After getting a down-to-the-wire 80-71 victory over Illinois State on Monday night, the Frogs will leave the comforts of Schollmaier Arena for the first time this season. The destination? Las Vegas, where TCU is set to compete in the Global Sports Classic. Joining the Frogs there will be UNLV, Washington, and Western Kentucky. TCU will first put their undefeated record on the line against the hometown Rebels on Friday night.
TCU will be going into the tournament with a lot of confidence after winning their first four games of the seasons. The Frogs have benefited from having a balanced offensive attack, as TCU will head to Vegas with seven players averaging double-digit scoring so far this season. The offense has been facilitated by point guards Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson, who are averaging a combined 11.5 assists per game so far. There court vision and good overall ball movement has allowed the Frogs to shoot a scorching 51.3 percent from the field, while at the same time limiting turnovers to 13 per game as a team.
On defense, the Frogs have caused problems for everyone they have faced. The Redbirds’ 71 points on Monday night was the most TCU has allowed so far this season. The Frogs have only allowed opponents to average 64.2 points and shoot 43.6 percent per game. TCU has also done a great job of crashing the boards this season, outrebounding teams by an average of 9.5 per game. The team has five players averaging more than 4 rebounds per game.
Jamie Dixon has come home and gotten off to the best career start of any coach at TCU. His 4-0 mark has Frog fans looking forward to this season for TCU Basketball. The crowd on Monday night was one of the most raucous environments the Frogs have seen at home in a non-conference game in awhile. Now, TCU will face their biggest challenge so far this season.
The Other Teams
The Rebels will host the Frogs in the first round of the tournament, a game that has a couple interesting story lines based on off-season events. During the coaching carousel over the summer, UNLV was tasked with finding a new head coach. During all of the uncertainty, star point guard recruit Jaylen Fisher decommitted from the Rebels and followed former UNLV assistant Ryan Miller to Fort Worth. Now, they both have a chance to return to Las Vegas and face the Rebels.
UNLV enters the tournament at 3-1 after winning their last three games. They lost their home opener against South Alabama but have bounced back with wins over UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton, and Northern Arizona. UNLV has an explosive offense that has averaged 82.3 points per game. They shoot 44.5 percent from the field, but they love to get to the free throw line, shooting 75.8 percent from the charity stripe and averaging 25 free throw attempts per game.
Defensively, the Rebels limit their opponents to 69.3 points per game and they crash the boards hard, pulling down 42.3 rebounds per game. TCU will have to get a physical game from their big men in order to get past the Rebels in the semifinals. Point guards Fisher and Robinson will need to facilitate the offense and find open looks for the Frogs’ scorers.
Player to watch: #20 Christian Jones, Forward, Senior
Jones grew up in TCU’s backyard, attending Bowie High School in Arlington. He transferred to UNLV as a graduate transfer this past summer from St. John’s. He has started three games so far for the Rebels and has been their go-to big man. The athletic forward is averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, so Shepherd and Miller will need to keep him in check and box out. They will also have to make sure he doesn’t get any open looks, since he is shooting 64.3 percent from the field.
TCU could end up playing the Huskies in back-to-back games this year, as Washington will travel to Fort Worth for the first game after the tournament. Like UNLV, the Huskies will head to the Global Sports Classic with a 3-1 record. Washington was shocked in their home opener by Yale, who upset Baylor in the NCAA Tournament last season. Yale is a good team but was without their leader Makai Mason. The Huskies have bounced back though with big home wins over Cal State Fullerton, Northern Arizona, and Long Beach State.
TCU struggled last season when they traveled to Seattle to face Washington. The Huskies got out to a 57-23 halftime lead and never looked back en route to a 92-67 win. Washington has lost three of their starters from that team that torched the Frogs though, namely Andrew Andrews who dropped 32 points on TCU. Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray are the other two, both of whom were first round draft picks in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Defense will be the key to beating this year’s Huskies team. They have scorched all four of their opponents on the offensive end and are averaging a whopping 95 points per game. As a team they are shooting 53.9 percent from the field and have four players averaging more than 13 points per game.
Player to watch: #20 Markelle Fultz, Guard, Freshman
Super freshman Markelle Fultz is the leading scorer for the Huskies so far this season. Coming from national high school basketball powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, he was the #7 overall recruit last season according to ESPN. He kicked off his college career with back-to-back 30 point outings. He’s averaging 25.5 points per game so far this year, as well as 5.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. If that’s not good enough for you, he’s also shooting an incredible 62.1 percent from the field. If TCU does face Washington in the tournament, the match-up of freshmen Fisher and Fultz will be one to watch. If not, we’ll wait a week and see it at Schollmaier Arena next Wednesday.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
As with the other two teams, the Hilltoppers enter the Global Sports Classic at 3-1. Western Kentucky won their first two home games over Alabama State and Jacksonville State before dropping a road game at Belmont. They bounced back last night with a 77-56 win over North Carolina A&T.
The Hilltoppers barely got away with wins over Jacksonville State and Alabama State, teams TCU handled easily at Schollmaier Arena. Western Kentucky is good offensively, averaging 74.8 points per game and shooting 45.6 percent from the field. They also love to get to the free throw line, shooting 78.9 percent from the stripe and getting nearly 24 attempts per game. Defensively though, they allow 69.8 points per game and allow opponents to shoot 44.3 percent from the field. They also have not dominated teams on the boards despite the efforts of Justin Johnson. If TCU gets a game with them, the Frogs will need to find open looks and crash the boards.
Player to watch: #23 Justin Johnson, Forward, Junior
At 6’7”, Johnson isn’t as tall as the Hilltoppers’ starting center Ben Lawson, who stands at 7’1”, but he does lead the team in rebounds with 9 per game. He is also second on the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game. Much like TCU forward Kenrich Williams, Johnson is his team’s leader in defensive intensity and rebounding effort. If the Frogs face them in Vegas, they’ll have to be careful getting shots up against him as Johnson also leads his team in blocks.
Semifinal #1: Washington Huskies vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 7pm CST
Semifinal #2: TCU Horned Frogs @ UNLV Rebels, approx. 9:30pm CST
Consolation: Loser of Semifinal #1 vs. Loser of Semifinal #2, 7pm CST
Championship: Winner of Semifinal #1 vs. Winner of Semifinal #2, approx. 9:30pm CST
*All games will be televised on the Mountain West Network.
Semifinal #1: Washington 95, Western Kentucky 78
Semifinal #2: TCU 83, UNLV 74
Consolation: Western Kentucky 72, UNLV 65
Championship: TCU 83, Washington 81 (OT)
Most Outstanding Player:
Kenrich Williams, TCU
Remaining All-Tournament Team:
Brandon Parrish, TCU
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Noah Dickerson, Washington
Justin Johnson, Western Kentucky