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TCU Basketball Preview: #7 Kansas

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The Frogs head to Lawrence for what could be their toughest game this season

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: 8:00 PM CST | Location: Allen Fieldhouse – Lawrence, KS | TV: ESPN2 | Series: Kansas leads 16-2 | Game Line: Kansas -7

The #25 TCU Horned Frogs (12-1) hopped back into the Top 25 just in time to have their toughest matchup of the season: the #7 Kansas Jayhawks (12-2). The Frogs survived their Big 12 opener against Baylor, holding off a rally for a 85-81 victory. Desmond Bane led the charge for the Frogs, scoring 22 points on 8/11 shooting before fouling out. JD Miller (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Alex Robinson (18 points, 10 assists) both had double doubles, and they were joined in double figures by R.J. Nembhard (10). The Frogs were able to win despite a shortened roster, with Jaylen Fisher and Yuat Alok nursing injuries and Kaden Archie and Angus McWilliam announcing transfers.

Kansas is coming off a rare drubbing at the hands of Iowa State, 77-60. Quentin Grimes led the Jayhawks’ scoring with 19, while Dedric Lawson had a double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. While the loss was tough, the Jayhawks’ biggest blow came from news after the game when it was announced that center Udoka Azubuike would miss the rest of the season. Kansas is a completely different team without the mammoth center inside, sporting a 3-2 record in games he has missed. Clearly, this game takes on a whole different dimension now.

Besides Iowa State and a surprising loss to Arizona State, Kansas has rolled some pretty tough competition this season. Their strength of schedule is third according to KenPom, and they sport marquee wins over teams like Michigan State, Tennessee, and Villanova. The only game they were caught sleeping in was against Stanford, but they were able to pull that one out in overtime. Kansas is Kansas, the kings of the Big 12, and one loss to Iowa State doesn’t make the task the Frogs are facing any less daunting.

Kansas’s calling card this season has been their defense, limiting offenses to below their season averages and grinding out victories. They shut down a very explosive Marquette team, limiting star guard Markus Howard to 6/23 shooting from the field. The defensive prowess complements the fact that KU doesn’t take a ton of threes, preferring instead to dominate the interior. They shoot a fine percentage from three, 34% ranks 179th nationally, but they simply prefer a more interior focused game. Indeed, you’ll see in the roster breakdown that their elite players are more interior focused, but they have a player or two who can drill a three.

Projected Starting Five

#1 Dedric Lawson (Junior from Memphis, TN)

2018-19 Stats: 18.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 50/17/78 shooting splits

Acquiring Lawson on the transfer market has proved huge for the Jayhawks, and will now loom even larger moving forward with Azubuike’s absence. A popular preseason pick for Big 12 player of the year, Lawson has led a top 10 program in scoring and rebounding. What’s most fascinating about him is his versatility; he is comfortable as a ball handler and can create his own offense. He’s a gifted passer, second on the team in assists, and opens up the offense to operate in more creative ways. His bread and butter remains down on the block. While not overly tall at 6’9, he likes to elevate with his 7’2 wingspan and shoot over the top with a nice right hook. While Lawson has been great this season, he has struggled in his first two Big 12 games, owing to turnovers and inefficient shooting. Additionally, he has lost his stroke from three since his freshman year, making only 4 of 24 from beyond the arc this season. Despite these setbacks, he is clearly the #1 player to watch for KU. He’ll slide over to the center spot with Azubuike out, and Kevin Samuel will have his hands full for sure.

#24 Lagerald Vick (Senior from Memphis, TN)

2018-19 Stats: 14.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 47/45/70 shooting splits

Horned Frog fans thought they had seen the last of Vick after he declared for the draft, but a surprise reversal has him back for one more year in Lawrence. The lone senior on the squad, he has been lights out from three his senior season, nailing them at a sweet 45% clip. The turnovers remain high for someone who plays the off guard, but he has made up for it with a tenacity on the other end, resulting in 23 steals (2.7 steal rate). He was a monster the first month of the season, dropping 32 and 33 points in back to back games against Vermont and Louisiana. He is not afraid of the spotlight, pouring in 29 against Villanova, and it is clear he has taken on a bigger load of the offense this season. While he has only shot 24% from three over his last four games, the Frogs will always need to mark him and force him into mistakes. Jaylen Fisher will be sorely needed for this matchup, so we can only hope his knee is feeling okay Wednesday night.

