The Frogs are 4-3 on the year and about to play their first true road game of the season. As TCU prepares to face the Washington Huskies in Seattle tonight, I met up with Lucas Shannon of UW Dawg Pound to discuss tonight's game. Be sure to check out my half of our Q&A on the UWDP site, right here. Let's do it!
1. The Huskies got off to a fast start at 3-0 and are currently 5-2 on the year. How would you assess the team's performance thus far? What has surprised you and what do you hope will improve as the season progresses?
The Huskies season so far has been a pretty nice surprise. They surprised everyone when they knocked off the Texas Longhorns in China to start the season. After that they easily dispatched their first two home opponents, winning each game by thirty or more points.
The trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament was a bit of a reality check. Cross-town rival Gonzaga used their superior size to open up a 16-point first half lead. To their credit, the young Huskies showed resolve, battling back to outscore the Zags in the second half. They then fell to Texas in a rematch that I think both teams were hoping to avoid. They closed out the tournament by knocking off the Charlotte 49ers, but they had to overcome their poor first half performance - their play was largely uninspired for the first 28 minutes of the game - to notch their only win of the tournament.
Despite the disappointing outcome of the tournament, there is a lot to love about this young Huskies team. They are an incredibly talented and athletic team that plays with a lot of energy and seems to ratchet up their intensity as the game progresses. This was evidenced by their 87-69 win over a scrappy Cal State Fullerton team Sunday night. Much like the Charlotte game, they came out the gates rather slowly and Fullteron capitalized as they jumped out to an early 11 point lead. Rather than pressing the issue or getting rattled, the Huskies picked up their energy level, opened up a nine point lead at halftime and cruised to an 18 point victory.
Since they are so young, there is a lot that needs to improve. Many of the players - particularly freshman guard Dejounte Murray - are prone to trying to do much, force passing angles or driving lanes that are non-existent and turning the ball over as a result. The defensive rotations have been getting better as the season progresses, but they have a ways to go as well. But the most glaring issue this season has been foul trouble. The Huskies currently foul more than any other team in the nation. The big men seem particularly prone to getting into foul trouble early and often. Part of this can be attributed to the team's highly aggressive defensive style, adapting to the rule changes and "freshman mistake" fouls (for lack of a better term.)
2. After a 16-15 finish last year, and a complete overhaul of the roster, it seemed like this might be a rebuilding year in Seattle. Has the first few weeks of the season changed that assessment? What do you think is the ceiling for this year's team?
This is without a doubt a rebuilding year. The team has added nine new players to the roster, eight of whom are true freshman. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this team will finish worse than last year. They certainly have the talent to finish better than 16-15 this season. It is just a matter of how quickly the players mesh together and can adapt to the college game.
Projecting a ceiling for this team is incredibly difficult since the team is so young and talented. I projected at the beginning of the season that the team would finish eighth in the conference, win a couple of games in the Pac-12 tournament and make the NIT. I am feeling pretty good about that prediction as of now, though, don't be too surprised if this team elevates into the top five of the conference and ends up sneaking into the NCAA tournament. It is improbable because of their youth, but it is not completely out of the question.
3. Andrew Andrews has been the most productive Husky so far this season, averaging 20.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Who else on this year's team should TCU fans keep their eyes on during the game?
Horned Frog fans will have an ample amount of talented and athletic players to choose from. Here are the top two that Frog fans should familiarize themselves with prior to Tuesday's game.
Dejounte Murray: Murray was the highest rated prospect in the Huskies highly touted 2015 class (he came in as the 39th highest rated player in Scout.com's final rankings) and while he has been sporadic at times, he has lived up to the hype. He's averaging 14.7 points per game on 41.7% shooting from the field and is also pulling down 7.4 rebounds per game despite the fact that he weighs less than 180 pounds. He is an athletic and crafty player who has a high basketball IQ, is comfortable shooting pull up jump shots, and can distribute the basketball to his teammates as well. He is still a work in progress (like the rest of the team), he struggles finishing at the rim at times and is also averaging four turnovers per game, but TCU will need to make a concerted effort to slow him down if they are going to win.
Marqueese Chriss: Chriss is the second highest rate player in the class (coming in at number 55 overall according to Scout) and is the only player the Huskies may have to worry about jumping to the NBA Draft after this season. He possesses elite athleticism, has a smooth face up game, a very nice touch from midrange and is also a capable three point shooter. He is prone to getting into foul trouble and can get over emotional when things don't go his way, but he is definitely the Huskies x-factor. His play (combined with the steady hand and production of senior guard Andrew Andrews) lifts this team to another level.
4. Washington has been pretty sound at home, while TCU has really struggled on the road over the last couple of seasons. What do the Frogs need to do to leave Seattle with a victory? What would you say are the biggest keys to the game?
If the Frogs are going to have success, they are going to force, and sometimes bait, the Huskies into making mistakes. This team is very prone to turning the ball over and playing out of control for stretches, so if they can force the Huskies to commit more than 20 turnovers and can capitalize on these turnovers, they should be in a position to win the game.
5. Finally, how do you think things play out on Tuesday night? What's your score prediction?
I think the Horned Frogs will provide the Huskies a stiff test Tuesday night. Vladimir Brodzainsky is a talented two way player who should be able to score against Huskies slightly undersized front court. However, I think the combination of the Huskies athleticism and home court advantage will ultimately be too much for TCU. I think TCU will keep it close (and possibly even jump out to an early lead) throughout most of the game, but that the Huskies will pull away around the eight minute mark of the second half. I'm not a big fan of predicting the score, but since you asked, I'll go with 85-70 Washington.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to Lucas Shannon for his excellent insight and analysis, as well as to Kirk DeGrasse and the team over at UW Dawg Pound. If you haven't already, head over to their site and check out some of their content. They're doing great work.
Stay tuned right here for complete coverage of TCU vs. Washington leading up to tonight's game!