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TCU Basketball Preview: West Virginia

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The Frogs look to rebound after a tough week

TCU Basketball at Oklahoma | January 12, 2019 | Norman, OK
Alex Robinson’s minutes having been increasing since conference play began, and that’s not likely to change.
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 6:00 PM CST | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: ESPNU | Series: West Virginia leads 12-1 | Game Line: TCU -7.5

The TCU Horned Frogs (12-3) will try to move past their toughest week of the season by securing a win over the West Virginia Mountaineers (8-8) on Tuesday night. The Frogs were last in action on Saturday, dropping a heartbreaker on the road against Oklahoma 76-74. Kouat Noi had himself a game in the loss, dropping a career high 30 points on 10/14 shooting. Alex Robinson was the only other Frog in double digits with 16, while basically everyone else struggled from the floor. JD Miller was able to contribute 12 rebounds. While they obviously would have preferred the win, the Frogs still should keep their chin up. KenPom actually moved them up 6 spots following the loss. However, eventually you have to win your games, and a victory over the flailing Mountaineers seems like a necessity.

West Virginia lost their last time out, an 85-77 game against Oklahoma State in Morgantown. The Mountaineers lost in spite of a big game from James Bolden (31 points) and only turning the ball over 6 times. Derek Culver put up 15 points and 15 rebounds, joined in double figures by Lamont West (13) and Jermaine Haley (10). The Mountaineers have lost their opening four Big 12 contests, and have a mixed bag out of conference. Their best win is easily a 10 point rivalry win over Pitt, but it is hard to point out another signature win. They sport rough losses to Western Kentucky and Rhode Island, but remain highly thought of by advanced statistics thanks to their close margins of loss. Additionally, the team has been without center Sagaba Konate, one of the top rim protectors in the country.

The weirdest thing about West Virginia this season has been the absence of the havoc defense that has defined them in recent years. Their turnover forced % ranks 261st this season after the following rankings over the past 4 years: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st. The lack of turnovers has compounded their foul heavy tendencies, allowing teams to rack up points at the free throw line and not worry about losing possessions. Despite the loss of Konate, their interior defense has remained pretty good, 63rd nationally in 2 point field goal % allowed. Offensively, they fight hard on the glass (6th in oReb rate) and are one of the best teams nationally at getting to the line. In a change from recent years, expect a low turnover, high free throw game when you’re playing the Mountaineers.

Projected Starting Five

#23 Esa Ahmad (Senior from Cleveland, OH)

2018-19 Stats: 13.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 46/21/68 shooting splits

Ahmad was benched for the Oklahoma State game for disciplinary reasons, but Coach Huggins said he would be back for this game. When he’s played, he’s the Mountaineers’ leading scorer and the driving force behind their ability to get to the line. It’s been a slog for him in three Big 12 games this season, and he struggled in both matchups against the Frogs a season ago. Regardless, Ahmad is a great individual player who will create second chance opportunities on the boards and force TCU to track him all game. If WVU is going to turn their season around, it will start with Ahmad becoming a consistent threat that can make the team around him better.

#3 James Bolden (Junior from Covington, KY)

2018-19 Stats: 12.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 43/36/79 shooting splits

Bolden is coming off a career game against OSU, and Frog fans should remember him as one of the standouts of a blowout in Morgantown a season ago. He has shifted into the starting point guard role following the graduation of Jevon Carter, but is not asked to do nearly as much on the defensive end. He has stepped up to the plate, raising his assist rate from 11.6 to 29.2 (team leader), while also upping his scoring load (29.8% shot rate leads the team). He isn’t making threes at the 41% clip he did a season ago, but he’s still sitting at a healthy 36% on similar volume. The Frogs need to stay glued to him outside, while also knowing he has become more adept at drawing fouls in his new role. Despite his newfound success, foul trouble has limited his minutes, and his small stature won’t bother Alex Robinson in the way that OU and Kansas did.

#21 Wesley Harris (Junior from Jackson, MS)

2018-19 Stats: 8.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 41/37/63 shooting splits

Harris was also suspended for the last game, but West Virginia has used so many different starting lineups that I’ll assume he ends up back in the main five. Three horrid games to start Big 12 play (3 points per contest on 18% shooting) shouldn’t distract from the fact that he has improved a fair amount from last season. The shooting from three is markedly improved, adding a wrinkle to his game and allowing him to fill a permanent wing role. He’s been far more willing as a passer, though the assist numbers still aren’t quite where you’d like them. He’s got great size for his position, and has parlayed that into solid rebounding numbers. Like Ahmad, we’ll have to see how he responds to being benched, and if he can break his slump that has plagued his conference games.

