Observing Taylor Hendricks, Riley Kugel, and C.J. Kelly in the 1st Round of the NIT

March 15th, 2023

By Alan Lu

Today, I took the time to watch Taylor Hendricks and UCF take on Florida in the 1st Round of the NIT.  Hendricks is a tall, athletic forward whose draft stock has been rising steadily this year, and he is a very skilled player that could be a lottery pick in the 2023 draft.  Hendricks dominated from the get go, and he helped UCF breeze to a double-digit win over Florida, who were without Colin Castleton, who was out due to injury.  UCF played a very good all-around game, and they also got strong production from their guards.  Here are my thoughts on how Hendricks and other various prospects fared in this game.

UCF’s 6-9 freshman forward, Taylor Hendricks (pictured wearing #25) scored 17 points, and had 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals to lead his team to a double-digit win over Florida in the first round of the NIT.
(Photo:
Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports, via Sportsnaut)

Taylor Hendricks had a tremendous showing in his team’s win over Florida.  He showed a knack for making plays in this game, and he put forth a strong all-around performance to help his team get the victory.  Hendricks really excelled as a finisher around the basket.  He showed good shooting touch to consistently score out of the post, and he would run the floor to score on fast breaks.  He also managed to catch a lob pass to score on a magnetic, alley-oop dunk midway through this match.  Plus, he also scored on a tip-in off of an offensive rebound.

He also shot the ball well from the outside.  Hendricks did a good job of knocking down mid-range jumpers.  He was able to pull up to make a mid-range jumper from the right elbow.  He also managed to score on a turnaround, face-up jumper another time.  While he didn’t quite take as many threes as expected, he was very efficient in making jumpers in this game, and Hendricks moved off the ball to make a smooth, open three early on.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Though Hendricks technically did not get an assist in this game, he showed a penchant for making the right reads and passes, and he can make an assortment of passes to get his teammates the basketball.  He operates well as a passer off the dribble, and he can consistently find the open man on offense.  On one play though, when passing out of the post, he threw a pass that got dropped that led to one turnover.  On a separate possession, he ran the floor and received a pass in traffic, but then immediately had a ball ripped away from him after that that led to another.

Plus, Hendricks also showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  He also was able to get a defensive Robards and push the ball up the court once.  He also played terrific defense in this game.  Hendricks really excelled at rotating to block and challenge shots at the rim to prevent opponents from scoring around the basket.  Hendricks also managed to hustle to make a chase down block to prevent an opponent from scoring on a dunk on the break.  He also would get his hands on passes to get steals.  He also has good length and lateral quickness that enabled him to cut off penetration to help prevent opponents from being able to easily handle the ball or get easy opportunities to pass the basketball.  Plus, he also was able to contest a three to force a miss another time.

In general, Taylor Hendricks played really well to help get his team a blowout win over Florida.  He did pretty much everything well on the court, and he especially thrived as a shot maker and defender on the court.  He is a tall, athletic forward whose versatility and strong all-around skill set were on display in this game, and he is a very talented prospect that could be a very good pick for an NBA team in the top 10 of the 2023 draft.

Florida’s freshman guard, Riley Kugel scored 13 points in his team’s loss to UCF.
(Photo:
Brieanna Andrews/University Athletic Association, via Florida Gators)

Florida’s 6-5 freshman guard, Riley Kugel had some good moments in his team’s loss to UCF.  He is an athletic, skilled swingman that made shots early on, but he took quite a few tough, contested shots that ended up hurting his shooting percentages, and he also committed a couple of careless turnovers later on.  He played well early on, but was pretty much a non-factor in the second half, as UCF managed to pull away to get the victory.

Kugel excelled at knocking down threes to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.  He made a smooth, step-back three early on while getting fouled to get an extra free throw, and Florida leaned on him early to be a shot maker on offense.  Kugel also was able to make a pair of open, catch-and-shoot threes, and he took advantage of getting ample time and space to get his shot off.  He struggled more to shoot off the dribble or when he was sped up, and he even shot an air ball from long distance.