#11 Devon Dotson (Freshman from Charlotte, NC)

2018-19 Stats: 11.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.9 APG, 52/43/79 shooting splits

A five star recruit from the class of 2018, Dotson has proven his worth as an explosive guard who can run the Jayhawk offense. He’s chosen his spots well in an offense that isn’t hurting for options, and leads the team in assists. The kid is incredibly fast, and can finish at the rim with shades of Frank Mason III. He is undoubtedly the best raw talent that the Frogs have faced at the point guard position this season. While he has been incredible, he is still a freshman, making mistakes especially in the turnover department. He had five in both losses, so if the Frogs can turn up the dial defensively, they have a good shot at disrupting the whole KU attack. I’m not terribly impressed with his jump shot either, but he has nailed threes at a 43% clip, so the Frogs will have to respect him from out there until he stops making them. Alex Robinson will need to show up for sure.

#5 Quentin Grimes (Freshman from The Woodlands, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 9.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 42/32/63 shooting splits

Grimes was the crown jewel of the Jayhawk recruiting class, and profiled as a jack of all trades combo guard. He has played the three in lineups with Vick and Dotson, but still has found a way to contribute passing the ball. He’s enjoying a great three game stretch, averaging 16 points a contest, which was a welcome sight for Jayhawks fans after he spent a good month and a half floundering on the offensive end. The inconsistent outside shooting has been surprising, especially for a guy who has shown he can make them from range. He has all the tools to figure it out, and have a big game against a team from his home state. Look out for the athletic guard to try to make a big impact in this game.

#0 Marcus Garrett (Sophomore from Dallas, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 5.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 33/18/66 shooting splits

Garrett has slid into the starting 5 when Azubuike has missed time, and it looks like that move will be on a permanent basis now. He has largely struggled to improve on a decent freshman season, sporting a ghastly 36.2 eFG%, due largely to a 40% rate on his two point attempts. This is a 15 percentage point drop from a year ago. He has morphed into more of a facilitator, nearly doubling his assist rate, which makes sense given the talent around him. The biggest aspect of his inclusion in the starting five is how small it makes the KU rotation. Lawson is the tallest at 6’9, Dotson is 6’2, and all the others stand at 6’5. Now, obviously other players will rotate in, but the Frogs will have the size advantage early on.

Projected Reserves

#2 Charlie Moore (Sophomore from Chicago, IL)

2018-19 Stats: 4.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 30/29/71 shooting splits

Moore is the team’s backup for Dotson, and he’s logged easily the most minutes of Kansas’s bench unit. The California transfer has seriously struggled to put the ball in the basket, owning a 39.4 eFG%. Even this percentage is misleading, as Moore had an outlier game against South Dakota where he nailed 6/9 from three (half of his made threes for the year). He does shockingly little facilitating for a point guard, with a low 11.8 assist rate, and he will match up well with Kendric Davis considering he stands at just under six foot. Moore clearly has talent, his assist rate and shooting percentages were much better in his one year at Cal. He started every game as a true freshman for a major conference team, so it may just be a matter of time before Moore becomes a consistent threat off the bench.

#33 David McCormack (Freshman from Norfolk, VA)

2018-19 Stats: 2.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.2 APG, 52/0/56 shooting splits

Singled out as someone who needs to step up by Bill Self, McCormack is the player whose role will grow the most with Azubuike out. A high four star recruit, McCormack stands at a long 6’10 and is one of the most tenacious rebounders on the Jayhawks. On defense, he owns a 7.4 block rate. This isn’t quite as good as Azubuike’s numbers, but it shows he can effectively defend the rim and perform his role. I’m interested to see how McCormack plays with added minutes, especially against a big man who will challenge him like Kevin Samuel.

#44 Mitch Lightfoot (Junior from Gilbert, AZ)

2018-19 Stats: 2.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, 55/0/60 shooting splits

TCU fans remember Lightfoot as “that random bench guy from Kansas who decided to become Dikembe Mutumbo and block everything”. While most of Lightfoot’s statistical indicators are up (rebound rate, free throw rate, etc.), he actually has seen a reduced role this season. He is another player who Azubuike’s absence will impact greatly, as he will pair with McCormack to be the key frontcourt bench players. Obviously, TCU fans know the peaks of how good Lightfoot can be, and will hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

#13 K.J. Lawson (Sophomore from Memphis, TN)

