Michigan vs. UCF NCAA Basketball Preview and Best Bet

Darin Green Jr. #22 of the UCF Knights blocks Marcus Sasser #0 of the Houston Cougars. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images/AFP

Michigan was expected to reload this year despite losing some very good players but that has not happened and they could have a very tough assignment where Micky Mouse lives tonight.

The Michigan faithful is more than a little surprised to find themselves with a 7-4 record (5-6 ATS) to close 2021 and no doubt would like to see a strong showing to prepare them to re-enter Big Ten tussles starting next week.

Central Florida has a shiny 8-2 record but, against the two best teams they have taken on (Oklahoma and Auburn), they lost both and failed to beat the spread and are an unimpressive 4-6 ATS overall.

Michigan Wolverines vs. UCF Knights

Thursday, December 30, 2021 – 07:00 PM EST at Addition Financial Arena

The oddsmakers at DraftKings and other quality sportsbooks have Central Florida as a 3.5-point home underdog. Do the Knights have what it takes to knock off a club like Michigan?

Michigan Seeks More Stable Performances After Long Layoff

Coach Juwan Howard like almost every other head coach in college basketball is trying to work his way through the virus mess and create as much stability as possible. This is Michigan’s first contest since Dec. 18th and though they only had one game canceled, that long a layoff is a natural concern to Howard.

That’s why he’s done his best to make everything as normal as possible, but coming off of last year, where everything was also uncertain at this time, this is a coaching challenge.

Howard has spent way more time, in all likelihood, trying to find more consistency, which has plagued Michigan to this point. Specifically, the offense is the biggest area of concern. Despite making 47.9% of their shot attempts, the Wolverines have scored 65 or fewer points in almost half their contests.

The problem is twofold for this. First, Michigan has fallen into a very deliberate style of play and though they are only averaging 13 turnovers a game, when you have outings where you only have low 50’s on shot attempts, that becomes an issue.

Next, the defense is holding opponents to 39.4 percent shooting, however, they are only generating 10 turnovers a contest and not creating many extra scoring chances. The Wolverines need to play at a faster pace that is as controlled to have more success.

Central Florida Has to Control the Pace

Coach Johnny Dawkins’ club does play a more deliberate style. His preference is ball movement to find the best shots, whether they are near the basket or finding a wide-open three-point shot, Dawkins does not want to see one single possession go to waste.

However, that’s not how it had worked for UCF as they’ve averaged one turnover for almost every four shots put up. Against better competition like they will face tonight or in several American Conference clashes, protecting the ball has to be a greater priority for the Knights even if they are shooting 46.2%.

Dawkins teams for years have played good defense and this group is no different, holding foes to 63.6 PPG on 40.8% shooting.

One aspect that could help UCF a great deal is getting to the free-throw line in this encounter. Dawkins was a very good free-throw shooter as a college and NBA player and this team connects on 79.4% of charity stripe attempts. If they could be more aggressive and up the attempts from 17 to 22, that is four or five points that would come easy.

What is the Best Side to Be On?

UCF lost 80-58 at Ann Arbor last year as 13-point road underdogs. Though we think Michigan is still the better team, we think the Knights, with their more veteran team, can keep this very close for college basketball picks.

Among the aspects we like about Central Florida is that they are 7-0 ATS off a home no-cover (they beat North Alabama 75-64 as 18-point favorites), where the team won straight up as a favorite the last three seasons. Though we will stop just short of calling this an outright upset, the Knights can cover and possibly stun the Wolverines.

NCAAB Pick: Central Florida +3.5 (-110) at DraftKings