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TCU Basketball NIT First Round Preview: Fresno State

The Frogs square off against the Bulldogs with the hopes of making a run to New York City.

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: 7:00pm CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena - Fort Worth, TX | TV: ESPN3 | Series: Series Tied 4-4 | Game Line: TCU -10.5

The Frogs will be hosting the Bulldogs of Fresno State tonight in the First Round of the National Invitation Tournament. These programs have not met on the hardwood since 2001, when both teams were members of the Western Athletic Conference.

TCU enters the NIT after getting to the Semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament for the first time since joining the conference. They were able to get there by taking down #9 seed Oklahoma handily in the First Round before shocking the #1 seed and #1 team in the nation, Kansas. However, they were eliminated in their 3rd game in 3 days when they faced an Iowa State team that could not miss from the field. The Cyclones then went on to win the tournament.

In that loss, it appeared that fatigue had begun to set in for the Frogs, as none of their shots seemed to fall. They shot 39.3% from the field and 26.3% from beyond the arc, but they did a good job of taking care of the ball with only 8 turnovers and shot a respectable 76.9% from the free throw line. Vladimir Brodziansky and Jaylen Fisher led the way for TCU with 10 points each and Kenrich Williams added in another 9 points to go with 8 rebounds. Off the bench, Karviar Shepherd and Brandon Parrish each contributed 8 points. Despite the loss, the wins over Oklahoma and Kansas should give the team some confidence heading into the NIT.

TCU must now turn their attention to the #5 seed Fresno State, who finished the season 20-12 overall and went 11-7 in Mountain West play. They were ranked #76 in the RPI, only 7 spots behind TCU at #67. In their toughest game of the season, the Bulldogs fell at Oregon 75-63. Against Nevada, who won the conference tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Fresno State went 2-1. Against Boise State and Colorado State, who are both in the NIT, the Bulldogs went 3-1, which means they play well against good competition.

Fresno State is led by a balanced scoring attack that features four players averaging double-digit scoring. Leading the way for the Bulldogs is Jaron Hopkins, a transfer from Colorado, who is scoring 13.2 points per game and shooting 48.1% from the field, but he struggles from deep and at the free throw line. Next is Deshon Taylor, who is scoring 12.4 points per game for the season, but has been on absolute tear to end the year. He has scored 15+ points in each of his last 15 games and is the team’s best free throw shooter.

The next player to keep an eye on is Paul Watson, who is averaging 11.5 points per game. He is a senior guard and will likely see a lot of time due to his experience. Lastly, watch for Jahmel Taylor, who is averaging 10.6 points per game. The Frogs will want to know where he is at all times because he is the Bulldogs’ best three point shooter at 44.6%.

In comparing the two teams, the main difference is offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. TCU is ranked #39 overall coming into today and is #41 in adjusted offensive efficiency, whereas Fresno State is #97 overall and ranked #158 in offensive efficiency. The Frogs shoot slightly better percentages across the board and average about 4 more assists per game than the Bulldogs.

Three Things to Watch:

1 - TCU Size Advantage

One thing that stands out on paper coming into tonight’s game should be the Frogs’ size advantage. The Bulldogs are guard-heavy and lack a tall interior post presence to compete with guys like Vlad and Karviar. Given how those two played in the Big 12 Tournament, along with Chris Washburn, the Frogs should look to attack the post. However, the size advantage also is in the backcourt, where guys like Kenrich and Parrish have an advantage. It will be imperative for TCU that they use their size, and that everyone does their part in keeping Fresno State off of the glass.

2 - Uncharted Territory

Tonight will be interesting as this game marks the first postseason experience for all but one of TCU’s players. The lone exception is Alex Robinson, who played significant minutes in Texas A&M’s NIT run two seasons ago. They lost their 2nd game of that NIT, but Robinson played well in those two games, averaging 18 points and 6.5 assists in about 26 minutes per game. The Frogs will likely need to lean on him for experience tonight and this will be a great chance for him to emerge as a team leader for next season.

