TCU welcomes #3 Kansas to Schollmaier Arena for Jamie Dixon’s first Big 12 game. In order to learn more about who the Frogs will be taking on, we caught up with Andy Mitts of Rock Chalk Talk. Also, check out my half of the Q&A over on their site here. Let’s get to it!
1. Kansas did not get off to the best start this year, dropping their opener to Indiana out in Hawaii. However, as always, the Jayhawks have bounced back and gotten some big wins going into Big 12 play. What went wrong in the game against the Hoosiers and what have the Jayhawks done to bounce back to win 11 in a row?
It’s hard to really say that anything went wrong in that game against Indiana, other than they ran into a team that was lighting it up from outside the arc. Indiana made 15 3-pointers in that game, and given that it was the first game of the season it is hard to expect the defensive gameplan to be in place to limit a good team. A 103-99 game kind of tells you there wasn’t much in the way of defense, but that’s not a surprise early in the season.
Since then, it’s pretty much been what we expected from the beginning of the season. Frank Mason has been completely lights out to start the year and fellow PG Devonte’ Graham has quietly put together a solid season so far. Josh Jackson took a little bit to get going, but once he came on, the backcourt has carried this team. The frontcourt has had multiple struggles and some further setbacks, but with a guard lineup that is this talented, they don’t necessarily need a lot on the inside to make it work.
2. For the second question, I’ll turn one of the ones you asked me back around to you: Given what we have seen in the Big 12 thus far, how do you see the conference shaking out? How many Big 12 teams will be playing in the NCAA Tournament? NIT?
There are really 3 tiers of teams in the Big 12 this year. The bottom tier has Oklahoma and Texas in it. Both of them are teams that lost a lot of talent and just haven’t been able to find enough replacement production to remain competitive. I don’t expect either of them to be able to turn it around enough to challenge for the top half of the conference. The middle tier has Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in it. It’s pretty difficult to separate any of these teams out of this pack, although I do have to say that injuries to ISU could quickly push them down and out of this tier, and the only one of those teams that even has a decent nonconference SOS is Oklahoma State, so there is a lot to still be determined about each of those teams. The top tier has Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia, and frankly I’m a bit surprised that Kansas has these two teams as their competition. Ultimately I don’t see how WVU is going to be able to keep up the defensive pressure when they actually play good teams with a bit of tempo, and Baylor hasn’t played a road game yet. I see Kansas winning the league again, with Baylor, WVU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and one of the other 3 from that middle tier making it in. The other two will probably be in the NIT.
3. The Kansas roster this year is once again loaded from top to bottom. There are some names that a lot of fans are familiar with such as Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. The Jayhawks also have one of the top freshmen in the nation in Josh Jackson. Outside of these three players, who is the key player to keep an eye on in this game?
This one is actually a little bit harder than I initially thought it would be. The easy answer is to say someone in the post, like Landen Lucas or Carlton Bragg. But instead, I’m going with Svi (Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk). The junior from the Ukraine has significantly improved this year and has been key to making the four-guard lineup work for the Jayhawks this year. He’s shooting well from 3 (43.5%) and has taken the second most on the squad, and is probably the best on the team at limiting turnovers. If he has a strong game from the outside, this could get ugly quickly.
4. Jayhawks fans received some unfortunate news earlier in the month that Udoka Azubuike will miss the rest of the season with an injury. How will that affect the team going forward? Who will have to step up?
It makes an already struggling frontcourt desperately thin. At this point, the only big guys available are Landen Lucas, Carlton Bragg, Dwight Coleby and Mitch Lightfoot. Lucas has come on strong recently, but he dealt with an injury early in the year. Bragg has been off to a slow start all year. Coleby hasn’t been utilized much so far this season, and I don’t know if we will ever see him except in foul trouble situations. Lightfoot is most likely the guy who will most directly see an increase in his opportunities, and while I have high hopes for the freshman, there just isn’t enough there yet for me to be comfortable with him playing significant minutes for this team.
The injury to Dok is probably going to result in the 4-guard lineup being solidified in our rotation. Bill Self likes to play a high-low system that features his big men. He doesn’t have the personnel this year to run that, and so this is going to be a strange year from the coaching perspective. It seems weird to say that such a well-known coach for such a well-known and successful program should be considered for Coach of the Year, but if Self can push this squad to another Big 12 championship, this could be his best coaching job yet.
5. The Jayhawks are one of the top teams in the nation and TCU has been in the Big 12 cellar for the past few seasons. Four of the last five matchups between these two schools have been decided by less than 10 points and all five have been won by Kansas. Why do you think it is that TCU has been able to compete with Kansas so well?
This is probably one of the weirdest things that I’ve seen in the last few years, with the Kansas-TCU games being extremely close in both football and basketball since the Horned Frogs joined the conference. And that’s usually been with one team being really good (TCU in FB, KU in BB) and the other being very bad (TCU in BB, KU in FB). I think I have finally stumbled on the solution: TCU took Missouri’s spot in the conference, and thus they have inherited the status of “major rival” of the Jayhawks. This comes with all the privileges and curses that were inherent to the position. The main pro is that you will forever be linked to the great University of Kansas, and the games will surely become must-see events. You’ll probably even win a few big basketball games against the Jayhawks. The major con is that your soul is slowly being corrupted by the evil past of Missouri. You’ll lose more games than you should in FB, and people will start to wonder if your program is really any good. As your soul starts to rot, you will constantly lash out as you realize that your school is doomed to forever live as a runner-up, never actually winning a title in anything from this point forward. And beware if you ever try to leave, as all of your main sport programs will look ok for a few years before taking a steep nose-dive and turning into the laughingstocks of their new conference.
Guess someone should have mentioned that during the application process, right?
6. Lastly, how do you see this game going? Score prediction?
The spectre of the “YMCA game” still haunts me when thinking about going on the road against the Horned Frogs. It hurts me that I genuinely like the Horned Frogs and want to see them be successful, especially in basketball. But despite all the issues that the Jayhawks have, the Horned Frogs really haven’t been tested too much. Kansas has to be careful to avoid turnovers, and they can’t have an abysmal night from the charity stripe and still expect to win. I expect there to be a struggle, but ultimately I have the Jayhawks pulling it out. Kansas 74, TCU 71.
A big thanks to the people over at Rock Chalk Talk for talking with us about the game tonight! If you’re looking for more info on tonight’s matchup, check out their site which is full of great gameday content. Tune in tonight to see if the Frogs can get a big win over the Jayhawks!