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TCU Basketball Preview: #6 West Virginia

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The Frogs lost close again, and need to pull out a win against the Mountaineers

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: ESPN | Series: West Virginia leads 11-0 | Game Line: N/A

The #24 TCU Horned Frogs (14-5) dropped another close game this past weekend, and are in desperate need of a win as they host the #6 West Virginia Mountaineers (16-3). The Frogs lost at Kansas State 73-68, a game in which they never led, but felt like was right there for the taking. Vladimir Brodziansky led the team with 15 points, while Kenrich Williams put up another double double (11/10). Alex Robinson (13) also scored in double figures. The Frogs started and ended the game with putrid defense, bookending periods of solid defense with non-existent offense. The Frogs allowed K State to shoot 59.4% from the floor and 42% from three, while falling in love with the three on the other end despite only shooting 8/26 (30.8%). After only turning it over 4 times against Iowa State, the turnover bug hit hard as the Frogs coughed it up 14 times. The game saw Jamie Dixon ejected with two technical fouls, and a TCU team that just couldn’t put together a complete stretch of possessions.

The Mountaineers bounced back from two straight losses to absolutely dismantle Texas 86-51. Jevon Carter was the leading scorer with 22 points, joined in double figures by James Bolden (19), Daxter Miles (15), and Sagaba Konate (10 and 14 rebounds). The vaunted Mountaineers D stifled Texas’s offense, limiting them to 40% shooting from the field and no players in double figures. WVU sits at 5-2 in Big 12 play, with close losses to Kansas and Texas Tech. Their overall non-conference slate was weak, but they had some real impressive wins over Virginia, Missouri, and UCF. Their only blemish was a blowout loss in the opener to Texas A&M. There’s little doubt that WVU has proved themselves to be an elite team, and considering that the Frogs have never beaten them in program history, BIG Monday is going to be an uphill battle for the Frogs.

The Mountaineers are led by senior point guard Jevon Carter. Carter, a Big 12 POY candidate, tops the team in scoring, passing, and steals. He’s an absolute pest on both sides of the floor, no surprise as West Virginia’s press D only works with a very solid point guard to smother opposing 1s. He’s a great three point shooter, 41% on the year, and his assist rate is a very healthy 33.6 (39th in the nation). He hasn’t been great within the three point line, especially in conference play (31%), but he gets to the line at such a high rate that it is evened out. While Carter will grab the headlines, TCU surely remember Daxter Miles from when he dropped 22 on the Frogs in Morgantown a season ago. The senior shooting guard is the opposite of Carter in his shooting splits, elite inside the three point line but only knocking in 27% of his threes. He’s a smart player as a four year contributor, rarely turning the ball over and functioning within Bob Huggins’s offensive and defensive schemes like a pro. He’s the same player that killed the Frogs a year ago, so obviously attention must be paid to him.

Lamont West gets the start at one of the forward positions. West is coming off a rough three game stretch (12 points on 4/18 shooting), but before that he had scored in double figures all throughout December and early January. He takes a large volume of three point shots, only making 31% of them, but through pure volume he will drain a few every game. If West truly heats up from behind the line, that’s basically a death sentence for the opposing team. Sagaba Konate is the center for the Mountaineers, the top rebounder on the squad who has taken advantage of an increased role this season. He’s got the #2 block rate in the country (16.7%) while also being competent enough as a scorer. He’s not particularly tall for a 5, but he has size and is an elite level talent to anchor a team. The final starter is Wesley Harris, a first year Mountaineer who has struggled to find his rhythm this season. His scoring output is only 5.9 points on 33/27/70 splits, and his 21.7 turnover rate is easily the highest among WVU starters. Still, he has versatility between the two forward positions, and isn’t going to kill the Mountaineers by trying to play hero ball.

Esa Ahmed is the top reserve for the Mountaineers, and he has had three great games since being cleared by the NCAA. He can step out and nail threes while also scoring efficiently inside and getting to the line. He’s been very solid on the glass thus far, and really the only glaring weakness in his game is the propensity he has for turnovers. Ahmad’s return took the mantle of top reserve away from James Bolden, a small scoring guard whose three point shooting ability makes it tough to keep him off the floor. He drains them at a 43% clip, and he loves to jack it up when he’s in, shooting over a quarter of his team’s shots when he plays. He is still developing as a passer, though he doesn’t turn it over much, and is basically in the Lou Williams/Patty Mills mold of a backup shot-heavy guard. Freshman Teddy Allen has not played the past few games due to “attitude issues”, and I would lean towards him not playing against the Frogs. He’s been elite when he’s gotten a chance, but an up and down relationship with Bob Huggins has planted him squarely on the bench. Maciej Bender and Logan Routt typically back up Konate, with the Polish Bender typically garnering more of the minutes. Routt got 10 minutes against Texas, and is typically the better rebounder of the two, but neither player really uses any possessions and are there mostly to hit the boards and set screens. The last player you will definitely see is Chase Harler, though he has only scored once in the last seven games and is unlikely to be a huge factor.

