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TCU Basketball Preview: #11 Syracuse

The Frogs are dancing, and face off against the Orange

Ahmed Hamdy is the only Horned Frog with NCAA experience. Will that help TCU against Syracuse?
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 8:40 PM CST | Location: Little Caesars Arena – Detroit, MI | TV: CBS | Series: Syracuse leads 4-0 | Game Line: TCU -3.5

The #6 TCU Horned Frogs (21-11) are officially playing for the championship, making March Madness for the first time in 20 years. Their opponent was decided in the play in game on Wednesday, and it will be a familiar foe for Jamie Dixon in the form of the #11 seed Syracuse Orange (21-13). The Orange defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils 60-56 in the play in game, led by a huge game from Oshae Brissett. The win had to feel good for Orange fans, who had to deal with a barrage of criticism that they were not worthy of the tournament as the last team in.

The Orange were the definition of a bubble team. They picked up some key wins towards the end of the season, like their three point win over Clemson, but had some blights like a loss to Georgia Tech and a beatdown in the ACC Tournament against UNC. Still, the Orange have an all-time great coach in Jim Boeheim, whose legendary 2-3 zone has his team once again on the right side of the bubble. This being despite an NCAA scandal, and a player in Geno Thorpe leaving the program.

The Orange really are a one-two punch of backcourt mates Tyus Battle and Frank Howard. Battle is the team’s leading scorer with just under 20 points per game, and he is their top NBA prospect. He’s a workhorse, playing a bigger share of his team’s minutes than any other player in the country (96% of minutes, 38.9 per game). His eFG of 47.1% isn’t amazing, but is much better when you consider he takes about a third of his team’s shots. He’s got deep, NBA level range when he’s on, and Syracuse’s offense is pretty focused on getting him open looks. Howard is pretty similar, running the show at the point and taking the second most shots on the team. Don’t expect a break from either of them, as they’ll play the full 40, which may work against the Orange on only two days rest. Syracuse has really benefited from the emergence of Oshae Brissett, who had the big game in the play in contest. His transformation into a tertiary option as a freshman is a key reason why the Orange made the tournament. Brissett is a good three point shooter, but he also had success against ASU diving into the paint. Those three are the key players for Cuse, but there are more players who see time for the Orange.

Marek Dolezaj gets the start at small forward, though functionally he doesn’t play out on the perimeter much. The freshman Slovakian is great at getting to the line, but doesn’t get many touches and turns the ball over far to much for his low usage rate. Rounding out the starting lineup is one-time Providence Friar Paschal Chukwu. The 7’2 center is an imposing physical presence, and he is one of the top shot blockers in the nation. He led the ACC in eFG%, reminiscent of Udoka Azubuike from KU. Chukwu doesn’t fill up the stat sheet on offense, but you will definitely feel his impact on the game. Syracuse is not a deep team at all, and they run a rotation that has only two reserves. The top reserve backs up Chukwu: freshman Bourama Sidibe. Imagine a shorter Chukwu who doesn’t do anything quite as good. He hasn’t scored more than 4 points since January 27, and his shot blocking rate isn’t nearly as high as Chukwu. Unless Chukwu gets into foul trouble, expect to see Sidibe for 10 minutes at the most. The other backup is Matthew Moyer, whose role has been sharply reduced in the month of March. He’s a solid rebounder, and his insertion into the game allows Brissett to shift over into the three, but on a personal level he doesn’t make a deep impact.

Syracuse is famous for their 2-3 zone, and they rode it to a #10 ranked defense this season. They rank 2nd in the nation in block rate and 14th in 2 point field goal percentage, not surprising when you have a behemoth anchoring the paint for your defense. Their guards at the top of the zone apply great pressure on defense, ranking 20th in steal rate. This is a long team, #1 in the nation in average length, and their zone will beat down unprepared foes. The problem is the offense. When Battle and Howard are on, Syracuse can play with any team in the country, but if you think TCU’s cold spells are bad, the Orange put them to shame. Overall, the Orange are not an efficient offensive team (47.2% eFG ranks 321st in the country), and they are buoyed by a great offensive rebounding rate and ability to get to the line. You have to stop the Battle/Howard/Brissett trio from getting your guys in trouble from their attacking games. Also, the aforementioned short rotation may lend the main guys to fatigue, and force them to settle for low percentage jump shots. Syracuse is a team that is very consistent in what they do well, and are going to execute their game plan exactly how Coach Boeheim draws it up. To beat the Orange, Coach Dixon will need to have his guys focused and ready to play.

Three Things to Look For

Threes

The death knell for a 2-3 zone is when an offense finds a hot hand, then swings the ball around to them for open shots. TCU is an elite three point shooting team, with several guys who could go off at any time. This is a huge matchup problem for the Orange, who force opponents to take a high volume of threes. A guy like Desmond Bane could play a huge part in a win, as well as Kenrich Williams and Kouat Noi. The X-Factor may end up being Vladimir Brodziansky’s ability to stretch the floor and knock a few down himself.

