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TCU Basketball Preview: Baylor

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The Frogs desperately need a road win. Standing in their way is a red hot Baylor team.

TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST | Location: Ferrell Center – Waco, TX | TV: ESPNU | Series: Baylor leads 100-84 | Game Line: Baylor -4

The TCU Horned Frogs (15-5) will need to shake off their worst loss of the season as they face a surging Baylor Bears (14-6) squad on Saturday night. The Frogs were trounced in Lubbock on Monday by a score of 84-65. Kouat Noi was the leading scorer with 17, while Desmond Bane put up all 13 of his points in the second half. Kevin Samuel had a double double with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Kendric Davis put in 10.

Baylor pummeled Oklahoma in Norman on the same night, winning 77-47. The scoring was evenly spread out, as only Makai Mason (12), Mario Kegler (11), and Jared Butler (10) finished in double figures. Mark Vital also contributed 11 rebounds. The Bears have gone 6-1 since the Frogs beat them on January 5, losing only to Kansas. They beat Texas Tech and Iowa State, two of the toughest teams in the conference, and this was after losing their best player, Tristan Clark. Their offense is tops in the Big 12, and they’ve largely controlled the glass. The Frogs nearly blew a big lead in the first meeting, and now they have to go on the road against a team that has reinvented itself.

The Frogs won 85-81 in Fort Worth. Here is my preview from that game, which still included Clark. Despite losing the battle on the glass, the Frogs shot better than 60% from inside in that matchup. Freshman Matthew Mayer had a since unmatched 17 points off the bench, while the now-injured Clark led the Bears with 18.

Projected Starting Five

#10 Makai Mason (Senior from Greenfield, MA)

2018-19 Stats: 15.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45/35/80 shooting splits

Mason has stepped up in a big way following Clark’s injury. He poured in 29 points against West Virginia, and has shot the ball better from three since the beginning of conference play. He’s still not a great distributor, he barely clears a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio, but Baylor needs him to score rather than facilitate. Mason struggled to score efficiently last time against the Frogs, scoring 15 on 12 shots. He was near perfect from the free throw line. Mason is the type of player who can fill it up quickly, and has his biggest weakness masked by the Baylor offense.

#3 King McClure (Senior from Dallas, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 10.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 41/39/71 shooting splits

McClure showed the heights his game can reach against Oklahoma State, where he dropped 29 points on 9/14 shooting with 9 boards. He remains their top three point option, and when he’s hitting them the whole offense opens up. As a smaller guard, he is an excellent rebounder and has cut down on his turnovers in conference play. He only had 7 points in the first matchup with the Frogs, but look for him to throw up some more threes this time around.

#4 Mario Kegler (Sophomore from Jackson, MS)

2018-19 Stats: 9.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 41/16/63 shooting splits

Kegler was in the beginning of a dry spell when we last saw him, but he has recently caught fire and been a big part of the Bears’ turnaround. Against Alabama, he sparked the team to victory with an MVP level 17 point performance. This game came off the heels of an 18 point game against West Virginia. Kegler is rounding into the player that we saw his freshman year at Mississippi State, complete with a tenacity on the boards and a game that plays bigger than his listed size.

#12 Jared Butler (Freshman from Reserve, LA)

2018-19 Stats: 8.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 39/33/83 shooting splits

Butler entered the starting lineup after Clark’s injury, and the freshman combo guard has grown up really quickly. His vision has been superb, repping a 26 assist rate (up from sub-20 before conference play). He scored in double figures his first three starts, helped out by a fixed three point stroke (44% in conference). Seen as a rising star on the team, he will make a much bigger impact on this game than his 4 point performance on January 5.

#11 Mark Vital (Sophomore from Lake Charles, LA)

2018-19 Stats: 6.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 42/22/42 shooting splits

Vital is easily the best rebounder on the team, and his offensive rebounding rate in conference (19.2%) ranks #1. He hasn’t taken on much more of a scoring burden thanks to the emergence of Butler. TCU held him to just 4 boards last time out, which would be a tall task to accomplish again. Even then he still had 3 on the offensive glass. He has been more consistently getting double figure boards, so the Frogs need to find Vital on every ball in the air.

Projected Reserves

#2 Devonte Bandoo (Junior from Brampton, ON)

2018-19 Stats: 7.0 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 44/38/95 shooting splits

Bandoo played a grand total of 4 minutes in the first TCU game, so Frogs fans haven’t really gotten a chance to see what he can do. The Canadian remains a streaky scorer; he dropped 13 points on Iowa State the very next game. He has been excellent from three, especially during conference play where he’s at a cool 50% from distance. Look out if Bandoo is a reliable shot maker on Saturday, that could spell trouble for the Frogs.

