest on the shoulders of its frontline.
``Every big man on our team is looking forward to this challenge,'' said Clanton, who is averaging 16 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. ``We know that they are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, so we feel like if we hold our own and play up to our abilities inside that we'll win this game.''
Winners of its last three games, UCF will be facing yet another team that could be headed to the NCAA Tournament in the spring. The Knights have already defeated No. 4 UConn and College of Charleston and their only two losses have been against No. 254 Florida State and Harvard. UCF coach Donnie Jones stacked the schedule with several difficult non-conference opponents in hopes of getting his team ready for conference play next month and ultimately the NCAA tourney.
``All of these teams that we've played have similarity to those teams in our conference,'' Jones said. ``Playing a team like UConn is a lot like Memphis. Playing Old Dominion is like going against Tulsa or Marshall with a lot of size and has physical athletes.''
Jones is hoping that the UCF Arena will be packed with fans for what is undoubtedly the most important non-conference home game of the season. The Knights are 5-0 at home this season.
``Saturday should be a great environment and hopefully we can get some fans out here to pack this place against a potential NCAA Tournament team,'' Jones said.
One of the things that Jones likes most about his UCF roster is the depth that the Knights have at every position. UCF is particularly deep along the frontline with the ability to play Josh Crittle and Dwight McCombs at center, while Clanton, Gaynor and Tristan Spurlock can rotate at power forward.
``We have a lot of good depth underneath and we're going to have to be ready for that grind and physicality,'' Jones said.
Clanton said the Knights' experience this season against big frontlines from UConn and Florida State helped to prepare them for what they will face against Old Dominion. Clanton also said that UCF still gets confidence from the way the Knights played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, particularly in the historic defeat of the defending national champion Huskies.
``This (Old Dominion) team is really smart, so we're going to have to play more disciplined than we did against UConn and FSU. We're going to have to really box out and go after balls to secure them,'' Clanton said. ``We feel like they are going to be a tournament team again, so it will be a big test again. They are a talented team, so we'll have to be ready to play.''
Crittle, UCF's 6-foot-9, 260-pound starting center, says he's ready to face a team that prefers physicality over finesse. He said a game like Saturday's will prove that UCF's frontline is plenty tough enough for the Conference USA battles ahead.
``I like playing against big and physical guys. That's what I look forward to doing the most on the basketball court,'' said Crittle, who is averaging 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds. ``It will be a fun game going against some physical guys."
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.