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TCU Basketball Preview: Vanderbilt

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The Frogs get a break from Big 12 play as they travel to Nashville for the Big 12/SEC Challenge

TCU Basketball vs West Virginia, January 22, 2018 (Fort Worth, TX)
TCU Basketball vs West Virginia, January 22, 2018 (Fort Worth, TX)
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 3:00 PM CST | Location: Memorial Gymnasium – Nashville, TN | TV: ESPN2 | Series: Vanderbilt leads 4-1 | Game Line: TCU -4.5

The TCU Horned Frogs (15-5) will get a break from the chaos of Big 12 conference play, as they travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-13) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Frogs are coming off a marquee victory over West Virginia on Big Monday by a score of 82-73. Alex Robinson scored 17 and was one assist short of a double double, while Vladimir Brodziansky achieved a double double (14 points, 10 boards) to go along with 5 blocks. Desmond Bane (15) and Kouat Noi (13) also ended up with double figures scoring, and Kenrich Williams contributed 14 rebounds on his end. The game was defensive breakthrough for a TCU team that was struggling on that end, as they held the Mountaineers to 33% shooting and 26% from three. The Frogs built their lead by holding WVU to only 7 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Vanderbilt is coming off a road loss to Tennessee by a score of 67-62. The Dores were completely carried by Riley LaChance, who scored 25, and Jeff Roberson, who had 21. No other Vanderbilt player had more than 5 points, and they couldn’t stop sending Tennessee to the line for free points. The Volunteers were actually up by 20 at one point in the second half, but the Commodores fought back to make it a respectable score in the end. Vanderbilt’s resume lacks any real standout wins. They do have good wins over LSU and Alabama in SEC play, but those are their only victories as they have put up a 2-6 record in conference. All 7 of their wins on the season have come at home, and outside of the SEC wins the best team they’ve topped is Radford. They did play a tough of conference schedule, ranked 59th hardest by KenPom, and everyone one of their losses has come to a team ranked 83rd or better by the same metric.

Jeff Roberson is Vandy’s best player, and he leads the team in scoring (15.4 PPG) and rebounding (7.3 RPG). A prep star at Houston Kincaid, Roberson has gradually improved every season and is having a very nice senior season. He plays the power forward for Vandy despite his 6’6 210 pound frame, and as such he can stretch out and nail threes (38% on the year) while still rebounding at a high level (19.2% DREB, 297th in country). He’s a top tier free throw shooter, resulting in a 63.2% true shooting percentage that is just outside the top 100 in the country. Vandy is at their best when their offense runs through Roberson, and TCU will definitely need to identify #11 early on. Riley LaChance is coming off back to back 20 point outings, starting at the off guard and also fulfilling backup point guard duties. A four year starter, LaChance is the top 3 point shooter on the team (42%) and also distributes well without turning it over, as his 10.6 turnover rate is 106th best in the nation. His experience pays dividends on the court, as the offense runs smoothly even when he’s not using up all the possessions. His 63% eFG% in conference play ranks him 3rd in the SEC, so it’s clear that he’s been playing his best basketball as of late. If Roberson is priority 1A, then LaChance should be 1B. True freshman Saben Lee has taken the reigns at point for Vanderbilt, and in general has done a good job. His 29.1 assist rate is 101st in the country, though it comes with a 19.8 turnover rate that is higher than you would want from your primary ball handler. He hasn’t shot the ball well from distance, just 23%, but he has shown prowess for scoring inside. He uses over 14 of the team’s possessions when he’s in, the highest rate on the team, so be prepared to see a lot of Lee for better or worse.

Payton Willis has shifted into the starting lineup for the past three games, but he hasn’t done exceptionally well. For a team that offensively needs help after Matthew Fisher-Davis’s injury, the Dores are simply going to need more from Willis if he’s going to start. He’s playing out of position at the 3, as he’s a natural point guard, and he has been way too reliant on the three ball despite his 33% conversion rate from deep. His freshman year he saved his offensive statline by converting 2s at a nice rate, but he has shot an abysmal 30% from 2 this season. Willis will need to step up for Vandy to be a consistent threat. While Willis doesn’t offer a ton, starting center Djery Baptiste offers even less to worry about. About the only skill the Haitian import brings to the table is shot blocking, as he ranks 121st in the country. Baptiste fouls like crazy, 6.6 per 40 minutes, limiting his time on the court, and even when he’s out there he only uses 13% of possessions. His FG% (44.6%) and rebounding numbers are super disappointing for the 6’10 physical specimen he is, and Baptiste has only managed double digit scoring twice this season. While he has no doubt improved from his freshman campaign, Baptiste still isn’t quite at the level you would expect from an SEC starting center.

