Game Time: 8:00 PM CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: FCS | Series: ULM leads 3-1 | Game Line: TCU -25.5
The second season of the Jamie Dixon era is finally here, and it’s fair to say the hopes haven’t been this high in Fort Worth in quite some time. As mentioned in our positional previews, the Frogs return all five of their starters from last season, as well as their sixth man. Combine that with a nice combination of graduate transfers, community college transfers, and highly rated freshmen to bolster the bench, and Frog fans are dreaming of a magical season. First, they’ll have to contend with the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe this afternoon in their season opener.
Louisiana-Monroe is coming off of a rough 2016-17 campaign that saw them go 9-24 (2-16). The Warhawks are ranked as the #214 team in the country by the preseason KenPom rankings, which would put them 9th in the Sun Belt. They are going to have to replace their starting backcourt from a year ago, as they lost both Nick Coppola and Marcus Washington to graduation. They do return their best player, junior forward Travis Munnings, who was the team’s leading scorer a year ago with 13.2 points per game and was a preseason 3rd team Sun Belt selection. They also return major contributors in Marvin Jean-Pierre and Sam McDaniel.
Three Things to Watch:
Set the tone defensively
If there’s one area that TCU could stand to improve on this season, it’s consistency on the defensive end. Too often opposing teams would go on big runs, and it would be up to the offense to punch their way back from a deficit. The Frogs get a jump start on improving their defense against a ULM offense that had a putrid 98.3 offensive rating a season ago (good for 287th in the nation). Even though the Warhawks return four of their top five scorers from a year ago, the pure talent gap will likely be too much to overcome. Contain Munnings, and the Warhawks offense will struggle to get anything going.
Maturation of the backcourt
While the official game notes seem to signify that Jaylen Fisher won’t be playing in game one, it’s going to be interesting to see how the backcourt gels in year two. Robinson, Bane, and Fisher all have spent a full offseason in Jamie Dixon’s program now and should be way more comfortable in the system. Hopefully in the long run this means lower turnover rates and higher scoring, but in this game it should mean domination of an inexperienced ULM backcourt having to replace its main distributor from a year ago.
How do the new guys look?
While the Frogs return their top six players from last year, past that it’s basically an all new look for TCU. In particular, I’d keep an eye on Shawn Olden, the JUCO transfer, and Kouat Noi, the redshirt freshman Aussie. Olden is the next guy up at the guard spot, and if Jaylen doesn’t play he’ll likely see heavy action. Anyone who has closely followed the team over the past year knows how excited the team is for Noi’s debut, and he should be the first guy off the bench to spell the forwards. Also keep an eye out for the debuts of R.J. Nembhard, Ahmed Hamdy, and Kevin Samuel (presuming he is eligible).
The Frogs should get to start off the season with an easy W, even if Fisher does not play. A starting lineup of Robinson/Bane/Williams/Miller/Brodziansky is more than enough talent to overwhelm ULM. Vlad will get some good experience going after ULM’s 6’11 center Sam Alabakis, and Robinson and Bane can attack the young and inexperienced backcourt of the Warhawks. I have full faith that Kenny Hustle will be able to outduel and neutralize Munnings, and he should have another double-double to kick off his senior campaign.
Even if the starting unit struggles, TCU has much better depth than ULM. Guys like Shawn Olden, Ahmed Hamdy, and Kouat Noi would start for them, and will absolutely terrorize their bench unit. I see this being a very complete game for the Horned Frogs, one in which they control the entire flow of the game from start to finish.
Prediction: TCU 83, ULM 56
Here are the official game notes via GoFrogs.com
- TCU holds a 69-37 record in season openers and 55-13 when opening the season at home. The Horned Frogs have won 15 of the last 17 season openers, including the last three.
- Prior to Friday’s game (7:45 p.m.), TCU will present rings to the 2017 NIT Champions at center court.
- Friday is Jamie Dixon’s birthday. Born in North Hollywood in 1965, he will turn 52 years old. Dixon is 1-0 as head coach on his birthday with the win coming on Nov. 10, 2007 when Pittsburgh defeated North Carolina A&T 88-61.
- TCU was 4-0 last season with the projected starting lineup of Alex Robinson, Desmond Bane, Kenrich Williams, JD Miller and Vladimir Brodziansky. Those four games were the last four of the season and all occurred in the NIT.
- TCU has won seven of its last eight games dating back to last season.
- TCU is receiving votes in the preseason top 25 polls. The Frogs earned 46 points in the AP Poll, which would be ranked 29th, and 32 points in the USA Today Coaches Poll, which would be ranked 30th.
- TCU returns its top six scorers from last season’s team that went 24-15, finished tied for seventh in the Big 12 and won the NIT, including all five starters.
- TCU returns 79 percent of its scoring and 79 percent of its rebounding from last season.
- One season after winning its first postseason tournament, TCU will try to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Since 1985, 58 percent of the teams that won the NIT made the NCAA Tournament the following season.