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Night and Day: TCU Transitions to Big 12 Play

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The non-conference portion of TCU's schedule is complete and now the Frogs turn their attention to the gauntlet that is Big 12 basketball. Time to answer the question on everyone's mind: can TCU continue their early season success in conference play?

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

The TCU Horned Frogs are in the midst of one of the best single-season turnarounds in college basketball history. After a 19-game losing streak to begin the 2014 calendar year, the Frogs are ringing in the new year with a 13-game winning streak under their belt, the third longest such streak in program history.

The Frogs have rolled through the non-conference portion of their schedule, finishing with a perfect 13-0 record, and winning by an average margin of 22.0 points. TCU has set the school record for best start in program history, earned its first national ranking in nearly 16 seasons, and is one of just six undefeated teams remaining in college basketball.

Admittedly, the Frogs haven't exactly faced a challenging slate of opponents to begin the season. TCU has a trio of victories over power conference opponents - defeating Washington State impressively at home, outlasting Mississippi State in the finals of the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic, and traveling to Oxford to handle Ole Miss in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. However, just three of the Frogs' 13 victories are over teams with RPI rankings in the top 150. In fact, the statistical ratings website KenPom.com lists TCU's non-conference strength of schedule as dead last in the nation at 351st.

With the non-conference season finished, it's time to address the elephant in the room. Can TCU continue their early season success in Big 12 play in 2015?

The competition that the Frogs faced in the non-conference slate could not be more different than the competition that the Frogs will face in Big 12 play. Through the first few weeks of the season, the Big 12 has emerged as by far the best college basketball conference in the country. The ten teams in the conference have combined for an overall record of 103-21, the best winning percentage of any conference in the nation. Nine different Big 12 teams have been ranked or receiving votes at some point in the season. The Big 12 has the nation's best conference RPI, with seven teams in the top 50.

Non-Conference

Big 12 Conference

Team

Record

RPI

Team

Record

RPI

Bradley

5-9

288

Baylor

11-1

20

Furman

3-8

265

Iowa State

10-1

27

Grambling State

2-8

255

Kansas

10-2

2

McNeese State

6-5

106

Kansas State

7-6

184

Mississippi

8-4

80

Oklahoma

9-3

33

Mississippi State

6-6

249

Oklahoma State

10-2

41

Mississippi Valley State

1-12

305

TCU

13-0

88

New Orleans

4-5

157

Texas

11-2

29

Prairie View A&M

2-11

228

Texas Tech

10-3

132

Radford

9-5

102

West Virginia

12-1

15

Tennessee State

3-12

338




UTSA

5-5

251




Washington State

6-6

234




Needless to say, things are going to be different in 2015. However, throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Frogs have laid the foundation to build upon their success once Big 12 play begins. Several trends have emerged through the Frogs' first 13 games, and these will have to continue to strengthen for TCU's success to carry into conference play.

Defense, Defense, Defense

Throughout his coaching career, Trent Johnson has prided himself on this team's tough defenses and this season has been no different. So much of TCU's non-conference success has come on the defensive side of the ball. The Frogs have statistically been one of the best defensive teams in the country so far. The Frogs are 9th in the country in blocked shots per game with 6.5. Think about it like this, if every blocked shot were to have gone in, TCU is saving about 13 points per game just through blocked shots. To put that into perspective, nine of the Frogs' Big 12 losses last season were by less than 13 points. The Frogs' forwards and centers, most notably Chris Washburn, Karviar Shepherd, and Kenrich Williams, will have to continue to block and alter shots in conference play.

The Frogs are also 5th in the country in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot an average of just 33.9% from the field. Because of this, TCU possesses the nation's 4th best scoring defense, allowing an average of 53.2 points per game. This goes without saying, but the Frogs are going to face significantly better scoring offenses in Big 12 play. For TCU's non-conference success to continue, it will be crucial for the defense to continue to shut down opposing offenses and allow the TCU offense the opportunity to keep games close. Which brings us to the Frogs' offense...