2018-19 Stats: 2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 46/36/67 shooting splits

Dedric’s brother, and also a Memphis transfer, K.J. has seen a massive role reduction in his first year as a Jayhawk. After starting all but one game for the Tigers, Lawson has seen sparse playing time this season. He was a key component of the Tennessee win, dropping a season high 8 in a season high 19 minutes, but this is peanuts compared to the 35+ minutes a night he was seeing in the American conference. This isn’t an indictment of Lawson as a player, if anything he has played well in his limited time, but it will be interesting to see if he presses the issue now that minutes are there for the taking. One mitigating factor for his playing time: he fouls a ton, 6.8 per 40 minutes, which may limit his long term opportunities.

#30 Ochai Agbaji (Freshman from Kansas City, MO)

2018-19 Stats: Has not played

Bill Self announced that he was pulling Agbaji’s redshirt following the Azubuike injury, and that he would make his college debut on Wednesday night. Obviously, there is no college film or stats to evaluate Agbaji on, but he was a four star recruit and brings more length to the backcourt rotation. Self described Agbaji as athletic and an energy guy, which seems par for the course for these Kansas bench players. Let’s see how the young freshman does.

Three Things to Watch for

Paging Jaylen Fisher

The Frogs will need all hands on deck to win this game, and none more than Jaylen Fisher. Fish missed the last game after getting his knee drained, and Jamie Dixon has listed him as questionable against Kansas. As of the writing of this article, it is assumed he will play, and he needs to be at full strength for his matchup with Vick. A healthy Jaylen opens up the Frogs offense for dribble penetration from A Rob, and creates a more flexible offense against a tough Jayhawks defense. R.J. Nembhard performed well in Fisher’s absence, and I have faith his good play will continue, but this is a game where we need everybody. We all need to hope that Fisher plays, especially considering Yuat Alok remains out, harming the Frogs’ overall depth.

A Lid on Lawson

Dedric Lawson will become an even bigger focal point for KU following Azubuike’s injury. He already uses a ton of possessions, and will work against Kevin Samuel and I imagine JD Miller. Lawson will have speed that Samuel has never seen before, and enough strength to challenge JD, so it will need to be a team defensive effort against #1. Limit Lawson like Iowa State and Oklahoma have, and you will at the very least remain competitive.

Cause Some Chaos

A big part of Kansas’s loss to Iowa State was their 24 turnovers, with big numbers from Vick, Dotson, and Lawson. Now, Kansas’s turnover rate for the season is pretty reasonable, but it is clear that it is an area that can be exploited. The Frogs have been pretty good at forcing turnovers this season, and players like Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi have been incredible in transition this season. Create some chaos on the defensive end, and you’ll end up creating some chaos in the form of an upset in Lawrence.

Prediction

Azubuike is out. The Frogs are on a roll. Jaylen Fisher is likely back. All these things sound great, and I haven’t picked against the Frogs yet this season. I think they have a real chance to pull an upset. That being said, I can’t pick against Kansas here. I hate playing Kansas off a loss, especially when we have to travel to Allen Fieldhouse. Dedric Lawson is the best player that the Frogs have faced this season, and he is surrounding by 5 star talent even with Azubuike out. It will take a near perfect game to win. The Frogs are surely capable of taking the game, but for predictions sake, I think they fall just short. They do cover the spread, however.

Prediction: #7 Kansas 80, #25 TCU 77

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

  • No. 25 TCU will play its second road game of the season when it plays at No. 7 Kansas Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
  • The Frogs are 16-21 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 8.7 assists per game. He is No. 2 all-time at TCU with 531 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.
  • Kouat Noi is averaging 13.2 points per game off the bench which ranks third on the team. He’s made a 3-pointer in 13-straight games dating back to last season.
  • Jaylen Fisher is averaging 12.1 points and has made at least one 3-pointer and scored at least 10 points in each of his last eight games. He led the Big 12 at 44.1 percent from 3-point range until a right knee injury kept him out of Saturday’s game and dropped him from the Big 12 stat leaders with not enough games played.
  • TCU has an average winning margin of 18.7 in its nine-game win streak. The nine-game win streak is the fifth-longest active streak in the nation.
  • The Horned Frogs rank third in the nation with 20.2 assists per game, rank fifth in assists-turnover ratio at 1.65, 17th in field goal percentage at 49.9 and 14th in 3-point percentage defense at 28.1.
  • 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.