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TCU Basketball Preview: #23 Oklahoma

The Frogs look to regain their footing in Big 12 play

Oklahoma v Rhode Island Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Game Time: 1:00 PM CST | Location: Lloyd Noble Center – Norman, OK | TV: FSSW | Series: Oklahoma leads 21-4 | Game Line: Oklahoma -4

The #25 TCU Horned Frogs (12-2) don’t have much time to recover from their time in Kansas, as they travel to Norman on Saturday to face the #23 Oklahoma Sooners (12-3). Turnovers doomed the Frogs’ efforts against the Kansas Jayhawks, and they lost 77-68. On the bright side, it was a coming out game for R.J. Nembhard, who led the team in scoring with 14. Most of TCU’s seven man rotation was in double figures: Desmond Bane (13), Alex Robinson (12), Kevin Samuel (12), and Kouat Noi (10). The Frogs committed 20 turnovers and let Dedric Lawson tear them apart for 31 points. While the game was certainly not what the Frogs were looking for, it is important to keep perspective. The game in Lawrence will always be the toughest of the season, and the Frogs were missing Jaylen Fisher. There is no reason to doubt that this team can regroup moving forward.

On the Oklahoma side, they dropped their most recent contest in Lubbock 66-59. Christian James (14) and Brady Manek (13) were in double figures. At Texas Tech may be the second toughest game in the Big 12 this season, so there’s no shame in dropping a game there by 7. Oklahoma’s other two losses are on the road at Kansas and a shelling by Wisconsin on a neutral floor. They sport the second toughest schedule in America, owning solid wins over teams like Florida, Creighton, and Northwestern.

Last season, TCU drew the Sooners twice when Trae Young was at the peak of his game. The main criticism of the Sooners was that he had no help around him, and once defenses figured him out, the Sooners cratered. However, this season is putting that narrative to the test. The Sooners have found a winning philosophy on defense, 8th in the nation with a 89.1 rating, with much the same roster as a season ago. This is an experienced group who flies around on that end and contests every shot. They’re not a West Virginia who will get up in your face and force turnovers, instead they will make your life miserable trying to find a high percentage shot. They surely will have studied some of the things that hurt the Frogs against Kansas: weak side help on the pick and roll, physical defenders cutting off passing lanes for A Rob, etc. Offensively, they simply do enough to win. This is the luxury of having an elite defense: the offense gets a significant amount of pressure relieved. Outside of their free throw shooting (note to TCU fans: they shoot it worse than us from the stripe), they are remarkably average in almost every offensive metric. This game will be won or lost when the Frogs have the ball.

Projected Starting Five

#0 Christian James (Senior from Houston, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 44/35/73 shooting splits

A returner from last season, perhaps no other player on Oklahoma’s roster has seen a bigger role upgrade from last season than James. He uses about 7% more of Oklahoma’s possessions than a season ago, and has turned into their leading scorer by a wide margin. He is remarkably consistent, dropping 14-18 points just about every time out, while also crashing the boards en route to a team lead in rebounding. One benefit of James’s experience is that he knows how to attack a defense; if a defender is out of position on the catch, he can take it in and finish at the hoop. I find him underrated as a playmaker in these situations, as he has shown he can find the open shooter when the defense collapses. While the slashing wing game is nice, he’s also more than comfortable stepping out and drilling a three pointer. He takes about seven a game, so look for #0 to be shooting it from distance all night. The Frogs’ elite three point defense will be put to the test.

#35 Brady Manek (Sophomore from Harrah, OK)

2018-19 Stats: 11.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 40/33/71 shooting splits

In my preview last season, I raved about Manek. I thought he was grossly overshadowed by the star power of Young. While his shooting has tanked with increased volume, I think Manek has improved his game in a few ways. For one, his rebounding percentages are up on the year, which is big for the thin framed stretch four. A lot of this may have to do with him primarily playing as a center this season after the departure of Khadeem Lattin. He stays out of foul trouble, and his 33% clip from three is enough to keep a defense honest and space the floor. He’s been very strong to open Big 12 play, scoring 16, 15, and 13 points in each contest. Manek was rather inconsistent scoring the ball in non-conference play, so that renewed confidence will be big for the Sooners. Defensively, he’s no Lattin, but a strong block rate combined with more focus on the boards has made him the de facto anchor of a top tier college defense.

