The TCU Horned Frogs held off a late Kansas State run last night to capture the program's first ever victory in the Big 12 Tournament and advance to the Quarterfinals. Their reward? A date with the #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks. KU swept the season series with the Frogs, but the games were a lot closer than some expected as Kansas won the two contests by a combined 12 points. The Jayhawks escaped Fort Worth with a 64-61 in January before defeating TCU 81-72 in Lawrence last month.
In the second meeting, the Frogs experienced some offensive success despite playing in one of the most difficult venues in the country for visiting teams - Allen Fieldhouse. A key stretch occurred midway through the second half as Perry Ellis scored back-to-back slam dunks to put Kansas up by 16. However, the Frogs would fight back, going on a 9-0 run to jump right back in the game. Although TCU never overcame the deficit, they made the Jayhawks sweat throughout much of the second half.
A lot has been made of this recently, but the Frogs are hot. Before opening play in the Big 12 Tournament, TCU had been playing their best basketball of the season. The offense finally opened up, team confidence rose to an all-time high, and TCU hit free throws while limiting mental mistakes. TCU won three of five then dropped three close games to end the regular season. Despite the skid, the Frogs entered the Big 12 Tournament with their heads held high.
Wednesday night against Kansas State further increased that confidence and gave TCU some nice momentum moving forward. The Frogs battled for all 40 minutes in their First Round game with the Wildcats, holding off run after run. For perhaps the first time in conference play this season, TCU closed out a game. The Frogs hit late-game free throws, made clutch shots, and avoided the mental mistakes that had cost them wins earlier this year. A big key for TCU this afternoon will be whether or not they can capitalize on this newly-developed confidence and momentum. If the Frogs believe that they can win, they will have a chance.
Attack the Basket
Perhaps the biggest storyline heading into the game is the status of Perry Ellis. The junior forward suffered a knee injury at the end of Kansas' game against West Virginia on March 3 and missed their season finale against Oklahoma. Ellis is a game-time decision for today. Another one of Kansas' big men, Cliff Alexander, has been ruled out as he awaits the outcome of an NCAA investigation. With two of Kansas' biggest threats in the paint potentially unavailable, the Frogs must take advantage.
TCU had some success in the paint during the first two meetings with the Jayhawks, but they're going to have to turn it up a notch today if they are to upset the top seed. If Ellis is unable to go, or if he isn't 100%, the Frogs should have the opportunity to do some work inside. It will be crucial to drive the ball inside, create looks, and connect on these shots. If the Frogs can dictate in the paint, it could be an interesting game.
The same goes for the defensive end. Ellis and Alexander are two of Kansas' leading rebounders, so TCU must take advantage if the Jayhawks are less than full strength. The Frogs outrebounded Kansas by 10 in the first meeting and by four in the second. Outrebounding the Jayhawks again, as well as attacking in the paint with an added level of intensity, will go a long way toward TCU's success today.
Hit the Deep Ball
One of the biggest keys for pulling an upset is finding success from behind the arc. Against Kansas State on Wednesday, the Frogs were 4/10 from deep, with Kyan Anderson hitting all four shots. In the season finale against Iowa State, TCU was 7/18. If the Frogs are going to keep up with Kansas, they'll need to get the deep ball working again today. Anderson has been a pretty consistent deep shooter this season, but he'll need others to step it up. Two of the biggest three-point factors will likely be Brandon Parrish and Amric Fields. These two forwards that primarily come off the bench have shown that they can hit the long ball this season, but they're going to have to prove it today.
One area where the Jayhawks excel is through their ability to make their opponents pay for their mistakes. In the season series, Kansas forced 23 TCU turnovers and scored 18 points off these turnovers. The Frogs have averaged about 12 turnovers per game this season. It will be critical for TCU to limit turnovers today and prevent the Jayhawks from gaining additional offensive opportunities.
Speaking of additional opportunities, the Frogs must try to limit fouls and keep Kansas off the free throw line. Both regular season games against KU were tough, physical contests that resulted in a ton of fouls for either team. The Frogs committed 45 fouls in the two games, while Kansas committed 47. The Jayhawks shot about 70% from the line in the regular season series, so it will be important for the Frogs to try and keep Kansas off the charity stripe this afternoon.
This isn't your typical #1 vs. #9 matchup. The Frogs kept things relatively close in the regular season, and the Jayhawks are facing some significant injury issues. It will be very hard for TCU to come away with a win this afternoon in front of a partisan Jayhawk crowd in Kansas City, but if the Frogs can stick to their game plan and play smart basketball, we could have an interesting game on our hands.