The other main person with postseason experience is Jamie Dixon. In every season he was at Pitt, he took the Panthers to a postseason tournament. In 2009, his team reached the Elite Eight, which was the furthest any of his teams went in the NCAA Tournament. In 2012, Pitt accepted a bid to the CBI and went on to win the whole thing. Dixon’s only experience in the NIT though came two seasons ago as well. In that tournament, Pitt was upset at home by George Washington. Despite that, Dixon is an experienced coach and this staff should have the team ready for the postseason.

3 - NIT Madness?

Although TCU will be the higher seed and the favorite tonight, yesterday’s action in the NIT shows that that might not mean much. In the eight First Round games played yesterday, only 2 higher-seeded teams, Colorado State and Illinois, won. Cal State Bakersfield, an #8 seed, led California, a #1 seed, by 25 at half and went on to beat them 73-66. Another trend from last night that affects the Frogs was the strong play of the Mountain West, as both Colorado State and Boise State won their games. TCU will be looking to buck both of these trends in their game tonight.

Prediction:

I expect the Frogs to come out and play the same way they did in the first couple games in Kansas City. This team seems genuinely excited to be playing in the NIT, especially in the seniors, and I think they understand how much this could mean for the program and the school. Look for Alex Robinson and Vlad to have big games tonight and for Kenrich to dominate the boards en route to a Horned Frogs’ victory.

Score Prediction: TCU 84, Fresno State 71

Fan Poll:

Who do you think will win tonight's game?
TCU
Fresno State
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Here are some additional game notes, courtesy of GoFrogs.com:

  • At 19 wins, TCU has its most victories in a season since going 21-14 in 2004-05, its last 20-win season.
  • Vladimir Brodziansky (Second Team and All-Defensive), Jaylen Fisher (Honorable Mention), Alex Robinson (All-Newcomer) and Kenrich Williams (Honorable Mention) all earned postseason honors from the Big 12 Conference.
  • Brodziansky was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention by the AP.
  • TCU finished eighth in the Big 12, the highest in its five seasons in the league. TCU was picked 10th in the preseason poll.
  • At 13-6, it's TCU's most wins at home since a 14-3 home record during the 2011-12 season.
  • Jamie Dixon has won the most games of any TCU head coach in his first year with the program.
  • In its five seasons in the Big 12, TCU has three road conference wins, two of those wins coming this season.
  • Jamie Dixon has coached as many conference wins (6) as TCU had in the last three years combined.
  • TCU's NCAA RPI is 67 and strength of schedule is 29.
  • TCU is making its first postseason appearance since the 2012 CBI. TCU last played in the NIT in 2005.
  • TCU is 18-5 when outrebounding its opponent.
  • TCU is 8-2 when shooting over 50 percent from the field.
  • TCU is 16-2 when leading at halftime (Baylor, WVU).
  • TCU is 11-4 when forcing more turnovers than it commits.
  • TCU's 73.9 points per game is the highest average since the 2002-03 season (80.4).
  • TCU is shooting 46.3 percent from the field, the most since the 1998-99 season (49.1).
  • TCU's 16.6 assists per game is the most since the 2000-01 season (18.9).
  • TCU's 35.5 rebounds per game is the most since the 2002-03 season (38.9).
  • TCU currently ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 18 in the NCAA in assists (16.6).
  • Kenrich Williams ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 37 in the NCAA with 9.3 rebounds per game.
  • Williams ranks No. 23 in the NCAA and No. 2 in the Big 12 in offensive rebounds with a 3.3 average on the season.
  • Williams ranks first in the conference with 14 double-doubles this season.
  • Williams is 10 rebounds shy of cracking the top 10 for most boards in a season at TCU (Gary Turner, 309).
  • Jaylen Fisher leads the Big 12 freshmen in assists per game at 4.1.
  • Brandon Parrish is TCU's all-time leader in games played.
  • Alex Robinson has led TCU in assists 26 times this season and has had at least four assists in all but five games this season.
  • Robinson ranks fifth for the most assists in a season at TCU with 190.
  • Vladimir Brodziansky ranks second in the Big 12 and 25th nationally with 2.3 blocks per game.
  • Brodziansky's 77 total blocks ranks as the second most in school history for a single season.