Everybody is aware that West Virginia plays elite defense, complete with full court pressure and trapping. Their defensive efficiency on the season is 10th overall (91.2), and their 94.8 rating in conference is easily #1. They’re the second best team in the nation at forcing opponent turnovers, with just over a quarter of their opponent’s possessions (26.4%) ending in a giveaway. They don’t just force turnovers to keep opponents off balance, they also are great at bothering opponents’ shooting. They rank 33rd in opponent eFG% (46.7%), and are especially elite on twos (43.9%, 17th) when they can funnel players towards Konate. Their high rate of steals leads them to have the 4th shortest opponent possession time, and run the 40th fastest pace in America. Their offense is nothing to slouch at either, as they sport the 30th most efficient offense in the nation at a 114.8 oRTG (106.7 and 5th in conference play). They crash the offensive boards hard, the 8th best team in the nation in that regard, and make up for their average shooting percentages by being aces from the free throw line. Add to that a ton of extra possessions thanks to their defense, and you have a classic West Virginia team.

Three Things to Look For

Turnovers

This will always be the first and foremost key when playing West Virginia. If you cannot break their pressure and start giving away the ball, you are going to get run out of the gym. Alex Robinson has been a great facilitator these past few games, but he turned it over 5 times against Kansas State. WVU is a completely different beast, so A Rob will need to not only break the pressure they’re going to bring, but also not make careless mistakes in the halfcourt. Other players that may have ball handling responsibilities like Shawn Olden or Kenrich Williams must also be on high alert, and be aware for the full 40. If there’s one area the 17-18 Frogs have improved over the 16-17 Frogs, it has been turnovers, but that will be put to the test Monday night.

Keep It Even Inside

You don’t have to win the battle inside, but you absolutely cannot let WVU run away with it. This means keeping them off the offensive glass (Frogs have been great about this so far this season) and continuing to run the offense through the post with Vlad and Ahmed Hamdy. One of the best ways to neutralize a shot blocker is to get them in the post (see: Tim Duncan and Serge Ibaka in 2014), but also realizing that attacking in the post opens up the offense elsewhere. Vlad has slowly been recognizing these openings more often as the season has progressed, while Hamdy really needs to stop being a black hole when he gets the ball. This battle doesn’t just fall on the big guys though, the wing players will need to be smart when attacking the rim and box out hard on their assignments.

You Gotta Give Them Hope

After the Iowa State win, it was fair to be ecstatic, especially when you see them go out and punk Texas Tech soon after. But losing another close game has dropped the Frogs to 2-5, and now they face an opponent that they’ve never beaten. The Frogs are right on the precipice of being a great team, and being back in front of the students for BIG Monday will help a lot. Like Coach Dixon said in his hilarious promos, the energy needs to be high as both the team and fans alike need to have a positive result to lift their spirits. Sports, especially college sports, are largely mental, and you have to have hope to perform effectively. Sure, it’s been a rough few weeks for basketball, but an objective look says that a few bounces a different way would have this team in a completely different situation. Keep hope, Frog faithful, and the team will respond.

Prediction

For most of the season, I’ve had this game pencilled in as a loss. West Virginia is typically a terrible matchup for the Frogs (obviously considering the 0-11 record), and the Frogs’ turnover problems were well documented last season. Add in the continued crushing close losses, and there wouldn’t appear to be a good reason for me to take the Frogs. And yet, here I am, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. There are a couple of reasons. First, homecourt is such a big boost for any team, and while the Frogs have suffered a battery of close losses, only two came at home. You expect teams in the Big 12 to hold serve, so in the macro view those close losses should flip to close wins on our home court. Secondly, the turnover problem has been fixed from last season, as I mentioned above. Finally, the Frogs are due for a break. I expect this one to be close, and you would have to think luck would flip TCU’s way at least once. The Frogs rank 289th on KenPom’s luck metric, and I think it finally goes TCU’s way. It has to at some point, right?

Prediction: #24 TCU 81, #6 West Virginia 80

Here are the game notes, courtesy of GoFrogs.com:

- TCU will be wearing its road purple uniforms.

- The annual Suits And Sneakers Week runs Jan. 22-28 and raises awareness about the American Cancer Society.

- TCU coach Jamie Dixon will also wear a tie in support of the Coaches vs. Cancer program, part of the NABC.

- TCU is 1-3 this season against teams ranked in the top 25.

- The last ranked team TCU beat at home was No. 21 Oklahoma State on Feb. 14, 2015, at Wilkerson-Greines High School.

- TCU is looking for its first win over a ranked team at Schollmaier Arena (0-10).

- TCU has not had more than 14 turnovers over the last nine games, an average of 10.3 per game.

- TCU’s five losses this season are by a combined 16 points, an average of 3.2 points per game.

- The Frogs are ranked for the eighth consecutive week. They are No. 24 in the AP and No. 25 in the USA Today poll.

- TCU was ranked as high as No. 10 in the AP Top 25, which was its highest ranking in school history.

- TCU is 46-20 all-time as a ranked team, including a 23-4 record at home and 18-9 on the road.

- TCU’s 13-2 start to the season was the best in school history since a 13-2 record during the 1933-34 season.

