One of the elements that the Big 12 Conference prides itself on is its competition format - in Big 12 basketball, each team plays every other team at home and on the road. The league boasts that this double round robin format is the most successful way to determine "One True Champion." This gives each team the opportunity to make corrections and adjustments before the second matchup in the season series.
After a relatively close first half of play between TCU and Baylor in Waco earlier this season, the Bears flexed their muscles in the second half, eventually claiming an 82-54 win. The victory gave Baylor their eighth straight over the Frogs, further building upon their big lead in this rivalry series. For TCU, the loss shed some light on areas where the team needs to improve. Let's examine those weaknesses more closely and determine what the team needs to do on Saturday to keep things close in the rematch with the Bears.
True Team Effort
For whatever reason, despite Baylor's position relative to the rest of the Big 12 Conference, the Bears always present a mismatch for TCU. Scott Drew has built a program that focuses heavily on guards and interior defense - two areas where the Frogs have struggled throughout much of their time in the Big 12. When TCU traveled to Waco in mid-January, Baylor exploited these mismatches to the very best of their ability, handing the Frogs a 28-point defeat, the team's second worst loss of the season to date.
If TCU is going to compete with Baylor on Saturday, Trent Johnson will need each and every one of his players to step up in a big way. It sounds obvious, but the Frogs are going to have to play 40 minutes of solid, fundamental basketball. There's no way around it - BU's first and second teams dismantled the Frogs earlier this season, and it will take a true team effort to prevent that from happening again. (The Bears' bench outscored TCU's bench 43-13.) The talent gap is so lopsided in this meeting, each Frog is going to have to give 110%, from the starters to the last players off the bench.
Take it to the Paint
One of the few areas where TCU found success during the first meeting between these two teams was in the paint. The Frogs shot greater than 50% in the lane, scoring 22 of their 54 points against Baylor's frontcourt. The paint was without question the best offensive zone for TCU, however, the Frogs only attempted 20 total shots from that area. One of the keys to keeping things closer with the Bears this time around will be how the Frogs attack the lane. If TCU can drive the ball inside and create more interior scoring opportunities, we likely won't see another blowout loss.
To build off of that point, the Bears only committed 13 total fouls, resulting in just eight free throw attempts for the Frogs. We've discussed this before, but TCU has done a good job of drawing contact and getting to the line this season. An increased focus in creating interior scoring opportunities will likely lead to an increase in BU fouls committed, allowing the Frogs easy opportunities to pick up some much-needed points.
The Bears put together the best 40 minutes of basketball we've seen out of any of TCU's opponents so far this season. Baylor looked like a well-oiled machine against the Frogs in mid-January, shooting lights out from nearly every spot on the floor. BU finished the game 31/49 from the field, a ridiculous 63.3%. Not only that, Baylor finished with 27 assists on those 31 made baskets. Altogether, this resulted in six different Bears with at least eight points in the contest.
In this weekend's rematch, the Frogs are going to have to find a way to disrupt this rhythm. Considering the difference in talent between these two teams, the aforementioned proposition is rather challenging. TCU will likely have to change up their defensive schemes to prevent Baylor from settling into their offense like they did in Waco. To add another layer of complexity, the Frogs are going to have to accomplish this without getting into too much foul trouble. With a thin bench, TCU can't afford to lose any player for an extended period of time.
Nothing to Lose
Finally, and this is somewhat of a difficult topic to tackle, but the Frogs need to play like they have nothing to lose... because they literally have nothing to lose. TCU is a game behind Oklahoma State for dead last in the Big 12, and with just three games remaining, it is very unlikely that the Frogs will jump out of 10th place. The last three games of the season are all about building for the future. With a roster that will stay mostly intact, this game provides a great opportunity to gain even more experience against a superior opponent.
TCU is 0-8 against Baylor since joining the Big 12 with an average margin of defeat of exactly 20.0 points per game. At this point in the season, all we can ask is for the Frogs to give it their all. The team has run out of time to make anything meaningful happen with this season, so it will be important to use games like this to build for the future.