ORLANDO, Fla. – When Donnie Jones took over Central Florida's basketball program last spring, he told the Knights he wanted them to act as if they'd earned a basketball PHD.
"As in 'Poor, Hungry and Driven,' " Jones said. "The only way we were going to have success was for them to outwork everyone and buy into everything we were telling them."
Apparently, the Knights did.
In what's becoming one of the better stories of the young basketball season, Central Florida solidified its status as the best team in the Sunshine State by defeating Miami 84-78 Saturday in Sunrise, Fla. The victory – which improved the Knights' record to 10-0 – came on the heels of wins against Florida and South Florida.
Central Florida will likely be ranked for the first time in school history when the new Associated Press poll is released Monday. Jones' squad is one of just nine remaining undefeated teams in the country.
"I'm happy for these kids," Jones said. "I just hope they embrace it."
Jones, once an assistant under Billy Donovan, became Marshall's head coach three years ago. He was hired at Central Florida last spring after the school decided to part ways with longtime coach Kirk Speraw.
In the Knights, Jones inherited a team that returned five players who averaged eight points or more last season. Included in that group are sophomores Marcus Jordan – the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan – and versatile forward Keith Clanton.
Through 10 games, Jordan and Clanton have combined to average 32.7 points in Jones' up-tempo system. As a team Central Florida is shooting 51.8 percent from the field.
"I didn't think we'd be here this quickly," Jones said. "The key now is how we respond. Learning how to handle success is a whole different monster. We'll find out how good we are once adversity hits."
In some ways it already has.
Forward A.J. Tyler, a starter for the past three seasons, has missed six straight games with an injury and isn't expected to return for another week or two. And 7-foot Michigan State transfer Tom Herzog has been limited with a bad wrist.
"He won't be healthy until late December," Jones said last week. "He doesn’t even practice with us. We just use him in games. He needs minutes. He didn't play much at Michigan State. He never got into the flow. He just needs experience. I was hoping the non-conference schedule would give that to him."
That was certainly the case in Saturday's win over Miami, when Herzog scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. The performance wasn't good enough to outshine the one turned in by Jordan, who scored 23 points.
"They've been a consistent group that's brought it every day,” Jones said. “We're still learning. We have a very high ceiling to improve."
(Last week's rank in parenthesis.)
1. San Diego State (12-0) – Guard D.J. Gay is one of the Aztecs' unsung heroes. (1)
3. BYU (10-1) – The Cougars lost to UCLA on the road Saturday. (2)
4. Temple (8-2) – Fran Dunphy has surpassed the 400-career victory plateau. (6)
5. Central Florida (10-0) – Keith Clanton is one of the country's hidden gems. (9)
6. UNLV (10-2) – Derrick Jasper is having knee problems. (3)
Drexel – Gerald Colds scored 20 points to lead the Dragons to a 52-46 road victory over then-No. 20 Louisville on Tuesday. The win was the fifth straight for Bruiser Flint's squad, which outrebounded Louisville 46-26. Drexel (8-1) plays at No. 5 Syracuse on Wednesday.
Montana vs. the Pac-10 – The Grizzlies can't defeat teams such as San Francisco and Portland, but they didn't have much trouble beating UCLA and Oregon State. The more impressive victory of the two was the one over the Bruins. Montana's 66-57 win over Ben Howland's squad occurred just three days after UCLA came within a point of upsetting No. 3 Kansas in Lawrence.
Oakland over Tennessee – It was hard not to feel good for the Golden Grizzlies after Tuesday's 89-82 victory over the previously unbeaten Vols. Oakland has played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, with losses against West Virginia, Purdue, Michigan State (by one point), Illinois and Michigan.
UNLV – Talk about a bad week. Four days after squandering a nine-point lead in the second half in a loss at Louisville, the Runnin' Rebels allowed UC-Santa Barbara to shoot 50 percent in a 68-62 setback at home. It was the Gauchos' third-straight victory over UNLV. Lon Kruger's team got back on the winning track Saturday by defeating Southern Utah.
Angel Garcia, Memphis – The reserve forward bailed on his team eight games into the season to sign a professional contract overseas. Garcia is far from a great player, but he was a big, physical presence for a team that doesn't have much size down low. His departure forced coach Josh Pastner to pull the redshirt off freshman Hippolyte Tsafack.
Boise State's bad luck – The Broncos were off to a 6-0 start under first-year coach Leon Rice until a string of bad luck resulted in a four-game losing streak. Boise State fell to Long Beach State, UNLV and Drake – all by three points. Then, on Friday, Utah's Will Clyburn buried a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining to hand Boise State its fourth straight loss, 86-84. That's four consecutive defeats were by a combined 11 points.
THREE TO WATCH
UNLV vs. Kansas State, Tuesday – Lon Kruger goes against his former school in Kansas City, Mo.
Georgetown at Memphis, Thursday – Both teams have great guards, but Georgetown's are more experienced.
Texas-El Paso at BYU, Thursday – Can Tim Floyd devise a scheme to slow down Jimmer Fredette? Probably not.
- Central Florida
- Donnie Jones