#24 Matthew Mayer (Freshman from Austin, TX)

2018-19 Stats: 5.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 33/30/66 shooting splits

Mayer was a surprise standout against the Frogs, showing off his natural shooting ability that hasn’t been reflected in the percentages this season. He always has the green light, with a shot percentage (how often he shoots, not the % of makes) at 29%. The threes still haven’t fallen at a consistent rate, and his playing time has oscillated wildly throughout the season. Still, Frog fans have seen first hand what Mayer can do when he’s dialed in, and would be foolish to overlook him.

#33 Freddie Gillespie (Junior from St Paul, MN)

2018-19 Stats: 3.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.2 APG, 55/0/75 shooting splits

Gillespie did not play against the Frogs last time, and has only just recently emerged as a key cog in the Bears’ rotation. He’s another player that gets after it on the offensive glass, and recently has shown more awareness scoring the basketball (back to back games with 8 points). He’s one of the bigger members of the Bears, and someone who is gathering more and more momentum as they season progresses.

#0 Flo Thamba (Freshman from Kinshasa, DRC)

2018-19 Stats: 2.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 59/0/53 shooting splits

Thamba eats up a lot of minutes at center, but mostly stays out of the way on offense. He sports an 8% block rate, which would easily top the team if he played enough minutes to qualify. Don’t expect huge scoring numbers from Thamba, but he’s big and long and very active on the court.

#1 Darius Allen (Junior from Melbourne, FL)

2018-19 Stats: 2.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 36/18/33 shooting splits

I don’t expect Allen to play unless this is a blowout, but he met the minimum standards to be included in this writeup.

Three Things to Look For

Inside Out

On paper, this is a matchup of elites: the top Big 12 three point shooting team against the top Big 12 three point shooting defense. While that matchup is fun, and will be a major factor, the Frogs’ struggling interior D could pose the bigger risk. Their numbers are still healthy on the season, but it is clear that the Frogs have taken a step back in that department in Big 12 play. For a team like Baylor that likes the dominate the boards, the battle on the inside will be important. This will be a complete battle, from the inside out.

Changing of the Guard

The emergence of Jared Butler and revitalization of Makai Mason means guarding the Baylor backcourt is more complicated than it was just a month ago. I’m interested to see how Coach Dixon and staff scheme to take away some of Butler’s passing lanes. The Robinson-Bane versus Mason-Butler matchup will be something to keep a close eye on.

Road Woes

Can the Frogs perform on the road? The Frogs have yet to win a true road game this season (the USC win is counted as “semi-away”, as it was in Los Angeles but not in USC’s home stadium). This is huge in the eyes of the selection committee, and a hurdle the Frogs will need to get over sooner rather than later. The team can’t rely on the home crowd’s energy to play at a high level, they need to make plays when the going is tough on the road.

Prediction

Everything about this game points to a Baylor win. This is the story of two programs’ seasons trending in two different directions. The fact that it’s in Waco, the winning streak for Baylor after losing their best play, the general frustrations the Frogs have faced, it seems like a perfect storm. Certainly, there’s no shame in losing to a team that is tied for first in the conference on their home court. And yet, I have to pick the Frogs. I may look like a fool come Sunday, but I can’t pick Baylor. I think Des Bane claims his role as the number one option on the offense, and rolls to a 20+ point game. Look for a high scoring game, and maybe, just maybe, the Frogs can sneak one out.

Prediction: TCU 75, Baylor 74

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

  • TCU attempt a series sweep of Baylor when the Frogs and Bears meet at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Waco.
  • The Frogs are 18-25 in Big 12 play under Jamie Dixon after going 9-9 last season, the most in their six seasons of the Big 12.
  • TCU is looking for its first road conference win and is 1-4 away from home this season.
  • Baylor will be the third-straight top 25 scoring defense that TCU will face. Texas Tech is No. 3, Florida is No. 10 and Baylor is No. 22.
  • Senior guard Alex Robinson ranks fourth in the nation at 7.4 assists per game. He is 9 assists away matching Corey Santee’s school record of 575 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.
  • Junior guard Desmond Bane ranks seventh in the Big 12 with 14.9 points per game and sophomore Kouat Noi ranks eighth at 14.9 (in four fewer games.) Noi has made a 3-pointer in 19-straight games.
  • Redshirt freshman Kevin Samuel ranks second in the Big 12 and seventh nationally in shooting accuracy at 70.0 percent.
  • Bane, Robinson and JD Miller are all within 40 points of 1,000 for their TCU careers. Miller is 40 points away while Bane is 12 and Robinson is nine shy of 1,000.
  • The Horned Frogs rank 10th in the nation with 17.6 assists per game, ninth in 3-point percentage defense at 28.6 and top 40 in both offensive (38th) and defensive efficiency (32nd).
  • On TCU’s current roster, only four played in a Big 12 game prior to this season. Six are freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
  • TCU is receiving votes in both the AP and the Coaches Top 25 polls. The Frogs began the season ranked No. 21 and were ranked for three-straight weeks to begin the season, topping out at No. 18