TCU hosts the 21st-ranked Oklahoma Sooners this afternoon, the last contest in a grueling string of games against ranked opponents for TCU. After today, four of the Frogs' next five opponents will likely be unranked. TCU enters the game 1-8 in Big 12 play after falling to Baylor on Wednesday afternoon. The Sooners are 6-4 in conference play, just half a game out of second place in the Big 12. I caught up with Rich DeCray from Crimson and Cream Machine to preview this afternoon's contest.
1. Saturday marks the first match-up between the Sooners and the Horned Frogs this season. What players should TCU fans keep their eye on this afternoon for Oklahoma? Who has impressed you the most from this OU squad?
Around the perimeter, Buddy Hield has made a name for himself with the ability to score in multiple ways. Averaging 20.1 points against conference opponents, Hield remains the focus of any and all defenses the Sooners face. On the inside, TaShawn Thomas has proved to be the missing link. The transfer from Houston can score with his back to the basket on high percentage shots making him irreplaceable. With the experience Thomas possesses, many expected him to carry the load but you can't write off Ryan Spangler. As he continues to progress, this Gonzaga transfer averages 10.7 points to go alongside 7.5 rebounds per game. The rebounding ability lets Oklahoma jump out in transition for easy and quick buckets.
While I expected Hield to be the key component for Oklahoma, it has been Isaiah Cousins who has impressed me the most. A guard who struggled as a freshman moved over to the wing as a sophomore and excelled. Cousins racks up stats in every imaginable way but provides a boost in scoring when the usual suspects are having an off night. He could be the most underrated player in the league.
2. Oklahoma is more than halfway through conference play, posting a 6-4 record in the Big 12 and a 15-7 record overall. As the 21st-ranked team in the country right now, the Sooners are all but a lock for the NCAA Tournament. How do you see the rest of the season playing out for OU?
The Big XII is no joke and Oklahoma has had their fair share of ups and downs. With programs like Kansas and Iowa St. still left on the schedule, the Sooners could legitimately post a 4-4 record the rest of the way. Hopefully that isn't the case!
3. TCU enters the game with a 1-8 record in conference play, but the Frogs do look significantly better than in past seasons. TCU was one possession away from beating both West Virginia and Kansas a couple of weeks ago. How does Lon Kruger motivate his guys so as to not overlook this improved TCU team?
Honestly, the game appears to be a bit of a trap game with the #11 team coming to town on Monday. Kyan Anderson is a fantastic player who has the ability to carry the load offensively. It's no secret that road wins are tough to come by. Lon Kruger has must preach defense, defense, and defense while moving the ball on offense to avoid dropping a game here. This is a team that has learned to take it one game at a time knowing there are no "give-me's" in this league.
4. One-third of TCU's Big 12 wins in program history have come against Oklahoma (literally one of the three). What do you think the Frogs need to do to knock off the Sooners again today? In other words, where is Oklahoma vulnerable? How can they be beaten?
As mentioned above, the Sooners thrive on rebounds allowing them to get out in transition or secure second chance points. Averaging 38.5 rebound a game, it's tough to match the effort from Oklahoma on any given night in securing the lose ball after a shot. Focusing on finding Spangler and blocking him out could provide an edge for the opposing team. Typically, though not always, a team that outrebounds Oklahoma has gone on to win.
However, the biggest area of weakness that manifested itself has been ball handling. Point guard Jordan Woodard turned the ball over six times the last time out on the floor. Deploying a full court press or even half court traps have led to easy points for opponents night in and night out. Both of these are reasons West Virginia produced a blowout against OU earlier in the season. The mold has been set.
5. Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday's contest? Does Oklahoma add to their three-game winning streak and continue to climb in the Big 12 standings? Or does TCU finally break through and knock off a ranked Big 12 opponent?
Unfortunately for TCU, I don't think this game remains close in the second half. Anderson can only do so much on his own and needs a supporting cast. I've got the Sooners 82-68.
Big thanks to Rich and the team at Crimson and Cream Machine. Look for continued coverage of TCU vs. Oklahoma right here leading up to this afternoon's game.