Clevon Brown gets a lot of minutes off the bench to spell Batiste. Brown is smaller, more of a natural forward, so Vandy goes small ball when he’s in. He isn’t the rebounder or shot blocker that Baptiste is, and he is terrible from range (15% 3P), but he scores the ball inside as well as anyone. He made a big splash in the opener against Austin Peay, but hasn’t done a ton since. Joe Toye was a starter for the middle chunk of the season, but didn’t do anything special and the switch to Willis was made. He is yet another Vandy player who is dreadful from deep, 7/40 for 17.5% shooting, and his high turnover, low efficiency game has chipped away at his playing time, especially in SEC play. The decline of Toye has been inexplicable, as he was a solid bench piece his freshman season. Larry Austin, an Xavier transfer, has seen some more burn over the past few games. Austin can pass the ball at a decent level, but is horrific putting the ball in the basket. I wouldn’t expect a whole ton from the junior guard. Freshman guard Maxwell Evans has struggled as well, turning it over a ton while not getting the assists to make up for it. Center Ejike Obinna has played sporadically, typically only playing minutes in blowout losses, but I might experiment a bit more with him if I’m Bryce Drew. Obinna has played well in limited time, and quite honestly can’t be worse than some of the alternatives.

As you could probably tell from the player-by-player summation, Vandy is very top heavy between Roberson, LaChance, and Lee. A season ending injury to Fisher-Davis has put a huge hole in an already thin lineup. Their offense has remained remarkably efficient despite this thinness and a 310 ranking in 3 point shooting (31.8%). They get to the line really well, and actually rank first in SEC play in 2 point shooting. They don’t turn it over much, and overall it’s tough to be too hard on their offense considering the relatively few guys facilitating it. The real problem for Vandy is on defense. Their 115.4 defensive rating is last in SEC play, a full three points higher than a TCU defense that has been torched in Big 12 play. They allow teams to have their way inside and for how good they are at getting to the line, they are equally bad about fouling and giving their opponents opportunities for free points. They don’t force the issue on defense, getting very few turnovers, and this helps explain their relatively slow pace of play. It’s a curious strategy, as the undersized Commodores may do better in a more up tempo system where their peskiness on defense forces guys who aren’t used to speed to fork over the ball.

Three Things to Look for

Road Warriors

As I mentioned above, all of Vandy’s wins this season have come at home. Granted, they also have lost a fair amount at home, but this will be TCU’s first non-Big 12 true road game. The Frogs took a lot of heat from certain pollsters for not taking on a true road game in non-con, and they are only 1-3 on the road in conference. This can be a statement game for the Frogs, as they have to prove they can win without the roar of Schollmaier behind them.

Drain Your Threes

Vandy has done a good job of forcing teams to beat them inside. While the Frogs will no doubt need to dominate inside as well (I would bet on Vlad having a big game), if they can hit their threes it will be church. Vandy just doesn’t have the horses to keep up in a three point shootout. TCU has been one of the top three point shooting teams in the country, sporting some of the top shooters in the nation in Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi, so this key could really be summarized as more of the same.

No Tertiary Scoring

Vanderbilt really has three guys that can go off: Roberson, LaChance, and Lee. Lee had a goose egg against Tennessee, while Roberson and LaChance had to carry the whole load. While it would be great to lock up those three and make them sweat, it really boils down to not allowing some fourth option kill you. You can easily win with forcing those three to carry the whole load, as that becomes very tiresome over a game, but if a Willis or a Toye starts going off the TCU defense will be in trouble. The Frogs had a great defensive showing against WVU, but I still don’t trust them overall and think it’s reasonable to ask that they don’t let guys averaging under 5 points a game hurt them.

Prediction

This, on paper, should be the easiest game left on TCU’s schedule. The Frogs are a more diverse offense and have beaten teams better than Vandy under harder circumstances. However, the games aren’t played on paper, and the Frogs need to remain focused and not squander the big time momentum they got after Monday. I think Jamie Dixon will have the guys ready, and the Frogs cruise to a win in this one behind big games from Vlad and Desmond Bane.

Prediction: TCU 83, Vanderbilt 72

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

- It will be Jamie Dixon’s first time coaching in Memorial Gymnasium, where the team benches are along the baseline.

- TCU is 1-3 in road games. It’s only win an 81-78 (OT) win at Baylor. The three losses are by a combined 11 points.