#14 Chase Harler (Junior from Moundsville, WV)

2018-19 Stats: 5.0 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 36/33/69 shooting splits

The off guard position will either be filled by Harler or Jermaine Haley, but I’m rolling with Harler here since he has started all but 2 games this season. He’s getting the first major minutes of his career this season, and the results have been decidedly mixed. The offense seemed to thrive with him in the game during non-con, but has tanked in conference play and against top tier opponents. His 111.2 offensive rating is third on the team overall, but it tanks to 86.0 against tier A teams and 63.7 against the Big 12. The best thing about Harler is, while he hasn’t shot very well this season, he’s not a guy who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. This especially complements the shot happy players like Bolden who absolutely have to have the ball. Harler will score 10 points max, and you may not even notice his impact, but he knows the system and runs it well.

#31 Logan Routt (Junior from Cameron, WV)

2018-19 Stats: 2.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.1 APG, 47/0/48 shooting splits

Routt has become the starting center in Konate’s absence, not because he is their best big, but because he won’t mess up the other rotations in the frontcourt by sliding in. Even when he starts he doesn’t play a ton; in 4 conference games he has 4 starts with 2 points (1/3 shooting) in 20 minutes. He’s a decent offensive rebounder, but you can see the horrid shooting splits. Not only that, but he gets into foul trouble and can’t play more than the sparse minutes he already sees. Routt is listed with the starters for the purposes of this section, but I’d pay more attention to the top reserve players for WVU.

Projected Reserves

#1 Derek Culver (Freshman from Youngstown, OH)

2018-19 Stats: 12.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 60/0/62 shooting splits

I’m insanely high on Culver; I think he’s already WVU’s best player and he has shown out even in defeat since debuting at the end of December. The kid is ferocious on the glass, sporting an 18% offensive rebound rate (would be 3rd nationally if he qualified) while also showing off some nifty moves inside and getting to the line. He is the true “starting” center, and the one TCU will really need to worry about. While Culver is an incredible player, the Mountaineers are only 2-4 with him in the lineup with wins over Lehigh and Jacksonville State, so it may be that he fills up the stat sheet but can’t quite put a team over the top. That may just be me talking down how impressive this young freshman has been, though.

#15 Lamont West (Junior from Cincinnati, OH)

2018-19 Stats: 11.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 40/34/77 shooting splits

West is one of the few players on West Virginia who has actually found his stride in Big 12 play. Setting aside a goose egg against Texas, he has scored 22, 21, and 13 points respectively, while spot starting the previous game due to Ahmad and Harris’s suspension. He doesn’t board as well as Ahmad when he has to check in, and the shooting numbers could be a bit more inspired, but West is a key cog in the WVU machine and a player who is really coming on strong in the past few weeks.

#2 Brandon Knapper (Freshman from South Charleston, WV)

2018-19 Stats: 4.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 36/34/79 shooting splits

Knapper has been one of the team’s backup point guards, fighting off two other players for the title. He has struggled to take care of the ball, resulting in a demotion in terms of minutes since the new year. His 37.5 turnover rate is insanely high, and he doesn’t have the size or shooting numbers to justify his court presence at that point. He’s only a freshman, so there’s plenty of time to turn it around, but #2 may play less in this game than he would have if it was held a month ago.

#10 Jermaine Haley (Junior from Vancouver, BC)

2018-19 Stats: 3.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 48/23/69 shooting splits

Haley, a New Mexico State transfer, is mostly a wing player, but has run point guard in many lineups for the Mountaineers this season. At 6’7, he is very long for that position, and his high turnover/low assist game suggests that he may be out of place there. He has remained solid at getting to the line, and his numbers are up across the board from his freshman year at NMSU. He’s coming off back to back double digit point performances, so Haley may be finding his rhythm just in the right time for WVU.

