Through the first third of the 2016-2017 season, the Horned Frogs are 9-1 and currently ranked #28 in the RPI, which is good enough for 3rd in the Big 12. TCU raced out to an 8-0 start this year under new head coach Jamie Dixon, which marks the best first year start for a new head coach of men’s basketball. Dixon has also brought home his first trophy for TCU, beating UNLV and Washington in Las Vegas to capture the Global Sports Classic title.
This start for TCU has been great, and has even merited being featured in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology update over the past three weeks, most recently as an 11-seed. With such a hot start for the Frogs, let’s breakdown some of what we have seen.
Best Win: Arkansas State
Coming into the season, I thought for sure that if we beat Washington and star freshman Markelle Fultz at least once, that would be huge for this program. Well, we lived up to our side of the deal, beating them once in Vegas and once in Fort Worth. However, the Huskies have been far from impressive this season. Washington is 4-5, including home losses to Yale and Nevada. All four of their wins have come against schools with losing records, and their RPI ranking is down at #153.
This brings us to Arkansas State, who has gotten off to a terrific 9-2 start this season. The Red Wolves are ranked #23 in RPI, five spots higher than the Frogs. They also have picked up an impressive road win on their resume, beating Georgetown 78-72 in D.C. TCU beat the Red Wolves 77-54 on the first Saturday of December. Vladimir Brodziansky led the way for the Frogs in that game with 18 points. He made all seven of his field goal attempts and also blocked five shots. As a team, TCU did the little things needed to win in that game. They shot 74.1% from the free throw line, and they had eight steals and nine blocks on the defensive end.
Worst (only) Loss: SMU
SMU on the road should not be considered a terrible loss for the Frogs, but it just happens to be the only one. The Mustangs are 8-3 so far this season but are ranked #72 in RPI. In addition to their win over the Frogs, they also beat Dixon’s old team Pitt earlier in the season.
The Frogs struggled out of the gates at SMU and just could not get back into the game. TCU struggled shooting the ball, going 27.3% from beyond the arc and 58.3% at the free throw line. They also got into foul trouble early in the second half which kept key players on the bench when they were needed. Alex Robinson was the star on the court for TCU, dropping in 12 points to go along with 10 assists. His play was a real bright spot in what was an otherwise disappointing game for the Frogs.
MVP: Kenrich Williams
It sure is nice to have Kenny Hustle back on the court. Two seasons ago, he led the team in rebounds in his first year with the program. After missing last year due to an injury, Williams has come back and is even better than before. He brings an intensity on the boards and on defense that is unmatched by anyone else.
So far this year, Williams is averaging a double-double for the Frogs. He is pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game in addition to scoring 10.3 points per game. He has also done a great job of taking care of the ball on offense, turning it over only .5 times per game.
Player We Want to See More of: Karviar Shepherd
Shepherd is in his senior year at TCU and with his size, he will need to step up and become a key part of this team as we approach Big 12 play. Shepherd has had limited minutes so far this season despite starting in nine games. He is averaging about 15 minutes per game, and during that time he is dropping in 5.8 points and grabbing 3.1 boards per game. If TCU wants to keep up their winning ways against better competition, they will need Shepherd to show us something. Our depth in the post is not as strong as on the outside so everyone involved will need to get it done.
Biggest Surprise: Alex Robinson
A transfer point guard from A&M, Robinson has been huge for the Frogs so far this year. Alex has taken to his role as sixth man, though he has started a couple games for Dixon and the Frogs as well. He is leading the team in assists and steals, with 5.7 and 2.3 respectively per game. He is also scoring 11.1 points per contest. Robinson’s versatility has been key, as he can come in for Fisher at the point or run the offense alongside the freshman. Having a talented player like Robinson on the bench is the kind of depth the Frogs have lacked in recent years, so hopefully having a floor general like him, along with Fisher, will allow TCU to compete in the Big 12.
Team’s Biggest Strength: Balanced Scoring
The best thing that this team has shown is the ability to spread the ball around and get scoring from different players in different games. As of now, six separate players are averaging 8+ points per game. In some games, we have seen Robinson step up and go off; in others, players like Brodziansky and Brandon Parrish take control. Not having one key player that is relied on to carry the scoring load is a huge benefit for the Frogs. This offense has some explosive scorers that could light up the scoreboard at any given moment in any game.
Biggest Area of Improvement Needed: Free Throw Shooting
Melissa wrote a great in-depth piece on the team’s woes at the line, which can be read here. All I would like to add is that issues at the free throw line are usually caused by a lack of confidence. For the players, the more you practice, the more confidence you will have at the line. It is also important to have a short memory. If you’re at the line for two and miss the first, the second shot is in no way affected by the first. Focus on the next shot, not the one you missed. For us fans, yes it is frustrating to see missed free throws, but booing and showing your frustration with them, especially at home, only furthers the problem by putting more pressure on them.
Overall Grade: A-
If we had beaten SMU and were shooting better from the line, then this would be an absolute A+. Aside from that, it has been a fantastic start to this season and we will learn a lot over the next ten games. Highlights over the next ten include the Big 12 opener against Kansas, a trip to Press Virginia, and a home match with that school from Waco, which, as much as I don’t want to say it, has had the best start of any team in the country.