Guarding ball screens

Syracuse’s offense is similar to TCU’s in that it is heavily reliant on ball screens to free up the primary options. In TCU’s case, this typically means an Alex Robinson drive that will either result in a layup or a kickout after the defense collapses. For Syracuse, this means getting Battle or Howard with a full head of steam so they can get to the line. TCU typically switches ball screens, hedging high with players like Vlad when the big men come out, and their execution of this PnR coverage will be essential to their success. Stop the ball screen game, and Syracuse’s offense will revert to pure hero ball, letting TCU run up the score on the other end.

Keep up the tempo

Syracuse only runs out seven guys, and their two backups play sparingly in comparison with their starters. They’re coming off only two days rest against an equally talented team. TCU may be rusty from all the rest, but their legs are also fresh, and their sub-heavy 8 man rotation will be able to wear down Syracuse. JD Miller, Ahmed Hamdy, and Shawn Olden don’t need to have huge games, they just need to be fresh and active when they get out there. Anything else we get from them is just gravy.

Prediction

I love the Frogs in this game. The players are sure to be amped up, representing TCU in March Madness for the first time since the 90s. Jamie Dixon owned Syracuse during his time at Pitt, prompting Orange fans to celebrate his homecoming to TCU. His Panther offenses figured out the zone, and this TCU offense is among the best Dixon has ever had. I also think the games against players like Azubuike from KU, Bamba from UT, and Lual-Acuil from Baylor helped prepare the Frogs for this game, especially considering how Baylor loved that zone in the two matchups. Add in the depth advantage, and I think the Frogs advance to the round of 32 and keep the dream alive.

Prediction: #6 TCU 74, #11 Syracuse 68

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

- TCU last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1998 as a No. 5 seed.

- At 20 years, TCU’s drought was the second longest among current power five conference members. Rutgers’ 27 is first (1991).

- TCU is 5-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and last won a game in 1987, Jamie Dixon’s senior season.

- TCU’s best NCAA Tournament finish was in 1968 when it made the finals of the Midwest Regional.

- TCU is 8-2 in neutral site games in its two seasons with Jamie Dixon as head coach. It will be TCU’s first game in Detroit.

- Jamie Dixon is making his 12th NCAA Tournament appearance in his 15th season as a head coach and is 12-11 all-time.

- Dixon’s last appearance in the Big Dance was in 2016, a first round loss. His best finish was the Elite Eight in 2009.

- TCU’s 21 regular season wins were its most since the 1997-98 season.

- Kenrich Williams was named All-Big 12 Second Team by the league’s coaches and the Associated Press.

- Williams also earned a spot on the USBWA All-District VII team.

- Williams has recorded 13 double-doubles and is averaging 13.1 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds this season.

- Williams ranks fourth on the TCU all-time rebounding list and No. 21 in scoring.

- Vladimir Brodziansky was named All-Big 12 Third Team by the league’s coaches and honorable mention by the AP.

- Brodziansky is a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award and the Senior CLASS Award.

- Brodziansky ranks No. 11 in the Big 12 in scoring (15.1) and third in shooting percentage (57.6).

- Brodziansky ranks No. 11 all-time at TCU in scoring and is three blocks away from tying the TCU career record.

- TCU’s nine conference wins were its most since the 2000-01 season when it went 9-7 in the WAC.

- TCU has won 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign.

- TCU led the Big 12 Conference and ranks among the national leaders in assists per game (2nd, 18.8), assist turnover ratio (13th, 1.5), field goal percentage (8th, 49.9), rebounding margin (19th, +6.3) and 3-point percentage (17th, 40.0).

- TCU also ranks among the national leaders in scoring (19th, 83.0).

- TCU ranks eighth in offensive efficiency at 120.6, according to KenPom.com.

- Desmond Bane leads the Big 12 and ranks 14th in the NCAA in 3-point percentage at 47.2.

- The Frogs were ranked for eight consecutive weeks. They are receiving votes in the latest AP and USA Today polls.

- TCU was ranked as high as No. 10 in the AP Top 25 on Dec. 25, which was its highest ranking in school history.

- Sophomore Jaylen Fisher (right knee) was ruled out for the season on Jan. 16. He was averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 assists.

- TCU returned its top six scorers from last season’s team that went 24-15, finished tied for seventh in the Big 12 and won the NIT, including all five starters. It’s the first time Jamie Dixon has had a team with every starter returning from the year before.

About the Series

- TCU is 0-4 against Syracuse.

- Jamie Dixon is 15-6 all-time against Syracuse including a 1-2 record in neutral site games. Dixon has won the last five games against Jim Boeheim and the Orange.