#5 Jordan McCabe (Freshman from Kaukauna, WI)

2018-19 Stats: 2.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.5 APG, 26/38/67 shooting splits

McCabe is the other player I mentioned battling for playing time at the point. He has mostly played off ball, garning high minute counts since the beginning of conference play. He has shot the three ball well... and that’s about it. An 8 assist game against Rider is inflating his assist numbers, while he is 1/17 from two point range and a 25.0 turnover rate. He’s only a freshman, and the three ball is always a worry, but he will have to be more consistent if he wants to last in this league.

#12 Andrew Gordon (Sophomore from Clearwater, FL)

2018-19 Stats: 2.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.1 APG, 49/0/43 shooting splits

Gordon is another one skill backup: he has a pretty solid offensive rebound rate. He fouls a lot, almost 10 per 40 minutes, and has a propensity for turnovers. He only plays about 5-10 minutes a game, but he will be active when he is out there, using over a quarter of WVU’s possessions. Gordon is like a shooting star, he’ll go out there fast and then promptly disappear. Look out for #12 for the time he’s in the game.

#11 Emmitt Matthews (Freshman from Tacoma, WA)

2018-19 Stats: 2.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, 36/0/68 shooting splits

Matthews rounds out the laundry list of players you’ll see from the Mountaineers on Tuesday night. The freshman has been yanked around with regards to playing time, and hasn’t truly stood out in any meaningful way yet. The one time UConn commit has plenty of talent, but it’s fair to wonder just how much of it we’ll see considering the crowded WVU rotation.

Three Things to Watch For

Alex Robinson

A Rob has been far from bad in the Big 12, but with the indefinite injury to Jaylen Fisher and general attrition on the team, he will need to rise back up to his non-conference level of play. The past two games, Oklahoma and Kansas clearly keyed on the senior point guard, and the Frogs need to scheme so that he will have help in those situations. He’s playing heavy minutes now, logging 39 against Oklahoma, so he needs all the help he can get. This team goes as Alex goes, so look for how well he’s doing.

Depth Versus Talent

West Virginia is 5th in the nation in bench minutes, meanwhile the bench has been shrinking with options for TCU. I mentioned this above, but A Rob played 39 minutes last game, as did Desmond Bane. I think the Frogs have more talent than WVU, but the Mountaineers will constantly have fresh legs in the game, which could loom large as the game enters the final stretch. I’d like to see the Frogs hop out to a big lead and use the energy in the Schollmaier to ride out a win.

The Battle Inside

Always a key, but especially considering WVU’s focus on the offensive boards. Kevin Samuel has played well on the big stage, and he luckily avoids a matchup with the elite Konate. Limiting WVU’s opportunities will help strangle their offense to standstill, and force the Mountaineers to try to keep up with the high flying Frogs offense.

Prediction

If this isn’t a must win for the Frogs, it’s as close as it gets. They return home after 10 days to face the last place team in the league, following two tough road losses. WVU has been ravaged by injuries, and aren’t the menace they were just a season ago. The Frogs should pull this one out, but as we all know, life isn’t easy in the Big 12. Frogs win this one by winning the turnover battle and sending West Virginia to the charity stripe fewer than 20 times.

Prediction: TCU 81, West Virginia 75

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

  • TCU will play its first home game in 10 days when it hosts West Virginia Tuesday at 6 p.m.
  • The Frogs are 16-23 in Big 12 play under Jamie Dixon after going 9-9 last season, their most in its six seasons of the Big 12.
  • Dixon is 13-10 overall against West Virginia. He was 12-7 against WVU in 13 years as the head coach at Pittsburgh.
  • Senior guard Alex Robinson ranks second in the nation at 8.1 assists per game. He is No. 2 all-time at TCU with 539 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 ranks third in the Big 12 at 70.4 percent shooting from the field.
  • Kouat Noi is leading the team with 14.3 points per game and hasn’t made a start this season. He’s coming off a 30-point outing at Oklahoma. He’s made a 3-pointer in 15-straight games dating back to last season.
  • Jaylen Fisher (12.1 ppg) missed the past three 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 19.3 assists per game, rank 10th in assists-turnover ratio at 1.54, 18th in field goal percentage at 49.7 and 12th in 3-point percentage defense at 27.8.
  • TCU dropped out of the AP Top 25 this week, but is still receiving votes. The Frogs began the season ranked No. 21 and were ranked for three-straight weeks to begin the season, topping out at No. 18