March is just around the corner and for the first time since 2005, UCF Knights men's basketball has a chance at getting into the NCAA Tournament. Certainly, as in all of their other tourney appearances, they can get an automatic bid by winning the conference tournament, but they are in the running to also receive the first at-large bid in program history.
What exactly does UCF need to do to make the cut? The formula is perhaps imprecise, but with four games to go, there is a picture to look at. The NCAA men's basketball committee is using a new metric to simplify the selection process this year called NET rating and UCF currently ranks a respectable #34.
The Knights probably need to find a way down a difficult stretch to go at least 2-2. The slate begins Wednesday at much-improved USF and continues with games at Houston, home to Cincinnati and at Temple.
When the committee sits down to evaluate teams, Quadrant 1 victories will be considered a valuable tool for evaluation. UCF is currently 0-3 versus Quadrant 1 teams, but all of their remaining games would currently qualify as wins in this top category.
One thing in the Knights favor is that they are playing their best basketball down the stretch, as evidenced by a 47-point blowout over SMU on Sunday. This momentum will hopefully carry them to as many wins as possible and the committee values teams that peak at the right time of the year.
Many college basketball experts have also been on UCF's side throughout the year. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein has even gone so far to say that the Knights can win once they get into the field of 68.
What a performance by Tacko Fall on @CBSSportsNet. 23, 20, and two blocks in SMU's 47-point rout of SMU. The Knights can win games in the NCAA Tournament.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 24, 2019
While there are certainly no guarantees, and it would help if UCF has a good showing in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, it should be an exciting end of the season for college hoops fans in Orlando.
Other Orlando Sports Headlines for the Week
- The Orlando Apollos are now 3-0 after staving off a comeback at home from the Memphis Express to win 21-17 Saturday night. The team now enters a difficult portion of their schedule, with four of their next five on the road and games against two of the league's better teams, the Birmingham Iron and Arizona Hotshots back-to-back. The team is also relocating to the Florida border for the next several weeks due to a mixup with the state's workers' compensation rules, so it should be interesting to see how that affects the team's momentum, both on the field and in building support for their new team.
- The Orlando Magic came back from the All-Star break with a disappointing home loss to the Chicago Bulls but made up for it with a convincing Sunday afternoon win on the road against the Toronto Raptors. Orlando now sits just a game out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and it continues to bear repeating that they have beaten every team above them at least once.
- On Saturday, Orlando City kicks off another MLS season and while optimism exists after their most recent signing of Nani, there are still plenty of questions. Concerns particularly remain with the team's defense and goalkeeping situation, which was historically abysmal last season. Each expert on MLSSoccer.com also projects the Lions to miss the playoffs yet again in 2019.
Photo via @UCF_MBB on Twitter