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TCU Basketball Preview: USC

The Frogs leave Texas for the first time, seeking a tough road win

TCU Basketball at SMU | Dallas, TX - Moody Colesium | 12.5.2018 |
Kouat Noi and TCU Basketball will try and silence some doubters when they leave Texas for the first time this season.
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 8:30 PM CST | Location: Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA | TV: Fox Sports 1 | Series: Tied 1-1 | Game Line: TCU -2

The TCU Horned Frogs (6-1) head to the west coast on Friday night, looking to score a big win in a semi-away game against the USC Trojans (5-3). The Frogs won their first road game last time out, a big time 67-59 triumph in Dallas over SMU. JD Miller and Jaylen Fisher tied for the team lead with 15 points each, with Kouat Noi joining them in double figures with 12. The Frogs D showed up, limiting SMU to only 24 second half points, a huge plus after a sluggish start to the game. Fisher went one on one with SMU star Jahmal McMurray, and caught fire from behind the three point line. The Ponies only shot 16% from three, and no one on their team was a consistent threat the entire game. The Frogs did allow 20 offensive rebounds, but SMU is one of the best in the nation at grabbing those boards, so there isn’t a ton to be ashamed of there.

USC lost last time out, as they were bested by a top ranked Nevada squad, 73-61. Nick Rakocevic was the star of the game for the Trojans, having 20 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Derryck Thornton was the only other Trojan in double figures, as he scored 10. USC couldn’t get anything to fall from three, shooting a dreadful 24% (5/21), and they also only dished out 10 assists total. While they did lose, it was to one of the best teams in the nation, and all three of USC’s losses are to quality competition. They were bested by Texas Tech by 15 and Vanderbilt by 4. They have a common win with the Frogs, CSU Bakersfield, and have handled the lesser competition they’ve faced with ease. The Frogs will have their handful with a team that has already been through the ringer this season.

Rakocevic is USC’s top player, and will be by far the most talented center the Frogs have seen to this point. He rebounds well, 35th in the nation in defensive rebounding rate this season and 6th in offensive rebounding a year ago, and leads the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game. He has a long frame and can stretch the defense with a midrange shot. He should be a good preview for when the Frogs have to play Dean Wade later this season. Bennie Boatwright is only just behind Rakocevic in scoring at 15.2 points per game, and together they form by far the longest and tallest frontcourt the Frogs have seen to this point. He’s a team captain who has been draining threes at a nice clip this season, and is the focal point of what they are trying to do on offense. JD Miller will have his work cut out for him just a game after playing small ball center. Shaqquan Aaron has started every game this season, and is a senior presence on the wing. He’s shot almost 50% from three this season, and can do a little bit of everything from rebounding to playmaking. He won’t be the focal point like the bigs, but he can still hurt you in a number of ways. Thornton is the team’s point guard, and easily their top playmaker. He’s shot the ball reasonably well this season, although this seems to be an outlier compared to his career both last season and his freshman year with Duke. He has also been bit with the turnover bug, owning a 25.3 turnover rate. The final starter is Jonah Matthews, who will matchup with Jaylen Fisher at shooting guard. He shoots a reasonable 37% from three, and knows his place in the system very well. He averages 12.1 points a contest, and very rarely turns the ball over. He’s going to stick to the perimeter, looking to capitalize if the Frogs turn too much attention to Rakocevic and Boatwright.

I expect to see hot shot freshman Kevin Porter to play this game. He played only 4 minutes against Nevada, and missed the two games before that, but before then he had worked his way into the starting 5 and had scored in double figures every game. He picks his spots well and defensively has a chance to be very special. He’ll be a handful if he is at full strength following a quad contusion injury. Elijah Weaver runs the backup point, and the big freshman guard has shot well. The big thing hamstringing him right now is his turnover rate, 37.7 with more than 2 turnovers in three straight games. He’s a young player, so his play could be volatile in either direction this matchup. Jordan Usher will also see a fair amount of burn, playing both forward positions. His versatility is his main draw for the Trojans, and I’m sure he’s their answer to JD Miller. He hasn’t scored very efficiently this season, but did have a big game against CSU Bakersfield. Finally, Victor Uyaelunmo may see some playing time, though he did not play against Nevada. The big guy is simply another option at center who can spell Rakocevic and Boatwright.

USC is a pretty balanced team across the board, and in many ways they remind me of TCU. They have a very long and tall team, but rely heavily on their almost 40% three point shooting. They don’t turn the ball over and get back on defense to harass you for the whole shot clock. As a result of their length, opponents are only shooting 43% against them on two pointers, which will collide with the Frogs’ success in that area. This is a Trojans team full of upperclassmen, and they aren’t going to panic in the face of a strong high major team like the Frogs.

Three Things to Look For

The Battle Inside

In so many of these previews, I’ve said the Frogs have the overwhelming advantage on the interior. No more in this game, as the Trojans throw out guys just as big as Kevin Samuel and Yuat Alok, and their frontcourt actually bests the size of JD Miller. Coming off a game where SMU went small ball, TCU will need to adjust their mindset and keep playing their game. Run the game the same as they normally do, with high pick and rolls and high quality shots, and the Frogs should be fine.

A True Road Game

Sure, the Frogs finally played a road game Wednesday night. But the only had to drive an hour east to Dallas to play it. Now they fly to a different time zone to face an opponent in one of the biggest stages in basketball. How the young Frogs respond to this new environment will be a big tell for their success moving forward.

Keep the Ball Moving

One thing that makes or breaks the Frogs: ball movement. When they were playing terrible at the beginning of the SMU game, the ball was just swinging around the perimeter without any real care until Alex Robinson had to make a play at the end of the shot clock. The Frogs lead the nation in assists and assists per field goal made, which means that when the ball is flowing, the Frogs are thriving. USC’s defense is prone to being picked apart by sustained ball movement, so the Frogs need to keep their wits.

Prediction

This, for the second game in a row, is the toughest test the Frogs have faced. They’re playing a team that has more experience, both this season against higher competition and in age. Added to that, it’s their first true game away from DFW and is at the Staples Center, a huge stage. Despite this, I think this team has really found their rhythm and will pull this one out.

All eyes will be on the inside, as USC plays a different style than anyone the Frogs have faced thus far. JD Miller and Kevin Samuel may not put up huge stats, but their ability to cope with the Trojans’ frontline will make or break the game. Give me the Frogs in another close game, as they clamp down defensively again in the last ten minutes.

Prediction: TCU 77, USC 75

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

  • TCU will play its second game within 48 hours when it plays the second game of a tripleheader in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic Friday at 8:30 p.m. against USC in STAPLES Center.
  • The first game features Saint Mary’s vs. New Mexico at 6 p.m. and the final game is between No. 20 Arizona State and No. 6 Nevada at 11 p.m.
  • The Frogs will be the visiting team and wear their purple uniforms for the first time this season.
  • Senior guard Alex Robinson leads the nation with 9.1 assists per game. He is also seven points shy of 1,000 for his career, which started at Texas A&M. Robinson was Preseason Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award.
  • Redshirt freshman center Kevin Samuel ranks second in the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 73.5 percent and ranks seventh in blocked shots at 1.9 per game.
  • Sophomore guard Kouat Noi has averaged 18.3 points and is 23-of-41 from the field over the past three games including a career high 27 against Eastern Michigan. His 14.8 points per game average rank second on the team.
  • The Horned Frogs lead the nation with 21.3 assists per game. n 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.