Who was Where?

What the current roster was up to the last time TCU made the NCAA Tournament in 1998. Staff

- Head Coach Jamie Dixon was in his final season as an assistant coach under Ben Howland at Northern Arizona University. He was 32 years old.

- Assistant Head Coach David Patrick was a junior on the basketball team at Louisiana-Lafayette.

- Assistant Coach Ryan Miller was a senior on the basketball team at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D.

- Assistant Coach Corey Barker was a senior at Eisenhower High School in Houston, Texas. Players

- Ahmed Hamdy was four years old.

- Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams were three years old.

- Shawn Olden and Alex Robinson were two years old.

- JD Miller was one year old.

- Kouat Noi was four months old.

- Desmond Bane was about three months from being born.

TCU’S NCAA Experience

Jamie Dixon

TCU’s second-year head coach is back in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in his 15 seasons as a head coach. Including his 13 seasons as the head coach at Pittsburgh, Dixon is 12-11 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 22-13 overall in postseason tournaments. He has qualified for a postseason tournament in all 15 seasons he’s been a head coach. Dixon’s postseason championships are the 2012 College Basketball Invitational and the 2017 National Invitation Tournament.

As a senior at TCU, Dixon helped TCU qualify for the 1987 NCAA Tournament. The No. 4 seeded Frogs defeated No. 13 seed Marshall, 76-60, in the first round on March 12 in Charlotte. He had 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. Dixon had 10 points, six assists and one rebound in a 58-57 loss to No. 5 seed Notre Dame in the second round on March 14. Dixon was coached by Jim Killingsworth.

Ahmed Hamdy

The graduate transfer from VCU played in the NCAA Tournament in both seasons, a total of three games, with the Rams. In his sophomore season, Hamdy scored five points against Oregon State in a first round win on March 18, 2016. The Rams fell to Oklahoma, 85-81, on March 20, 2016 in the second round when Hamdy went scoreless. As a junior, Hamdy scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field in his last NCAA Tournament game, an 85-77 loss to St. Mary’s in the first round on March 16, 2017.

TCU’S All-Around Player

Kenrich Williams is one of 11 active players with 1,000 career points, 800 career rebounds and 200 career assists. Joining Williams on that list are Peyton Aldridge (Davidson), Bogdan Bliznyuk (Eastern Wash.), Gary Clark (Cincinnati), Xavier Cooks (Winthrop), Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Kevin Hervey (UT Arlington), John Konchar (Fort Wayne), Jahad Thomas (UMass Lowell) and Bryce Washington (Louisiana). Only Aldridge, Clark, Delgado and Williams are on teams that made the NCAA Tournament.

Three-point Threats

TCU has been one of the best shooting teams in the nation all season. Part of the reason the Frogs are so good is because of the number of weapons from 3-point range. TCU has eight players who have made 17 or more 3-pointers this season. The Frogs have made 271 3-pointers this season, the third-most in school history behind 280 last season and 284 in 2004-05.

Shooting and Scoring

- TCU ranks second in the Big 12 and 19th in the NCAA in scoring offense (83.0). TCU has not averaged 80 or more points per game in a season since the 2002-03 campaign when it averaged 80.4. Last year’s NIT championship team averaged 69.7 points.

- The Frogs rank first in the Big 12 and second in the NCAA in assists per game (18.8).

- TCU ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth in the NCAA in field goal shooting (49.9%). The TCU school record is 49.5 percent set in 1997-98.

- TCU ranks first in the Big 12 and 17th in the NCAA in 3-point shooting (40.0%). The TCU school record is 41.8 percent set in 1988-89. The 1998-99 team is second at 38.8 percent.

- TCU’s offensive efficiency ranks eighth at 120.6 according to KenPom.com. It is up from last season’s 114.5 (37th), which was the best offensive efficiency TCU has ever had, since KenPom started in 2002. Dixon’s top offensive efficiency was 121.2 at Pitt during the 2008-09 season.

- TCU has four players in the top 12 in shooting percentage in the Big 12... 3. Vladimir Brodziansky - 57.6, 7. Desmond Bane - 54.6, 12. Kouat Noi - 49.8, 15. Kenrich Williams - 47.7.

- Sophomore Desmond Bane (47.2) leads the Big 12 in 3-point shooting. Freshman Kouat Noi (42.9) is fifth. The school record for 3-point shooting percentage in a season, with a min. of 2.0 makes per game, is 47.7 percent by Henry Salter in 2007-08.

- Vladimir Brodziansky ranks seventh in the Big 12 in free throw shooting (82.0). He was first in Big 12 only games at 88.8 percent (79-of-89).

- TCU has scored 90 points or better nine times this season. It’s the most times the Frogs have scored 90 or more in a season since the 2001-02 season when they did it 13 times.