Game Time: 9:00 PM CST | Location: Stan Sheriff Center – Honolulu, HI | TV: ESPN2 | Series: First Meeting | Game Line: TCU -14
The TCU Horned Frogs (9-1) stay in the winner’s bracket in the Diamond Head Classic, and will face the Bucknell Bison (5-5) on Sunday night. TCU cruised to a win over Charlotte by a score of 82-57. Kouat Noi led TCU in scoring with 15 points, closely followed by Jaylen Fisher’s 14. Desmond Bane was also in double figures with 10, and Alex Robinson dished out 11 assists. The 49ers turned it over 21 times, which was not a good recipe when the Frogs were nailing 65% of their two point attempts.
Bucknell scored a surprise win over Rhode Island in their first round matchup, a close 84-82 game. Bruce Moore was the Bison’s leading scorer with 18, followed by Jimmy Sotos and Nate Sestina, who each scored 16. Sestina also grabbed 10 boards for a double-double. Avi Toomer also scored 13 points before fouling out. Bucknell’s most notable game to this point in the season was when they came incredibly close to upending Ohio State in Columbus, losing by only 2 points. They’ve won a road game over a solid Vermont team, and of course have beaten Rhode Island. They have a couple of bad losses to Fairfield and Canisius, but those were both over a month ago and they appear to be playing a great brand of basketball right now.
Sestina is the team’s center, and the senior has taken a huge step forward this season. He’s one of the top defensive rebounders in the country, 30th in defensive rebound rate. One of his key attributes is versatility, as he can score in the paint and is also a threat to step out and occasionally knock down a three. He did not play in their two head scratching losses, showing just how big his impact on their chance of winning is. The team’s leading scorer is another senior, guard Kimbal Mackenzie. He’s a guy who can score from anywhere, though he hasn’t been a super efficient scorer since his sophomore season. He’s taken on a huge amount of the scoring burden for the Bison, taking around 12 shots a game, and is also very careful with the ball (65th nationally in turnover rate). Sotos joins Mackenzie in the backcourt, manning the point. He’s more than doubled his assist rate this season as the starting point guard, and is nailing 54% of his three pointers this season. He’s easily the team’s most efficient scorer when considering volume, though his 31.3 turnover rate is a cause for concern. Moore starts with Sestina in the frontcourt, and has shown the ability to step out an hit the three (54% on 24 attempts). His rebounding is disappointing for a frontcourt player; he really profiles more like a small forward. He has had back to back games with 18 points, so the Frogs need to watch out for his scoring prowess. Toomer is the team’s final starter, playing the three despite only standing at 6’3. He’s possibly their best defender, and has begun to heat up in terms of scoring over the past month. He fouls a ton, and on the other end has struggled from the line to this point in the season.
Paul Newman gets all the minutes at backup center, and is clearly the team’s top rim protector with a 9.3 block rate (48th in the nation). While Toomer had foul problems, Newman averages nearly 7 fouls per 40 minutes, limiting his time on the floor. Ben Robertson did not check in against Rhode Island, but had played every other game in the season to that point. A high flying athlete, Robertson doesn’t use a ton of possessions, but when he does he will go for the Sportscenter play. Freshman guard Andrew Funk has recently shot the ball well from three after starting the season 0-12. He plays off ball mostly, but still has a high turnover rate and has found trouble consistently putting the ball in the basket. The story is similar for fellow freshman Walter Ellis. He almost exclusively takes threes, with only 4 two point attempts this season. I would be tempted to compare his impact to a poor man’s Jaylen Fisher, but he doesn’t hit shots at the same rate or give an all around impact like Jaylen. John Meeks has played the last three games after missing the entire season until that point. He’s played three really strong games, averaging 7 points per game on very good shooting. Finally, senior Nate Jones has played sporadically this season, seeing a huge role reduction from a season ago. He has struggled in his limited playing time.
A holistic review of Bucknell’s resume reveals a largely battle-tested team that ranks near the middle of the pack in most important statistical categories. TCU will be by far the toughest team they’ve faced yet, and their decently ranked interior defense (119th) will need to contend with an elite TCU unit. The one area that Bucknell performs dismally in is offensive rebounding, ranking in the bottom 10 nationally. They care more about getting back and setting up their defense, as they like to grind out possessions on that end. On offense they like to play a little faster, though they are not a “get out and run” kind of team. The Frogs will need to stay sharp on both ends to beat this Bison squad, which can give anyone in the country a run for their money.
Three Things to Watch For
The Battle of the Starting Fives
Bucknell’s starting five may not take the biggest percentage of minutes of any five TCU have faced, but they may have the biggest impact. There is a huge drop off in quality from the Bison starting five to their reserves, so if the Frogs can outplay the Bison starters, TCU’s depth will pull away easily. Look in particular for how Jaylen Fisher and Kimbal Mackenzie’s games go in this category.
Defense (Especially from Three)
One lesson to take away from this TCU season: when the defense tightens the screws, everything else opens up. Bucknell ranks just outside the top 100 when it comes to three point shooting, and they get almost 40% of their total scoring from three point land. TCU has guarded the three ball well this season, 16th nationally at 27.5%, including a shutdown of the #1 three point shooting team in the nation. That trend will need to continue for the Frogs to win Sunday night.
Keep the Ball Moving
Bucknell likes to force long possessions by their opponents, so the Frogs cannot let the ball stick on that end. Of course, with Alex Robinson running the show, this is rarely a problem, but it is something to be aware of. Open shots will be available considering Bucknell’s average rankings on that end. Look inside and keep the ball moving, and the Bison defense will collapse.
TCU is on a roll, and while Bucknell is a sneakily talented team, I think the Frogs roll to another big win. It will be an all hands on deck kind of game, and I’d be surprised if it was the coast to coast kind of win that Charlotte was. That being said, I do expect a double digit victory for the Frogs.
I think Desmond Bane has a chance to have a big game, considering the size of the Bucknell backcourt. Bane is a unique player that will give even Bucknell’s strongest defenders fits this game.
Prediction: TCU 85, Bucknell 70