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TCU Basketball Preview: Fresno State

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The Frogs face their toughest test yet as the MWC team comes to town

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: FSSW | Series: TCU leads 5-4 | Game Line: TCU -10

The #21 TCU Horned Frogs (2-0) hop back into action Thursday night against the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0). The Frogs had a complete victory in their most recent matchup against Oral Roberts, coming out on top by a score of 79-62. Alex Robinson led the way with 23 points, closely followed by Desmond Bane with 22. JD Miller contributed 13 and a team high 7 assists, while Kevin Samuel posted his first career double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds. ORU only shot 36% from the floor, including 5/21 from three, and never found a rhythm with their top players. Turnovers were a bit of an issue, there were 16 giveaways by the Frogs, but overall Coach Dixon has to be happy with how the team handled their business Sunday afternoon.

Fresno played their only game so far this season over a week ago against D-II Alaska Anchorage. As expected, they dominated in a 91-63 rout. Braxton Huggins led the Bulldogs with 23 points, while New Williams and Deshon Taylor contributed 14 and 11 respectively. Johnny McWilliams also ended up in double figures, with 10 points in only 9 minutes. We can’t really get a great read on Fresno based off this one game where they handled their business, but we look up and down their roster and see a fair amount of proven talent.

Taylor was the Bulldogs’ best player a season ago, averaging 17.8 points per game on 44/39/83 splits, while also leading the team in assists. He’ll definitely be the most talented point guard the Frogs have seen yet, and Alex Robinson will have to once again step up to the challenge. Huggins, the MVP of the last game, is a transfer from New Mexico State who will lineup at the off guard. He was a starter on an NCAA tournament team a year ago, and can score from anywhere on the court. Noah Blackwell will also start, as the Bulldogs ran out a three guard lineup to start the season. A transfer from Long Beach State, Blackwell will likely hang around the perimeter and try to rack up volume shots from midrange to the three point line. Sam Bittner will start at the power forward. The senior is a classic low-usage, high-efficiency player who broke into the Fresno starting 5 about a year ago. The final starter will be Lazaro Rojas. The Brazilian has only played 7 career games, with over half his career minutes coming against Anchorage, so Kevin Samuel will need to stay alert against something of an enigma at center.

Williams appears to be the top reserve for the Bulldogs after barely playing a season ago. The one time Auburn Tiger appears to be a scorer first, with a slight propensity for turnovers. Christian Gray (no not that one) also saw 21 minutes of play against Anchorage, scoring 8 points and grabbing 8 boards in his Division I debut. It will be interesting to see how he performs against a legitimate frontcourt like the Frogs have. McWilliams got a fair amount of burn against Anchorage, but based on his place in the rotation last season, I would expect to see him for maybe 3-5 minutes this game. Freshman Aguir Agau rounds out the Bulldogs’ rotation. He struggled to shoot the ball in his college debut, but he crashed the boards well and also had 2 blocks. Additionally, Fresno’s Nate Grimes is questionable for the game after being held out of the season opener. Grimes would add a defensive and rebounding presence that could prove key for the Bulldogs.

Coach Rodney Terry left for UTEP in the offseason, so drawing conclusions about this year’s Fresno team from last year’s may be foolish, but it’s the best data we have on what the team might look like. This was a team that was top tier at shooting the basketball, ranking 27th in the nation in three point shooting and 39th in eFG%. They guarded the three point shot just as well, but struggled a bit to guard the interior, which makes sense given their general lack of size. While we need to see how Coach Justin Hutson changes the team’s identity in the long term, it seems fair to expect a quick team that will do their damage on the perimeter.

Three Things to Look For

Turnovers

As I mentioned above, the Frogs turned the ball over 16 times last game, and they had 13 against CSU Bakersfield. Their 20.3% turnover rate ranks 223rd in the nation so far this year. While there are obvious sample size issues there, that’s not an ideal number against pretty weak competition so far. Fresno took pretty good care of the ball last year (103rd in the nation in TO rate), and got 17 takeaways against Anchorage, so the Frogs need to stay sharp.

Win the battle on the perimeter

The Bulldogs’ studs play out on the wing. Taylor, Huggins, and Blackwell are all going to jack up threes and force the Frogs to work on both ends of the court. A Rob and Bane have both been on fire to start this season, but they will each face their greatest test of the season so far. The return of Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi would also bolster the perimeter, but as of this writing there is still no word on their status.

Use your size

TCU has the definite size advantage. That is a sentence I could write almost every game this season, but Kevin Samuel, Yuat Alok, and JD Miller should all have opportunities to dominate inside. This also goes for Desmond Bane and RJ Nembhard, who should have size and length advantages against the small ball lineup that Fresno likes to roll out. Win on the glass, dump the ball inside, and grind it out after neutralizing their guards.

Prediction

Fresno State is the best team the Frogs have faced so far, but TCU still has a definite advantage. The identity is slowly coming together, and Fresno has had 9 days without live action on a court. Alex Robinson and Desmond Bane will both have big games yet again, overwhelming Taylor and forcing Fresno out of their comfort zone. The defense has looked much better so far this year, and I’m excited to see if that can continue against a high powered offense.

My pick to click for this game is JD Miller. He will win the battle of seniors against Bittner and use his inside-out game to frustrate the Fresno defense. Look for a near double-double from JD. This game will be close, but the Frogs take control in the last 10 minutes and make it to 3-0.

Prediction: #21 TCU 81, Fresno State 73

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

  • No. 21 TCU will look for a 3-0 start to a season for the third straight year when it hosts Fresno State Thursday at 8 p.m.
  • For just the second time in school history, TCU begun a season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The last time the Frogs were ranked in the preseason was when they were No. 24 prior to the start of the 1998-99 season.
  • Junior Desmond Bane leads the Frogs with an average of 18 points per game. Senior guard Alex Robinson, who was Preseason Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award, is second with 17.5 points per game and 6.0 assists.
  • The Frogs hope to continue the momentum in November like they have in the past. Since the 2014-15 season, the Frogs have gone 26-2 in the month of November. TCU has gone 7-0 in each of the last two Novembers and have won 17-straight in the month dating back to the 2015-16 season.
  • Through two games, seven of the Horned Frogs’ nine newcomers have made their TCU debuts. Overall, 49 percent of TCU’s total minutes have gone to newcomers. The only TCU players who have played this season that saw action last season are Bane, Robinson, RJ Nembhard (six games last year) and JD Miller.