#3 Miles Reynolds (Senior from Chicago, IL)

2018-19 Stats: 10.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 40/23/78 shooting splits

Reynolds is a new face for the Sooners, having graduate transferred from Pacific after one season (he had previously transferred from Saint Louis). Reynolds has seen his role change this season, as he has played mostly two guard for the Sooners after starting at point at Pacific. Naturally, his assist rate has plummeted, and he is fourth on the team with 21. Additionally, he has struggled from the field (43.8% eFG) and retains a high turnover rate (19.0) despite fewer touches. Why then has Oklahoma put him in the starting 5 over the last 8 games? First, Reynolds is a master of drawing contact and getting to the line. He is 8th nationally in free throw rate (85.6) and 84th at fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.3). He drills free throws at a 78% clip, which is very healthy at the college level. His true shooting percentage, which incorporates free throw shooting, is 11 points higher at 55%. Combine that skill with his comfort in the Sooner defensive scheme, and you can see why Reynolds is valued in the Sooner rotation.

#2 Aaron Calixte (Senior from Stoughton, MA)

2018-19 Stats: 8.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 44/36/75 shooting splits

Another graduate transfer, the one time Maine Black Bear has taken over the reigns at point guard for Lon Kruger’s squad. Calixte thrived on one of the worst teams in the country a season ago, and has kept his hot hand going into the Big 12. He stands at a diminutive 5’11, but runs the offense like a pro and is one of the team’s most consistent overall shooters. He’s an elite free throw shooter, 89% on his career coming into the season, and has recently started firing up more threes (over 4 a game in Big 12 play). Calixte’s numbers aren’t going to pop off the stat sheet, and he has had his fair share of turnover problems, but he remains a dangerous option for the Sooners to turn to.

#21 Kristian Doolittle (Junior from Edmond, OK)

2018-19 Stats: 8.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 54/0/70 shooting splits

Doolittle is a familiar name for Frogs fans, as he’s been a key piece for Oklahoma over the past two seasons. He has remained an important frontcourt option; never demanding the ball too often and crashing the boards with reckless abandon. While he doesn’t score very often, he has been on a hot stretch of games, scoring in double figures four of his last five contests (and dropping 9 against Kansas). Doolittle is one of those guys you love to have on your team, because he’ll do the dirty work that helps you win games. Don’t expect big flashy plays from the experienced forward, but pay attention and you’ll see a big impact from #21.

Projected Reserves

#4 Jamuni McNeace (Senior from Kankakee, IL)

2018-19 Stats: 6.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, 57/0/38 shooting splits

A big time interior presence, the 6’10 McNeace is an imposing threat inside for the Sooner defense. He is nationally ranked once again for block rate, 7.8%, and his rebounding numbers remain healthy on the year. He’s seen a major role reduction as of late, only playing 28 minutes over the last 4 games, as he has slowly recovered from an injury that cost him two games earlier in the year. He’s a great size matchup for Kevin Samuel, who didn’t have that same showdown against Kansas with Azubuike out. Coach Kruger has said McNeace is close to 100%, and if so look for him to play a larger number of minutes against the Frogs.

#1 Rashard Odomes (Senior from Copperas Cove, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 5.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 51/50/38 shooting splits

Odomes has seen a massive role reduction in his senior season, going from starter most of his junior season to second reserve off the bench this season. He was key in their win over Northwestern, tying a season high 13 points, and in many ways his peripheral numbers look similar to last season. There are a few reasons to believe he is forcing the issue, however. His usage rate when he is on the court is much higher, 22.6% of possessions instead of 16.9%, with a much higher assist and turnover rate (8.8 -> 11 and 12.3 -> 22.5). Clearly Odomes is trying to do as much as he can when he does get in the game, and that can spell trouble if he gets hot like in the NU game. Frustrate him early, and the pressing can cause easy mistakes that you can take advantage of.

#24 Jamal Bieniemy (Freshman from Katy, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 3.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 31/38/50 shooting splits

Bieniemy rotates in as the Sooners’ backup point guard, and his passing ability already has many Sooner fans excited. He is nationally ranked for assist rate (27.4, 134th), which is impressive for a freshman backup. His shot hasn’t fallen so far this year; he hasn’t scored in double figures to this point. Despite this, he can make up for it by creating extra possessions on the defensive end. His 3.8 steal rate easily leads the team and is nationally ranked (62nd). For a freshman backup, Bieniemy is a pest and will make his impact known, just not always by scoring the ball.