He also thrived at scoring on fast breaks.  Kugel would sprint down court to get the ball, which would enable him to score and get free throws on transition scoring opportunities.  On the downside, he also would sometimes miss easy shots around the basket.  After getting the ball on a quick cut, Kugel missed an easy layup at the rim.  He also tried a one hand, very athletic tip slam, but didn’t seem to get full control of the basketball and rushed it, which led to a miss.  He also tended to take contested, off-balanced shots when he would look to score off the dribble or out of the post, which would result in misses.  On offense, Kugel looked to be much better at spotting up from long range or when he would run the floor to get the basketball on fast breaks, and he seemed to struggle more when he would try to take it to the rim to try to score off of half-court sets.

As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average at best in this game.  On one good play while playing defense, Kugel deflected a pass, and tipped it to a teammate in the open court to set up a score for him.  He also threw a sharp interior pass to help find a teammate around the basket another time.  On the downside, he had some trouble handling the ball when pressured, as he was called for traveling off of a drive once, and he had a ball stolen away another time.  He also threw a quick, long pass that ended up sailing out of bounds.

While Kugel didn’t get many rebounds in this game, he was active at crashing the offensive glass, and he was able to get a pair of offensive rebounds against UCF.  He also played satisfactory defense.  He was able to jump on a deflected pass to help his team get a steal.  When defending in the backcourt, he was able to pressure an opposing ball handler in the backcourt to help force a ball-handling turnover another time.

In summary, Riley Kugel showed off a solid blend of athleticism, shooting, and scoring skills early on, but he also took a lot of tough shots and was unable to keep up his fairly good start later in this game.  He will need to clean up his shot selection and take better care of the basketball, but his ability to make shots combined with his athletic gifts could make him an intriguing option for NBA teams to consider in the second round range of the 2023 draft.

UCF’s 6-5 senior, C.J. Kelly had a strong showing in his team’s win over Florida.  He is an athletic guard that shot the ball well, especially from downtown, and he thrived at making spot-up threes, as well as scoring on aggressive drives and cuts to score on offense.  He also passed and handled the ball fairly well, but had a ball poked away when handling it off of a screen once that led him to turn the ball over.  Plus, he was able to get a handful of boards to help chip in on the glass.  He played very well, as he scored 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting, and he also made a pair of threes in this game.  He is an athletic swingman that could project into a 3 and D role in the NBA, and he helped UCF get the win over Florida.

Ithiel Horton also played well in this game.  He was able to jump a pass and drive up court to score on a high-flying dunk early on.  He also shot the ball fairly well, and he showed that he can make threes and mid-range jumpers, both off the catch and dribble.  On the downside, he also was streaky with his jump shot, as he also had his fair share of misses from the outside.

He also was able to drive and throw an interior pass to notch an assist.  On the downside, sometimes he would be careless on offense that would lead him to commit turnovers.  Horton was called for a double dribble early on, and he also threw a pass that sailed out of bounds due to miscommunication.

He also was able to get a handful of boards to help his team chip in on the glass.  He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Horton would jump passes to get steals, and he also rotated to the post to swipe a ball away to get another.  He also contested a mid-range jumper to force a miss.  On the downside, he would sometimes commit reach-in fouls due to over-aggressiveness.

Overall, Ithiel Horton excelled at making plays on both ends of the floor to help UCF get a double-digit win over Florida.  He is an athletic, skilled swingman that played well in this game.  He will need to be a more consistent shooter in games, but his ability to make plays combined with his motor could enable him to compete for a roster spot in the NBA sometime in the near future.

Alex Fudge had his ups and downs in his team’s loss to UCF.  He is a very athletic, energetic forward that brought energy and made defensive plays off the bench, but he didn’t shoot the ball well, especially from the outside.  He didn’t have any feel for his jump shot, and he missed all of his threes, even though he would be open to shoot it either off the catch or dribble.  He’s been cold with his three-point shot recently, and at this point, it seems like it may be more of a mental block than anything, as he hasn’t really seemed to be confident in taking those shots.

