Wesner: UCF needs HEALTHY B.J. Taylor to make noise in AAC

Photo courtesy of Isaac Babcock and Winter Park-Maitland Observer.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Entering 2017, the UCF Knights ride in with an 11-3 record, a four-game winning streak, and an unblemished conference start. Four Knights are scoring in double-figures while A.J. Davis continues to stuff stat-sheets and sophomore Chad Brown plays better each game.

But, one piece is missing, and it is one that could make this Knights’ squad the first to make the NCAA Tournament since 2005.

“It’s still day-by-day to see what happens,” said UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins of point guard B.J. Taylor. “We are hoping that he continues to get healthy and when they (the doctors) give us the word, we will be ready for him to get going.”

B.J. Taylor, the team’s leading scorer and facilitator, has missed the past seven games with a broken thumb. According to the Sports Injury Clinic, a cast is utilized for three-to-six weeks after the injury is sustained. Thus, it is surprising that the homegrown talent has yet to receive medical clearance.

“No, he is not medically cleared,” said Dawkins. “Not right now.”

Taylor was averaging 16.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.4 steals per game prior to injury. Last season, the 6’2″ point guard missed the entire campaign due to a lower leg injury. As a result, the Knights floundered in conference play and went 12-18 overall.

This season, UCF is trying to avoid such an experience, and it shouldn’t be a problem doing so.

This year’s personnel is more experienced than seasons past. Three-point assassins Matt Williams (15.8 PPG & 5.6 RPG) and Tank Efianayi (12.1 PPG & 5.5 RPG) are seniors. Primary ball-handler (without Taylor) A.J. Davis (7.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, & 2.8 APG) as well as post players Tacko Fall (15.4 PPG & 11.5 RPG) and Chad Brown (5.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG) are all in their second year within the program. Broadly, UCF has too much knowledge and skill within circumstances to revert back to that level of mediocracy.

Earlier in the season, Davis missed the first five games with a broken hand. The Knights played well and experienced their only loss to 2016 National Champions Villanova. Hence, UCF is no stranger to playing short-handed (take yesterday versus Temple for example).

Though, Taylor returning sooner, rather than later, would help for the heart of conference play.

“I know he will be back sometime this season,” Dawkins said. “I know that will happen. It’s just a matter of time for him.”

Currently, the Knights are 5-2 during Taylor’s absence as opposed to 6-1 with the 2014-15 AAC All-Rookie selection in the starting lineup. While no immediate threat arrives in Orlando on Tuesday with East Carolina, tougher challenges are ahead. On January 8, a trip to UConn dots the schedule prior to Houston traveling south for a matchup.

By January 22, the Knights will be immersed in a six-game span that includes a home-and-home with Memphis, hosting SMU, and traveling to southern Ohio to face the only ranked team within the AAC, the 23rd ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.

Obviously, Johnny Dawkins does not want to rush back his superstar. But, to avoid wasting a year of eligibility, Taylor must return by late January. 

To receive a medical hardship waiver, a player typically has to play in less than 30 percent of his team’s games. Currently, the Boone High School star has played just 7 games in a 31-game schedule (includes conference tournament). Thus, a tough decision could occur if mid-February arrives and Taylor is still not in the starting lineup.

Hopefully, B.J. Taylor will return within the next two weeks and all of the aforementioned can be chalked up as speculation. Nevertheless, the most anyone can say about the point guard right now is he is “day-to-day” and not medically cleared.

– P. Wesner