Game Time: 11:30 PM CST | Location: Stan Sheriff Center – Honolulu, HI | TV: ESPN3 | Series: Charlotte leads 2-0 | Game Line: TCU -19.5
The TCU Horned Frogs (8-1) are in Hawaii over the break, not to vacation, but to play in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic against the Charlotte 49ers (3-5). The Frogs scored a dominating victory last time out, besting Indiana State 90-70. Alex Robinson led the way with 20 points, with Desmond Bane (17), Jaylen Fisher (14), and Kouat Noi (10) joining him in double figures. The Sycamores sported the top three point shooting percentage in the country, but the Frogs held them to just 3/16 (19%) shooting. The Frogs were also aided by the 20 turnovers by ISU, while they only gave the ball up 10 times themselves.
Charlotte won their most recent matchup, a close 55-49 victory over ECU. Jon Davis led the way with 18 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Malik Martin contributed 13 and Milos Supica dropped 10. Neither team shot the lights out, as evidenced by the low scoring game, but Ron Sanchez and company had to be happy just to get a win. The 49ers scored a big upset victory over Oklahoma State back at the beginning of the season, but there haven’t been many other high points. Their third win over Longwood came with a dreadful 42-39 score, and they’ve been blown away by teams like Davidson and Wake Forest.
Davis is far and away Charlotte’s best player, and as one of two seniors on the team, he is their leader on the court. Running the point guard, he is averaging a tick over 20 points a contest, while ranking top 50 nationally in assist rate. He doesn’t have a great outside shot, only making about 28% from three point land, but he gets to the line at a decent clip and is the only real consistent threat the 49ers have. He dropped 27 points on 9/17 shooting against Okie State, and will need a similar performance on Saturday night just to keep the game competitive. Martin is one of many freshmen on the team, and profiles as a similar (if less efficient) scorer as Davis. He’s averaging just under 10 points a contest, but has pretty terrible shooting splits at 38/25/85. His best games have come when the scoring is low, so he can stand out relative to the rest of the court (he scored in double figures in the wins over ECU and Longwood). Supica has taken over the starting center role over the last three games, and the Serbian product has responded with three pretty solid games. He’s tops on the team in rebounding, though he only truly excels on the offensive glass, and is not much of a rim protector. Standing at 6’9 220, his size is more comparable to JD Miller rather than Kevin Samuel. Another freshman, Dravon Mangum, has started every game, though his shooting makes Martin’s look All-American level. 28/30/78 are his splits, and he has suffered through the inconsistency you would expect out of a true freshman. He had 12 points and 8 boards against Charleston, yet was completely shut out against ECU. He’ll duel with JD this game, in a major experience mismatch. The final starter will likely be Jaylan McGill, as former starter Cooper Robb is out with an injury. McGill has been ice cold to start the season, sporting a 21/10/0 shooting split, and hasn’t really brought anything of value to the table despite increased minutes. He was a halfway decent option for a good chunk of C-USA play a season ago, but so far it has been a struggle for McGill at the 2.
The other senior on the team, Jailan Haslem, was actually a starter for the first four games of the season. He’s the biggest guy on the team and gives great effort, and is probably the top rebounder in terms of skill. He doesn’t give you a whole lot on the offensive end, and he fouls a ton, but he will probably see a lot of burn against TCU’s bigger roster. Brandon Younger, yet another freshman, is just two games removed from a career high in points, and is coming on strong as conference play approaches. He’s 50% from three on 16 attempts, but has struggled inside the three point line so far in his career. Finally, expect to see John Kitoko check in for the 49ers, but he has been a major non factor so far this season. He uses very few possessions and has the fewest points per game out of players in the regular rotation.
As can be inferred from some of the scores I referenced, Charlotte has one of the worst offenses in the country. The entire weight of the offense falls on Davis, and they are ranked in the bottom quarter of teams in every category except free throw shooting, where they rank an elite 5th overall. Defensively, they aren’t great either, ranking 233rd in defensive rating, but their snail’s pace on offense helps limit the number of points they give up. They are also great at limiting opponents on the offensive glass, and beat Oklahoma State by getting to the line and controlling the glass. The 49ers are probably the worst team that TCU has faced to this point, but that doesn’t mean the Frogs can get complacent, lest they end up like Okie State.
Three Things to Look For
The Frogs have one of the top defenses in the country. The 49ers have one of the worst offenses in the country. Not a great combo for Charlotte. The defense has been the biggest surprise for the Frogs to this point, and their great play on that end of the floor will likely not see much resistance Saturday night. However, TCU needs to stay dialed in and take care of business like they have over the past several games.
Lock in on Davis
As Jon Davis goes, so does Charlotte. If the Frogs can harass the senior and force him into a high-turnover-low-efficiency game, then the 49ers will have no chance at pulling off the upset.
A Fight on the Glass
If there’s one thing Charlotte does well, it’s prevent offensive boards. I don’t think they’ve faced a center like Kevin Samuel yet, but it should be interesting to see that battle play out. Charlotte is a pretty big team, ranking about even with the Frogs, but the athleticism isn’t even close.
Charlotte is one of the youngest teams in the country, and while the trip to Hawaii can be a distraction for anyone, I tend to believe that it is more prone to affect a young team like Charlotte than a more seasoned group like TCU. The 49ers will try to slow the game and grind out a close win, but with the way the Frogs have been playing, I don’t think that will happen.
I think Alex Robinson will be a major player again, with yet another fun matchup against a talented guard. The Frogs will run away with this one early, and face the winner of Bucknell and Rhode Island on Sunday night.
Prediction: TCU 81, Charlotte 58
Here are the game notes, courtesy of GoFrogs.com:
- TCU will open play at the 10th annual Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic against Charlotte at 11:30 p.m. CT.
- The Frogs will play either Bucknell or Rhode Island in the second round. The other teams in the tournament are Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana State and UNLV.
- TCU head coach Jamie Dixon served as the assistant coach at Hawaii two seperate times, 1992-94 and 1998-99.
- The Frogs are 9-3 under Dixon in neutral site games and have won the last two regular season tournaments they’ve played in.
- Senior guard Alex Robinson ranks second in the nation at 8.6 assists per game. He is five away from 500 for his TCU career. He was Preseason Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award.
- Sophomore guard Kouat Noi has averaged 15.8 points over the last five games. His 13.8 points per game average rank third on the team. He’s come off the bench in every game this season.
- The Horned Frogs lead the nation with 21.2 assists per game and rank 13th in assists-turnover ratio at 1.59. TCU is one of six teams that rank top 30 nationally in field goal percentage (14th) and field goal percentage defense (27th).
- For just the second time in school history and the first time since prior to the 1998-99 season, TCU begun a season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 21. The Frogs were ranked for three-straight weeks to begin the season, topping out at No. 18, and are currently receiving votes in both polls.