- TCU leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks second in the NCAA with 20.0 assists per game.

- TCU ranks among the national leaders in assist turnover ratio (5th, 1.64), field goal percentage (10th, 50.4), rebounding margin (22nd, +6.8), scoring (6th, 87.5) and 3-point percentage (19th, 40.8).

- TCU ranks fourth in offensive efficiency, the best in the Big 12, according to KenPom.com.

- Kenrich Williams has recorded nine double-doubles and is averaging 14.7 points and a team-best 9.4 rebounds this season.

- Williams is one of five players averaging double-figures. There are six TCU players averaging 9.4 points or more.

- Williams has scored in double figures in each of his last 15 games. He is 32 points away from 1,000 for his career.

- Williams ranks ninth all-time at TCU in career rebounds (749) and tied for seventh in career steals (125).

- Vladimir Brodziansky ranks fourth all-time at TCU in career blocks (147) and 20th in career points (1,146).

- Sophomore Jaylen Fisher (right knee) was ruled out for the season on Jan. 16. He was averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 assists.

- TCU was picked to finish third in the Big 12 after finishing tied for seventh last season. Both were program bests.

- TCU returned 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. It’s the first time Jamie Dixon has had a team with every starter returning from the year before.

- TCU returned 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.

About the Opponent

- West Virginia is coming off an 86-51 win over Texas on Saturday, which snapped a two-game losing streak.

- The Mountaineers are led by Jevon Carter’s 16.9 points per game, which is the third-most in the Big 12.

- West Virginia leads the Big 12 in scoring margin (+16.6), steals (9.4), turnover margin (+7.2) and offensive rebounding (14.5).

About the Series

- West Virginia leads the all-time series 11-0

- The Frogs lost the last meeting, in Fort Worth, by one point, 61-60.

- While at Pitt, Jamie Dixon was 12-7 against West Virginia.

TCU vs. Top 25

- TCU is 17-150 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including 11-47 at home and 1-77 on the road.

- TCU was 1-7 against ranked teams last season with the win coming against No. 1 Kansas on March 9, 2017 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.

- TCU’s last win over a top 25 team at home came on Feb. 14, 2015, a 70-55 win over No. 21 Oklahoma State at Wilkerson-Greines.

- TCU’s last and only win over a top 25 team on the road came on Jan. 19, 1998, an 83-76 win at Hawai’i.

- TCU is 0-10 against top 25 teams in the Schollmaier Arena, which opened during the 2015-16 season.

- The last time a top 25 TCU squad defeated a top 25 team at home was on Feb. 21, 1998 when No. 19 TCU beat No. 11 New Mexico, 95-64 in Fort Worth at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

Shooting and Scoring

- TCU ranks second in the Big 12 and sixth in the NCAA in scoring offense (87.5). TCU has not averaged 80 or more points per game in a season since the 2002-03 campaign where it averaged 80.4. Last year’s NIT championship team averaged 69.7 points.

- TCU ranks first in the Big 12 and 10th in the NCAA in field goal shooting (50.4%). TCU has never averaged 50 percent or better in a season.

- TCU ranks second in the Big 12 and 19th in the NCAA in 3-point shooting (40.8%).

- Over 60 percent of TCU’s field goals (599) were assisted (380), a percentage of 63.4. The Frogs rank first in the Big 12 and second in the NCAA in assists per game (20.0).

- TCU’s offensive efficiency ranks fourth at 121.3 according to KenPom.com.

- TCU has three among the top 10 in shooting percentage in the Big 12... 3. Vladimir Brodziansky - 60.5, 9. Kouat Noi - 55.2, 10. Desmond Bane - 53.8.

- TCU has three among the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage in the Big 12... 5. Desmond Bane - 48.1, 9. Kouat Noi - 54.0, 10. Kenrich Williams - 52.7.

- TCU has scored over 90 points eight times this season. It’s the most times the Frogs have scored 90 or more in a season since the 2001-02 season when they did it 13 times.

Low Turnovers

TCU had a season-high 29 assists to just four turnovers against Iowa State on Jan. 17. It was the fewest turnovers in a game for the Horned Frogs since four turnovers at Texas Tech on Jan. 30, 1993.

20-Point Scorers

Six different TCU players have scored at least 20 points in a game, which ties with seven other teams for the most in the country. Those players and the number of 20 point games they’ve had are: Brodziansky - 5, Fisher - 4, Miller - 2, Williams - 4, Bane - 1, Robinson - 1.

700 Rebound Club

Kenrich Williams is one of 10 players in TCU history with 700 career rebounds. The senior is in 10th on the all-time list with 749 boards. He is the first person since 1998 to join the 700-club.

1,000-Point Club

Senior Vladimir Brodziansky is the 34th member of the 1,000 point club. At 1,162 points, the Slovakian is 18th on the all-time scoring list. Senior Kenrich Williams is 32 points from 1,000 for his career. Williams could become the eighth player in TCU history with 1,000 points and 700 rebounds. Both are in their third seasons with the Horned Frogs.

Strong Schedule

TCU’s strength of schedule is ranked No. 16 by the NCAA through games completed on Jan. 20.