Iowa State has been a bit of an enigma this season, taking down Kansas in impressive fashion at home and holding on for a good win at Texas, but dropping games to Baylor and Texas Tech on the road. Which team will show up Saturday? The one that lost to the Red Raiders, or the one that beat Kansas in to submission? And do the Frogs have anything left after their crushing loss to Kansas Wednesday night?
BETTER GET YOUR BLOODY MARY - TCU lost in heartbreaking - or free throw line breaking - fashion to KU at the Wilk Wednesday, but in Big 12 basketball, there's no time for hangovers. The Frogs will need to move on from that game quickly, as they face the only team to beat the Jayhawks in conference play this year, and will have to do so on the road. Iowa State, who lost a trap game between their tilts against KU and Texas to Tech, could get caught looking ahead to their game at Kansas, which will be played Monday. Though I doubt anyone is overlooking this Frogs team now, it's easy to look ahead, and with first place on the line, TCU can hope Iowa State is doing just that.
SO, ABOUT THOSE FREE THROWS - I'm not one of those people who are going to scream about "it's such an easy shot, it's unguarded, they don't care..." etc, etc... because it's not. I have been playing or coaching basketball continuously since I was four years old. That's a long time, trust me, so I feel like I know a little bit about this. The skill level to make an uncontested 15' shot in and of itself, is not high, especially for a DI athlete. The mental fortitude to go up to that line, all eyes on you, when everyone (probably including yourself by this point), is just waiting for you to fail? That's a whole different story. I was at the game Wednesday, and you could visibly see the guys tighten up when the whistle would blow, almost like they were dreading having to face the free throw line. And when your individual success is based almost solely on the mental toughness you possess in that moment? That's not a good sign. I've had great free throw shooting teams and poor free throw shooting teams, and the skill level wasn't all that different. It's the mental toughness and the ability to focus in the moment that makes a difference. How do you coach that up? Frankly, there's only so much a coach can do. The best medicine would be the team to get hot from the line for a game or too - because like failure, success is contagious.
NIANG IS A BALLER, BUT MCKAY IS A BEAST - Jameel McKay might be my favorite player in college basketball this season - he reminds me a lot of Kawhi Leonard without the jump shot. He's energetic and bouncy, runs the floor like a gazelle, and seems to always be around the action. One of six Cyclones that averages double digits, MvKay's wingspan is ridiculous, and gives him a distinct advantage on both ends of the floor. McKay averages just over 10 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks - in just 22 minutes of playing time per game. And that doesn't account for the number of shots he changes. For two minutes against Kansas he was a one man wrecking crew - dominating on D and breaking out for two big dunks on the offensive end. Georges Niang is a well known quantity, and has stepped up his game this year, averaging close to 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. He is a matchup nightmare for opponents, a 6'8" guy who can handle the ball, shoot the three, and attack the rim. TCU will need to find an answer to slowing down Niang, and a guy that can limit McKay's effectiveness around the rim, to give them a chance in this game. And oh yeah, Iowa State's point guard, Monte Morris, might be one of the most exciting at the position in college basketball this year.
JUST BE AVERAGE - TCU has shown it's a good enough team defensively to stay in games despite a poor offensive effort - which is exactly what happened Wednesday night. The Frogs shot an abysmal percentage from both the line and the field against Kansas, and had they even shot their averages, would have quite possibly come away with the win. Against the Cyclones, who are not a good defensive club, if they can shoot in the 40's from the field and the 70's from the line, and play the kind of defense they have most of the season, it could be a great game, and the Frogs could have an opportunity to steal a little of that "Hilton Magic".
LOCK DOWN D - The Frogs have a habit of holding teams under their season averages on the offensive side of the ball, and that kind of effort will be needed on the road this afternoon. This is a battle of the nation's 15th best offense verses it's 16th best defense, and something will have to give. Will it be the Frogs D, after game after game of playing excellently, be motivated to keep giving that effort as the offense continues to not keep pace? I see this all the time - a team works hard to get a stop, then can't get a shot to fall on the other end. It's human nature to let the effort wane as the results don't match up to it, but for the Frogs to have a shot to win in the Big 12, the defense can't afford to not be full bore despite (or maybe because) the offensive woes.
This is quite possibly the toughest test for the Frogs of the season, playing a good team, on the road, right after a draining and emotionally devastating loss. But they have to be due, don't they? So many close games, so many missed opportunities - maybe today is the day the free throws fall, the whistles go their way, and TCU pulls of the upset that they have been on the precipice in for the past month. We can hope for a little of that magic to go our way today, can't we?