#5 Matt Freeman (Junior from Auckland, NZ)

2018-19 Stats: 3.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 36/39/75 shooting splits

Already playing a career high in minutes, Freeman has had to take on a bigger role with a hobbled McNeace as his backup frontcourt mate. While he’s gone cold recently, he has proven he can pop threes (39% on the year, 1/13 over his last 5 games) which makes him a perfect backup for Brady Manek. He’s a rather dreadful rebounder for his size, and he basically avoids the paint like the plague, but in the Matt Bonner-esque role they have him in, Freeman has found his version of success.

Three Things to Look For

Depth

The Frogs have lost three players in the past month to transfer: Angus McWilliam, Kaden Archie, and Yuat Alok. Now, to be fair, McWilliam wasn’t playing and Alok has been sidelined for awhile with a hand injury. Archie was getting a solid 5-10 minutes a game. None of these losses hurts individually, but in the aggregate they harm the Frogs’ once solid depth. Combine these departures with Jaylen Fisher’s injury and Lat Mayen’s slow recovery, and you have the seven man rotation you saw against Kansas. Now, a short rotation would have likely happened in the postseason anyway, but the number of minutes on our main guys’ legs will grow, and could hamper them on quick turnaround games like this. I wonder if the staff will pull Russell Barlow’s redshirt just to give the frontcourt a boost. Right now, if Kevin Samuel is in foul trouble, JD Miller has to play extended minutes at the five, which is fine in spurts, but troubling for an extended period.

Take Care of the Ball

Coach Dixon did not seem worried about the 20 turnovers against Kansas. He acknowledged their role in losing the Frogs the game, but turnovers have not been a systemic problem for these Frogs. Indeed, the numbers back up Coach, the Frogs rank 105th in turnover rate. Oklahoma’s defense isn’t built for takeaways (266th in turnover rate forced), so the Frogs should get a chance to calm down and take care of the basketball.

Back to Basics Defensively

The Frogs’ defense has been great this season overall, but in 2 Big 12 games, their defensive rating is second to last in the conference. Thankfully, Oklahoma’s offense is last in the Big 12 in conference matches, giving the Frogs a chance to right the ship. While Oklahoma is undoubtedly a tough opponent, they are a perfect team on paper for the Frogs to correct their mistakes against.

Prediction

The Frogs have had a tough week so far, with just about the only good news being a return to the Top 25. While they are underdogs again on the road, I think fortune will favor the Frogs after two tough contests against the Sooners a season ago. Alex Robinson won’t have such a rough night like he did against Kansas, and will overwhelm Oklahoma’s grad transfer guards. This game will be close, it seems like every Big 12 game is, but the Frogs offense is able to muster enough points to power past the Oklahoma defensive machine.

Prediction: #25 TCU 72, #23 Oklahoma 70

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

  • No. 25 TCU will play its second-straight road game of the season when it plays at No. 23 Oklahoma Saturday at 1 p.m. on FOX Sports Southwest.
  • The Frogs are 16-22 in Big 12 play under Jamie Dixon after going 9-9 last season, their most in its six seasons of the Big 12.
  • Senior guard Alex Robinson ranks second in the nation at 8.4 assists per game. He is No. 2 all-time at TCU with 534 career assists. 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 Kevin Samuel leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth in the nation in shooting at 75.0 percent.
  • Kouat Noi is averaging 12.9 points per game off the bench which ranks third on the team. He’s made a 3-pointer in 14-straight games dating back to last season.
  • Jaylen Fisher (12.1 ppg) missed the past two games due to a right knee injury. He was the Big 12 leader in 3-point percentage at 44.1 percent prior to missing these games.
  • The Horned Frogs rank fourth in the nation with 19.6 assists per game, rank 11th in assists-turnover ratio at 1.54, 19th in field goal percentage at 49.7 and 12th in 3-point percentage defense at 27.8.
  • After a six week absence, TCU is back in the AP Top 25 at No. 25. The Frogs began the season ranked No. 21 and were ranked for three-straight weeks to begin the season, topping out at No. 18.