After starting the season 13-0, the Frogs have dropped their first two conference games of the year. TCU is looking to right the ship and earn the school's first Big 12 win since March 2013 tomorrow against the Baylor Bears. I met up with dfank_BU from Our Daily Bears to discuss the game. You can read my answers to his questions over on Our Daily Bears.
1) A lot like TCU, Baylor rolled through the non-conference portion of their schedule, finishing with an 11-1 record while picking up several quality wins. What has been the catalyst for the Bears' hot start to the season?
I think this start has been a pleasant surprise to a lot of Baylor fans given the loss of guys like Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip from last year's Sweet 16 team. The Bears returned two key senior leaders in Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale along with junior forward Rico Gathers but there were a lot of unproven pieces to this team heading into the season. The real key to the hot start has been the play of Baylor's defense, which has never really been the calling card under Scott Drew in seasons past. The Bears have changed from a base 2-3 zone defense to a more unconventional 1-3-1 due to a surplus of athletic wing players and without an imposing force to protect the rim as other recent Baylor teams have had. The defense has allowed the offense to work through some kinks while inexperienced playmakers such as Johnathan Motley and Lester Medford got comfortable at the DI level. The Bears have lost two straight to open up Big 12 play but there are signs that this team could be a real contender when March rolls around.
2) Baylor and TCU have two of the best scoring defenses in the country, with each team allowing fewer than 57 points per game. How will the Bears look to break through the TCU defense? And how can TCU break through Baylor's defense? (Bonus: will the final score be higher than 61-58?)
Certainly I think both defenses have been surprisingly good so far this year and the KenPom numbers vet that out. Both teams are in the top 50 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and both have made a concerted effort to be stronger on the defensive end. Baylor will need to do a better job of finishing at the rim than they did against Kansas, especially against a TCU team that is 7th in Division I at 6.3 blocks per game. The Frogs are prone to getting in foul trouble so Baylor needs to be aggressive in driving to the bucket rather than settling for jumpers. For TCU against Baylor's defense, patience will be key. Baylor runs a 1-3-1 zone that relies on the wings being hyper aggressive and forcing the opponent into quick, and often times difficult, shots. Oklahoma had a lot of success against Baylor in working the ball to the baseline and moving it around the zone to get open looks. I think guys like Chris Washburn, Amric Fields and Kenrich Williams will need to play well in this game for TCU to take some of the heat off of Kyan Anderson. And yes, the score will be higher :)
3) The Baylor-TCU football rivalry this season was one of the hottest in the country. Do you see that spilling over into basketball season? Building off of that idea, how important is it for these two football-centric universities to get off to hot starts in basketball season?
I think this applies for any university in Texas to be honest. Football is king and basketball only becomes a priority when there is a good team to root for. If you want to build momentum with the fanbase, it's key to get off to a big start. As to the Baylor-TCU rivalry, I think it would be awesome if that spilled over into basketball season but I don't know that it will happen until TCU wins one of the games. I was in school when Baylor beat Texas A&M 116-110 in 5 overtimes in 2008 which set fire to a major rivalry over the next 4 or 5 years until the Aggies left for the SEC. Every single one of those games was intense, physical, and seemed to go down to the final minute no matter the record of the two teams. And the great thing about basketball in the Big 12 is that everyone has to play on the other team's home court. If TCU can continue to improve, and I believe that Trent Johnson will eventually get them to a competitive level in the Big 12, then this should be a fun series to watch over the next few years.
4) The Frogs are 13-2 and off to one of the best starts in program history. TCU has proven that they can compete and win games this season. What do the Bears need to do to collect a road win in Fort Worth this Saturday?
I'm interested to see how Baylor responds after losing in such a gut punching fashion against Kansas on Wednesday night. It was the type of loss that a team bounces back strong from or allows to linger into the next game. Baylor has done a nice job on the road so far this season, winning non-conference games at South Carolina and Vanderbilt before losing their conference opener at Oklahoma. I think Baylor will look to attack the basket early and often offensively to force TCU's defense to make plays. On the other end, look for Baylor's defense to attempt to get the ball out of Anderson's hands and make some of the forwards beat them down low.
5) From top to bottom, the Big 12 is perhaps the best college basketball conference in the country, with Baylor and TCU being a big reason why. How do you see conference play shaking out for the Bears?
I think Baylor sits right in the middle of the pack of an absolutely loaded Big 12. Without having a true offensive leader as of yet, Baylor will probably struggle in some games where they have long scoring droughts but their defense should be able to keep them in most games, especially at home. If the Bears can take care of business in the Ferrell Center and steal a few games on the road, they should be in good shape to make a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. With the non-conference success that Baylor had, I think 9-9 or 8-10 would be good enough to get into the field of 68 given how talented every team is in the Big 12.
6) Finally, what is your prediction for how the game will play out this weekend?
I'm interested to see how Baylor responds after losing in such a gut punching fashion against Kansas on Wednesday night. It was the type of loss that a team bounces back strong from or allows to linger into the next game. TCU could have an opportunity to pounce on the Bears early and build a lead. In the end, this is a critical game for both teams since they each have an 0-2 record to start conference play. But I think the difference in this game is the ability of multiple Baylor guards to create offensively. I think the Bears win a fairly close game, 71-65.