He was able to score on a put back, but he also would rush shots around the basket that would lead to misses.  Fudge also struggled to score consistently off the dribble, but he did have a strong, right-handed drive in which he scored on a high-flying dunk late in this game.

He was much better as a defender, and he played solid defense in this game.  Fudge managed to block a couple of shots when defending in the post, and he also jumped an errant pass to get a steal another time.  Overall, Fudge didn’t have a great game and he didn’t play well overall, but he had some good moments in his team’s loss to UCF.  He is a very athletic, high-motor forward that excelled at making hustle plays, but he will really need to work on his jump shot.  Until then, he’s most likely a borderline second round candidate whose lack of a jump shot could hold him back, and adding a reliable jump shot would help him go a long way for both the collegiate level and for the NBA.

Florida’s 6-5 junior swingman, Niels Lane had his ups and downs in his team’s loss to UCF.  He made some good plays in this game, and he was able to score on a fast break dunk once.  He also managed to score on a mid-range jumper off of a put back.  However, he didn’t make shots consistently, and he had another dunk attempt blocked by Hendricks on the break.  Overall, Lane is an athletic, energetic player that showed that he can make hustle plays to help his team in games.  He will need to improve his jump shot, and he’ll especially need to work on and improve his ability to make corner threes, but if so, he could perhaps project into a 3 and D role in the NBA sometime down the road.

UCF’s 6-11 freshman, Thierno Sylla didn’t get much playing time, but he is a tall, athletic big man that dribbled to his left to deftly make a smooth, pull-up three late in this game.  He also fouled a jump shooter on a long two, which wasn’t nearly as good.  Still, he showed that he is an athletic big man that can space the floor, and he could prove to be an intriguing prospect to watch sometime down the road.

UCF’s 7-0 senior, Michael Durr didn’t have a great game in his team’s win over Florida.  He struggled to make shots consistently, but despite having trouble making mid-range jumpers, he was able to make one from the baseline in this game.  He also passed out of the post to find a cutter to notch an assist.  Plus, he also blocked a shot hard off of a drive out of bounds to show his ability to protect the paint defensively.  Overall, he didn’t play especially well on offense, but he showed enough skills to warrant consideration for a spot on an NBA summer league roster.

UCF’s 6-6 senior swingman, Brandon Suggs played fairly well in this game. He didn’t make as big of an impact as some of his other teammates, but he excelled at running the floor and driving to the basket to score on offense.  He also was able to go in to swipe a ball away to get a steal, and drove up court to score on a fast break dunk another time.  Overall, Suggs is an athletic guard that excelled at making hustle plays.  He’ll need to show that he can consistently play well in extended minutes, but his ability to compete and make plays. Could enable him to land on an NBA summer league roster sometime in the future.

I didn’t really notice Kyle Lofton that much in this game.  I was surprised that he was on Florida’s team, but he actually didn’t really do much when he was on the floor. The former St. Bonaventure guard played, but he was pretty much a non-factor for most of this game in his team’s loss to UCF.  The senior Florida guard was able to score early on by making a tough fadeaway jumper out of the post, but he struggled with his jump shot overall, and he also had a ball stolen away that led to a fast break score after holding the ball too long.  Also, he was just far too passive on offense, and opponents didn’t have to respect his jump shot at all.  His inability to knock down outside shots showed, and it contributed to the major floor spacing issues that Florida had in this game.

Lofton will need to significantly improve his three-point shot, and his lack of elite athletic gifts could make it difficult to make it to the NBA right away.  He’ll most likely need to spend some time in the G-League and/or overseas, especially to work on his jump shot, and if he can make strides to do so, he could end up competing for a roster spot in the NBA sometime down the road.

All in all, those are my thoughts on how Hendricks and other various prospects played in the UCF-Florida game in the 1st Round of the 2023 NIT.  Thanks for reading.

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