- Three of TCU’s road games have gone into overtime.

- The annual Suits And Sneakers Week runs Jan. 22-28 and raises awareness about the American Cancer Society. Jamie Dixon and the TCU coaching staff will wear white Kobe AD’s.

- The Frogs are coming off an 82-73 win over No. 7 West Virginia on their first-ever Big Monday game.

- Vladimir Brodziansky leads TCU with 15.4 points per game and is coming off his second double-double of the season.

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

- The Frogs were ranked for the eight consecutive weeks. They are receiving votes in both the AP and the USA Today polls.

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

- 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 (6th, 1.61), field goal percentage (14th, 50.0), rebounding margin (23rd, +6.8), scoring (6th, 87.3) and 3-point percentage (19th, 40.6).

- TCU ranks fifth 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 is 23 points away from becoming the 35th person with 1,000 points in his TCU career.

- Williams ranks ninth all-time at TCU in career rebounds (763) 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).

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

- 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

- Vanderbilt is coming off a 67-62 loss at No. 22 Tennessee on Tuesday.

- The Commodores are led by senior forward Jeff Roberson, who averages a team-best 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds.

- Among the six newcomers is freshman Saben Lee, who leads the team with 3.3 assists per game.

About the Series

- Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 4-1, including a 3-0 advantage in Nashville.

- The last meeting came on Dec. 18, 2004 and was a 78-55 win by the Commodores.

TCU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge

TCU has a 3-1 record all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Last season, Auburn defeated TCU, 88-80, on Jan. 28, 2017. Past results include TCU over Tennessee, 75-63, on Jan. 30, 2016, TCU over Ole Miss, 66-54, on Dec. 4, 2014 and TCU over Mississippi State, 71-61, on Dec. 5, 2013. The Big 12 won the Challenge in the first three seasons and the leagues split the 10 games in 2017. Big 12 teams are 25-15 (.625) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge since it began and have posted a 53-35 (.603) record in the last two conference challenge series (vs. Pac-10, SEC) dating back to 2007.

Big Monday = Big Win

TCU took advantage of its first Big Monday appearance with an 82-73 win over No. 7 West Virginia. Big Monday is ESPN’s signature college basketball telecast, which debuted in 1987. In front of an announced attendance of 7,368, including 1,510 students, the Horned Frogs defeated a ranked team at home for the first time in three seasons. It was TCU’s first win in the series with West Virginia (1-11).

- TCU trailed by as many as seven with 4:12 remaining in the first half and led by as many as 20 with 7:13 remaining in the game.

- Junior guard Alex Robinson had one of the best games of his career with a game-high 17 points and nine assists to go with a season-best seven rebounds while playing 39 minutes.

Close Losses

TCU’s five losses, all in Big 12 play, have come by five or fewer points (a total of 16 points). The Frogs’ last three regular-season losses of the 2016-17 season came by five or fewer points, so TCU’s last eight regular-season losses have come by a margin of five or less. In the 64 Big 12 losses prior to the 2016-17 season, Jamie Dixon’s first year, only six were by five or fewer points.

Robinson Without Fisher

The loss of Jaylen Fisher has translated to a bigger role for junior guard Alex Robinson. In the first 17 games of the season, Robinson averaged 7.4 points, 4.9 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 26.7 minutes per game. Since Fisher was ruled out for the season on Jan. 17, Robinson has averaged 12.7 points, 10.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 39.0 minutes over three games. Robinson has played 117 of a total 120 minutes in those three games.

Shooting and Scoring

- TCU ranks second in the Big 12 and sixth in the NCAA in scoring offense (87.3). 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 14th in the NCAA in field goal shooting (50.0%). TCU has never averaged 50 percent or better in a season.

- TCU ranks first in the Big 12 and 19th in the NCAA in 3-point shooting (40.6%).

- Over 60 percent of TCU’s field goals (624) were assisted (400), a percentage of 64.1. The Frogs rank first in the Big 12 and second in the NCAA in assists per game (20.0).

- TCU’s offensive efficiency ranks fifth at 121.0 according to KenPom.com.

- TCU has three among the top 11 in shooting percentage in the Big 12... 7. Vladimir Brodziansky - 58.2, 9. Kouat Noi - 55.0, 11. Desmond Bane - 52.8.

- TCU has three among the top 12 in 3-point field goal percentage in the Big 12... 1. Desmond Bane - 47.6, 5. Kouat Noi - 46.3, 12. Kenrich Williams - 41.7.

- 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.