Offensive Teamwork

The 2014-2015 Frogs are doing something that the 2013-2014 Frogs struggled with - scoring the ball. Defense kept TCU in several games last season, but the offensive never really got things going. So far this year, the Frogs are finding success on the offensive side of things. TCU is one of the best scoring teams in the country, averaging over 75 points per game on nearly 50% shooting from the field. What's most impressive is that the Frogs are putting up those numbers through a true team effort. Kyan Anderson is still the leader of the offense, but he is getting a lot of help this season.

Anderson has been able to spread the ball around and allow others to take some of the scoring load this season. After Anderson, who averages over 13 points per game, the Frogs have six players who average between seven and nine points per game. The addition of Kenrich Williams, Chris Washburn, and Trey Zeigler, as well as the return of Amric Fields, have allowed for the Frogs to have one of the best balanced scoring attacks in the country. The non-conference schedule allowed the Frogs to figure out how to work as a team and how to share the scoring load as to be successful in conference play. For the Frogs to keep winning, this balanced scoring attack must continue.

The New Guys

So far this season, TCU has received significant contributions from players who never even set foot on the court for the Frogs last season. Pitt transfer Trey Zeigler and UTEP transfer Chris Washburn, both eligible to participate this season, have each started in all 13 games for the Frogs this year. Despite only playing about 22 minutes per game each, the duo combine to average a double-double, with over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. Zeigler and Washburn have been a significant factor in the Frogs' success thus far this season, and their contributions must continue in conference play.

Zeigler, who was a prolific scorer during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Central Michigan, hasn't yet reached his true potential at TCU. Zeigler is capable of scoring upward of 15 points per game, as he proved in past seasons, so if he can increase his scoring output even further in conference play, the Frogs' offense is going to be even more prolific.

Another major key to the Frogs' success this season has been the play of sophomore Kenrich Williams, a Waco native who transferred to TCU from New Mexico Junior College. Williams is putting up impressive numbers off the bench, averaging nearly nine points and seven rebounds per game. Williams has scored double-digit points or rebounds in nine of the Frogs' first 13 contests this season. There is no doubt that Williams provides a much needed spark off the bench for TCU. His contributions are going to be key in Big 12 play.

Chauncey Collins, who is likely being groomed to replace Kyan Anderson next season, has been another key addition for the Frogs. The true freshman from Oklahoma City is a pure shooter that is capable of giving TCU another spark off the bench.

Finally, the return of Amric Fields and Devonta Abron from injury has been another component of the Frogs' early season success, especially on the defensive side of the ball. As the duo returns to 100% health, their contributions should increase this spring.

Team Psyche

Winning builds confidence, and TCU has done a fair share of winning throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule. Trent Johnson and the Frogs have proven that they can win games, and win games in impressive fashion. The Frogs will enter Big 12 play believing that they can win and believing that they can compete for 40 minutes every game.

The Frogs' first four Big 12 games will go a long way toward building confidence for the remainder of the season. TCU opens their Big 12 slate with #17 West Virginia at home before traveling to Manhattan to face Kansas State. The Frogs then return home to host #22 Baylor and travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech. If TCU can start Big 12 play with a 2-2 or 3-1 record, the Frogs will prove that they can beat ranked opponents and/or win on the road in the Big 12. This will go a long way in not only further building confidence moving forward, but also proving that TCU can compete in the Big 12.

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Last year the Frogs had a similar non-conference slate to the one that they have this season. However, last season, TCU entered Big 12 play with four losses. Additionally, this year's Frog team is blowing teams out in impressive fashion whereas last year's team struggled to put teams away. The Frogs' certainly have an uphill battle ahead, but that is a reflection of the strength of the Big 12 more than anything. Throughout the school-record 13-0 start, TCU has certainly proven that they have the talent and ability to win games. The Frogs will have to continue to build upon the strong performances that we have seen thus far this season in order to have success in the Big 12.

With the strides made from the end of last season to now, there is certainly optimism surrounding the program. The foundation is in place for the Frogs to turn some heads in the Big 12. TCU will have no shortage of opportunities to do so, as nine of the Frogs' next 11 opponents are ranked. However, each of the other nine Big 12 teams have proven something that TCU hasn't - that they can be beaten.

Here we go.