UCF opens its season with a visit by Auburn

NCAA Basketball

Auburn will play for the third time in five days, while UCF will make its season debut when the two teams meet Monday night in Orlando.

The Tigers (1-1) split a pair of games in the Fort Myers (Fla.) Tip-Off event last week, beating Saint Joseph’s 96-91 in overtime on Thanksgiving night and losing 90-67 to No. 1 Gonzaga the next night.

The Knights were scheduled to open Saturday at home against Oklahoma but the game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Sooners’ program.

Both Auburn coach Bruce Pearl and UCF coach Johnny Dawkins have their work cut out for them. The media picked Pearl’s Tigers to finish seventh in the 14-team Southeastern Conference and Dawkins’ fellow American Athletic Conference coaches picked the Knights for eighth in the 11-team league.

Pearl has only one player with starting experience from last season’s 25-6 team. Guard Allen Flanigan logged three starts in 31 appearances as a freshman, averaging 3.2 points. He followed a 12-point game against Saint Joseph’s with a career-high 20 in the loss to Gonzaga.

“I don’t think Auburn has had a team that’s lost its entire starting five since 1950 — that just sort of tells you how unprecedented this is,” said Pearl, who is awaiting NCAA clearance for top recruit Sharife Cooper. “This is truly going to be a new experience.”

Dawkins has a bit more to work with but lost last year’s leading scorer, forward Collin Smith (12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds), before the season when Smith opted out because of what he said was an “underlying” health issue.

Dawkins said the Knights will have to replace Smith’s production “by committee.”

“We have some guys who are capable of contributing and we need to understand and have confidence that they all can come in and play a role,” Dawkins said. “No one player is going to replace Collin.”

Dawkins has several players with starting experience, however, including guards Darin Green Jr. (14 starts, 10.1 points a game), Brandon Mahan (14 starts. 7.5 points) and Dre Fuller Jr. (13 starts, 6.3 points).

Dawkins also has transfer Darius Perry, who started 26 of 31 games at Louisville last year, and Oregon transfer C.J. Walker, who has received a waiver for immediate eligibility. He started seven games for the Ducks as a freshman last year.

–Field Level Media

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