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.
TCU returns to action tomorrow night to host the Oklahoma State Cowboys just about 50 hours after falling to the Jayhawks on Saturday. The Frogs competed early against the Pokes during their first meeting in Stillwater on January 2, eventually faltering late and suffering a 69-48 defeat. The loss shed some light on areas where the Frogs can improve. Let's take a look at those different areas and determine how TCU can pick up their second home Big 12 win of the year tomorrow night.
In the first meeting between these two schools, the Frogs shot a season-low 1/17 from behind the arc, including 0/11 in the second half. To further compound that problem, TCU picked up just four offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes, meaning at minimum seven possessions ended in a missed three-point shot. The Frogs only scored 24 points in the frame, largely because of wasted possessions like these.
Against Kansas on Saturday, we saw the Frogs fall into this same rut in the opening minutes of the game. Five of the first seven TCU possessions ended in a missed long ball with no offensive board. In both cases, these long spells without scoring allowed the opponent to open a sizable lead that ultimately proved to be too much to overcome. It will be imperative for the Frogs to mix up their offensive gameplan tomorrow night. TCU can't rely on deep shooting to keep things close, especially if those shots aren't falling. The Frogs shot nearly 50% in the paint in Stillwater. Driving the ball inside and either drawing contact or creating a scoring opportunity will go a long way in helping this team pick up a much-needed Big 12 win.
Crash the Boards
Rebounding usually isn't an issue for Trent Johnson-coached teams, however last week was an exception. TCU has been out-rebounded 87-58 in their last two games. (Granted, the Frogs faced two of the best teams in the nation, but that disparity is still quite startling.) The Frogs have looked lethargic on the boards as of late, showing a decreased level of intensity that has resulted in these lopsided rebounding efforts. Guys who are usually very consistent on the glass failed to show up in big spots last week. In fact, over the last 80 minutes of play, Malique Trent has the most rebounds of any Frog... with six. For perspective, Trent averages 2.6 boards per game, the lowest of any player on the team that sees at least 10 minutes of action each night.
The Frogs were out-rebounded 39-34 in Stillwater earlier this year, helping propel Oklahoma State to their 21-point victory. Pressure will be on the Frogs to reverse their recent struggles on the glass tomorrow night. If TCU can find a way to edge out the Cowboys on the boards, they will benefit from an increase in possessions, and thus an opportunity to put more points on the board.
No Evans, No Problem?
Oklahoma State's leading scorer this season, Jawun Evans, will reportedly miss tomorrow night's game against the Frogs after suffering an apparent shoulder injury against Texas Tech earlier this month. The superstar freshman guard was averaging 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game for Travis Ford. Against TCU, he dropped 13 points in 22 minutes.
If the rumors surrounding Evans' status are true, the Frogs will have a major opportunity to take advantage of an Oklahoma State team without its most versatile offensive weapon. The Pokes dropped the game in which Evans suffered the injury after leading for most of the time he was on the floor. Without Evans again on Saturday, OSU fell at home to Iowa State. The Cowboys will adapt and learn to play without Evans, but it will be up to TCU to knock off the Pokes before that happens.
Play 40 Minutes
Another startling trend that has emerged with this year's TCU team is their inability to finish games late. Throughout much of the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Frogs really struggled during the last three minutes of play. However, more recently, that sluggishness has started occurring earlier and earlier in the second half. After a competitive first frame in Austin, the Frogs rolled over in the second half, eventually falling by 17. Things got out of hand late against Oklahoma as well, with the Sooners running away with things in the second half. Against Kansas on Saturday, the Frogs decreased their level of intensity throughout much of the second half, allowing KU to come away with a 19-point win.
This same phenomenon occurred in Stillwater in early January. TCU went blow to blow with Oklahoma State in the first half, using a late run to cut OSU's halftime lead to 26-24. After hanging in the game for the opening minutes of the second half, the wheels fell off once again, allowing the Pokes to run away with things. With a team like TCU, where the bench is so thin and the starters are tasked with pulling a majority of the workload, it is very easy to get worn down late in games. However, if the Frogs want to win another game this season, they're going to have to figure out how to compete for 40 minutes.
Keep 'Em off the Line
Finally, one of the big factors contributing to Oklahoma State's blowout win against TCU earlier this season was the Pokes' free throw shooting. The Frogs committed 15 fouls, which led to a 17/18 performance by OSU at the line. Travis Ford's team has been solid from the charity stripe all season long, converting more than 75% of their free throws. Knowing that this is an easy way to pick up points, the Cowboys have made a point to get to the line. The Frogs will need to counter this with a smart defensive gameplan in which the team guards without fouling. That can be a tough task, especially with all of the rules changes in college basketball, but keeping OSU off the line could prove to be a big factor tomorrow night.
The Frogs enter Monday night's game 10-13 on the year and 1-9 in Big 12 play. After tomorrow, TCU has seven games remaining. Six of those are either against a ranked opponent, on the road, or both. In all likelihood, the showdown with Oklahoma State represents the Frogs' last decent opportunity to win a game this season. A loss would put TCU two games behind OSU for 10th place, all but guaranteeing the team's third last-place finish in the last four years. Winning games in the Big 12 has proven to be immensely difficult, but if the Frogs can learn from their mistakes in Stillwater and make some adjustments on both ends of the court, we could see a much-needed victory tomorrow night.