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TCU Basketball Preview: Lipscomb

A couple of key pieces return in time for game 4

TCU Basketball vs Kansas State, February 27th, 2018
TCU Basketball vs Kansas State, February 27th, 2018
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: FSSW | Series: First Meeting | Game Line: TBD

The #18 TCU Horned Frogs (3-0) will be back at full strength Tuesday night, as they host the Lipscomb Bisons (3-1). The Frogs are fresh off a strong second half against Fresno State, as they pulled out the 77-69 victory. Desmond Bane led the way with 23 points, while Alex Robinson had a great double double of 13 points and 14 assists. The real star of the game was Kevin Samuel, who had 14 points on 6/6 shooting, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocks. JD Miller (14) and R.J. Nembhard (11) also ended up in double figures. The Frogs did a great job limiting Fresno on the perimeter, with the Bulldogs shooting 9/26 from three and star Deshon Taylor struggling to 13 points on 13 shots. Limiting Fresno to only 69 points when the pace of play was so fast was a major accomplishment for a team that struggled on defense a season ago.

Lipscomb scored a major win on Saturday over a team the Frogs will see soon, a 79-73 win over SMU at Moody. Eli Pepper and Rob Marberry led the way with 16 points apiece, closely followed by Garrison Matthews’s 15. Matt Rose was also in double figures with 11. Looking at the rest of Lipscomb’s schedule, they have a close home loss to Belmont, and wins over Sewanee (D3) and Tennessee State.

Coach Dixon repeatedly mentioned how experienced Lipscomb is in his media availability. With all five starters returning from a season where they made the NCAA Tournament, the Bisons are a dangerous team top to bottom. Their primary weapon is going to be Matthews, who runs the small ball four (though he has shifted back down to the three over the past few games) and leads the team with 20 points per game. He can fill it up from anywhere on the floor, and was a top ten player in the country a season ago in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (7.2). It’ll be interesting to see if the Frogs go small, or keep the same starting five and have JD Miller occasionally check Matthews. Pepper will start at center and has been holding it down as the true big man in the starting five. He’s averaging 8 boards per game, and has consistently been one of the top defensive rebounders in the country. He’s been on fire scoring to start the season, which would be a new dimension to his game, and something that the Frogs will need to account for. Marberry had missed the first two games of the season, but he has slid back into his spot at the four over the past two games. He’s a high usage interior player who shoots above 60% from the floor. Kenny Cooper heads up the point guard spot. A tenacious defender, he will make Alex Robinson work and has the ability to get hot and fill it up quickly inside the arc. Michael Buckland rounds out the starting lineup. He has struggled with his shot early on, but he hit 38% of his threes in conference play a season ago, and is yet another upperclassmen who knows his role on the team.

Lipscomb boasts a deep bench that rotates in several upperclassmen contributors. Rose’s big game against SMU has really been his only solid work of the season, but expect him to get minutes at the power forward, especially if TCU stays big in their lineups. Another key in the frontcourt is actually a freshman, Ahsan Asadullah, who is the biggest player on their team at 277 pounds. He scored 26 points in the opener against Sewanee, but has largely been AWOL since. Nathan Moran was a starter a season ago, but this season he has remained a three point spark off the bench. His 41% shooting from beyond the arc a season ago had him in the top 7 in his conference, and the senior can play either guard position, distributing the ball well. Greg Jones, a DFW product, will also see the floor at the guard spots, but he has struggled mightily shooting the ball to start his sophomore season, with a TS% of 18.3. Forward Andrew Fleming has had more success shooting the ball, though he has only averaged two shots per game. Finally, expect to see some of freshman Alex Jones, who Kendric Davis will actually have the size advantage on thanks to Jones’s 5’9 stature.

As a team, the Bisons rank 8th in the nation in minutes continuity from a season ago, meaning you’ll see a team that knows how to play as a unit and has the fundamentals mastered. This is evident in their free throw shooting (17th in the nation at just under 80 percent) and effective field goal percentage (119th in the nation). They get absolutely wiped on the offensive glass, boarding only 16.8% of their offensive rebound attempts (350th/353 in D1), owing in large part to their lack of size. Conversely, they are incredible at grabbing defensive rebounds, with players like Pepper knowing how to position themselves when the shot goes up. While they have solid individual players as three point shooters, collectively they struggle to shoot the three, instead relying on players getting to the line for free points.

Three Keys to the Game

The Return of Fisher and Noi

Coach Dixon said on Monday that Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi should be good to go after missing the first three games of the season. This news is especially big for Fisher, who has not played a live basketball game since January. The Frogs have been rolling with just three returning players so far this year (excluding RJ Nembhard’s six games a season ago), so just from a chemistry standpoint it’ll be nice to have them back. The offense should open up even more thanks to their ability to shoot the three, and Dixon said to expect plenty of two point guard lineups with A Rob and Fisher. There will likely be some rust early, and they may not immediately start or play unrestricted minutes, but their return will bolster this team in both the long and short term.

The Size Advantage

TCU has Kevin Samuel, Yuat Alok, and Angus McWilliam. All three stand close to seven feet and can move. They should have a field day inside against players like Pepper, who are much smaller. They’ll need to keep in mind their fundamentals against such a sound team, but on paper the size advantage should mean big margins in the rebounding and second chance categories.

Can the Bench Step Up?

Obviously, the return of Fisher and Noi aids this issue, but against Fresno it was basically all the starters carrying the load. Desmond Bane played all 40 minutes, and the bench contributed all of 2 points. There is plenty of talent on the bench, but we can’t have all of them go cold if the Frogs want to beat the higher caliber teams moving forward.

Prediction

This will be a tough game, tougher than I imagine many Frog fans are expecting. Lipscomb should be the favorites to win their conference, and they are sort of the bizarro Frogs when it comes to their experience and size. Matthews is a legit player, and the Frogs need to come out with a plan, otherwise they’ll suffer the same fate as SMU. I think Fisher and Noi’s return will be big both for on court production as well as team morale. The game will ramp up into an up-tempo slugfest that ultimately favors the Frogs. Lipscomb impresses for a bit, but eventually the talent disparity rears its head.

Prediction: #18 TCU 88, Lipscomb 81

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

  • No. 18 TCU will look for a 4-0 start to a season for the fourth straight year when it hosts Lipscomb Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Junior Desmond Bane leads the Frogs with an average of 19.7 points per game and is coming off his second-straight 20-point performance.
  • 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 on the team with 16.0 points per game. His 8.7 assists per game ranks fifth in the nation.
  • TCU’s 18-game win streak in the month of November is the second-longest among NCAA Division I programs. Only Virginia’s 21-game win streak is longer. TCU’s streak dates back to the final November game in 2015.
  • Through three games, seven of the Horned Frogs’ nine newcomers have made their TCU debuts. Overall, 35 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.
  • For just the second time in school history, TCU begun a season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 21. 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.