Preview: BYU and UCF face off in the Big 12 Tournament as conference newcomers

BYU's first Big 12 Tournament game will be against the UCF Knights. What should we watch for?

Trevin Knell fights off the UCF defense
Trevin Knell fights off the UCF defense / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Welcome to the Big 12 Tournament, Cougar fans! After an expectation-shattering 22-9 season in the Big 12, the BYU Cougars are officially seated at the big kids' table ranked 20th in the AP poll and seeded 5th in the conference. Following their win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday, UCF is moving up to face a BYU team with hopes of losing to Houston in the semifinals (only sort of joking).

We asked BYU fans on Twitter who they would rather face in this round's matchup, and fans made it clear that UCF was not their preference. UCF is a tough team who has what it takes to give BYU an early exit, and fans have made their feelings clear.

These two teams have faced off twice already this season and BYU came out on top in both contests, but could this time be any different? I don't think anyone should think this game will be a walk in the park for BYU, because both games against the Knights were very close contests with UCF's defense keeping them within arm's reach in the first game, and a nuclear explosion of last-minute 3s nearly stole the second game from the Cougars. UCF is a tough team, and will not lie down to a BYU team that they feel they can beat.

BYU (22-9, 10-8 Big 12) and UCF (17-14, 7-11 Big 12) both entered the Big 12 as newcomers but immediately felt at home in their new conference. Stealing big wins and outperforming their preseason poll projections has been a delight for both fanbases to see, as BYU and UCF were picked to finish 13th and 14th in the conference, respectively. In this sense, both teams have a great deal of respect for each other.

Marchelus Avery, Atiki Ally Atiki
Atiki Ally Atiki battles for the ball against UCF / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

UCF has won a few big games this year, namely against Texas Tech, and Kansas. While they're still looking for their first win over the Cougs, UCF knows how to beat teams toward the top of the conference standings (and how to beat Texas). They've already played one Big 12 Tournament game, where they dominated Oklahoma State 77-62. The Knights are no joke.

In the previous matchups, BYU escaped Orlando with their first Big 12 win 63-58. UCF's defense has been heralded all season as their calling card and is the main reason they appeared on our list of teams that BYU doesn't want to meet in the Big 12 Tournament. They bothered the Cougars' excellent offense and it showed throughout the game. Where UCF often struggles is on the offensive side of the ball, though that didn't seem to be the case at the end of their 88-90 loss in Provo, when they hit 5 3-pointers in the final minute to nearly come back to beat the Cougars on their home floor.

Being 2-0 against the Knights, many may feel that BYU is perfectly equipped to win this game, and that might be true. Keep in mind that both wins were nailbiters, and UCF is no slouch. On a neutral floor, BYU will certainly be favored to win, but don't be surprised to see UCF make BYU struggle through all forty minutes of this game. It's hard to beat the same team twice, and even harder to beat the same team 3 times. BYU will have to do that to advance to the next round of the tournament, and a shot at Texas Tech.

You can watch the game at 10:30 AM MST on ESPN 2 and ESPN U, or listen on KSL NewsRadio.

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