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NIT Round Three Preview: Creighton

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The Frogs look to punch their ticket to NYC

TCU Basketball vs Nebraska | March 24, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
TCU Basketball vs Nebraska | March 24, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
Melissa Triebwasser

Game Time: 8:00 PM CDT | Location: Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena – Fort Worth, TX | TV: ESPN | Series: Creighton leads 2-1 | Game Line: TCU -4

The TCU Horned Frogs (22-13) will officially host their final home game of the season on Tuesday night, hoping to defeat the Creighton Blue Jays (20-14) and advance to the NIT Final 4 in New York. The Frogs are coming off a comfortable 88-72 win over Nebraska on Sunday night. Desmond Bane had a huge game with 30 points, and was joined in double figures by JD Miller (15), Kouat Noi (12), Kendric Davis (12), and Kevin Samuel (10).

Creighton took care of Memphis in their second round matchup by a score of 79-67. It was a big game for freshman Marcus Zegarowski, who tied with Mitch Ballock for the team lead in scoring with 14. Davion Mintz (12), Martin Krampelj (12), and Ty-Shon Alexander (11) all also ended up in double figures, while Christian Bishop grabbed 10 boards off the bench. The Blue Jays played some tough teams this season, and two long losing streaks during conference play sunk their chances at an at large bid. They took Xavier and Villanova to OT on the road, and were able to pull of a road upset of Marquette as part of their 5 game winning streak to close the season. They sport some bad losses as well, getting absolutely pummeled by both Nebraska and St. John’s. Overall, Creighton’s resume is deserving for a 2 seed in the NIT, and it clearly won’t be easy to beat a team that has won 7 of their last 8.

Creighton is one of the best shooting teams in the country, top 5 in eFG% (56.6%). Their 3 point shooting ranks 23rd (38.2%) and they throw up a ton of those shots (40% of their points come from the long ball, 17th highest percentage in D1). Their perimeter oriented game causes their other baseline efficiency stats to be poor, such as offensive rebounding and free throw attempts. They will also be prone to major swings in offensive efficiency based on how their jumpers are falling on the day. Defensively, the Blue Jays do a great job of defending without fouling, which is good considering they run a pretty thin lineup. Teams can beat them by pounding the ball inside, where their lack of length can be exposed, though Creighton hasn’t exactly done a great job defending the three either. Overall, expect there to be a lot of clean basketball and made shots on both sides when you see the Blue Jays play. There won’t be many stoppages as they look to bury you under a mountain of threes.

Projected Starting Five

#5 Ty-Shon Alexander (Sophomore from Charlotte, NC)

2018-19 Stats: 15.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 41/37/79 shooting splits

Alexander, an honorable mention all Big East, is one of the most improved players in college basketball from a season ago. He’s become a true threat from deep and hasn’t dropped in efficiency from his bench role as a freshman. In fact, his turnover rate is way down, largely thanks to the fact they have moved him completely off ball as a true shooting guard this season. He was completely on fire to start the season, and hasn’t been quite as good over the past month, but he still is easily in contention for Creighton’s best player. Look out for Alexander to make his mark on the game on both ends of the floor.

#15 Martin Krampelj (Junior from Grosuplje, Slovenia)

2018-19 Stats: 13.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 59/37/64 shooting splits

Krampelj is only a junior by classification, but this is his fourth year on the Blue Jays and he is already almost 24 years old. Like Alexander, he has found a way to flourish in an expanded role this season, a great sign for what had been an injured plagued career before this season. He plays in the middle for the Blue Jays, and is easily the team leader in rebounding (23.3 defensive rebound rate is 90th in country). He was the #1 shooter on two pointers in Big East play (67%), and he has enough pick and pop in his game to hit a three once or twice a game. The last time Krampelj was held to single digit scoring was January 21 against Georgetown, and I don’t think that will end Tuesday night barring serious foul trouble. Kevin Samuel will definitely have his hands full.

#24 Mitch Ballock (Sophomore from Eudora, KS)

2018-19 Stats: 11.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 46/42/76 shooting splits

Ballock is another member of Creighton’s small ball starting five, and one of the top shooters in the nation. He made 43% of his threes in conference play (2nd) and was just outside the top 50 nationally for eFG% (62.1%, 51st; 64.5% was 2nd in Big East). Most notably, he made 11/12 from distance in a 39 point bombarding of DePaul. Ballock is perhaps the perfect player to encapsulate Creighton as a team. His shooting is for the most part solid, and when he’s on he is incredibly dangerous, but it can be a double edged sword when he’s not making his shots (0/9 from three in back to back losses against Xavier and Seton Hall, 3/21 over that four game losing streak).

#11 Marcus Zegarowski (Freshman from Hamilton, MA)

2018-19 Stats: 10.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 46/43/77 shooting splits

Zegarowski didn’t enter the starting lineup until January 13, but the team obviously saw a major boost from his introduction. The team is 10-3 with him starting, 0-3 when he doesn’t play, and was 10-6 when he was coming off the bench. It’s fair to say he has firmly established himself among the Blue Jays’ most important players. The young freshman has a great control of the offense, leading the team in assist rate, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court opens up everything for the three guys ahead of him in scoring. Zegarowski has been playing a solid brand of basketball in the 2019 calendar year, so Alex Robinson will need to pull out some veteran trickery to gain an upper hand.

#1 Davion Mintz (Junior from Charlotte, NC)

2018-19 Stats: 9.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.1 APG, 42/36/72 shooting splits

Mintz is a veteran presence on this team, as other than Krampelj’s shortened season he was the only returning starter from a season ago. Mintz’s big value comes on the defensive end and as the backup point guard when Zegarowski hits the bench. His numbers don’t immediately pop off the page like his fellow starters, and he turns it over a fair amount more than his freshman counterpart, but Mintz is the heart and soul of the team and someone who plays with no fear. He’s had two really solid games in the NIT so far, so the Frogs will need to make sure that Creighton’s #5 guy doesn’t kill them.

Projected Reserves

#23 Damien Jefferson (Sophomore from East Chicago, IL)

2018-19 Stats: 6.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 54/41/63 shooting splits

Jefferson would have been a much bigger part of this preview in the early months of the season. The New Mexico transfer was in the starting lineup, putting up big scoring numbers and stringing together strong performances. However, an injury knocked him out for most of January, and his playing time has been sporadic at best since. If he plays, his combination of scoring and rebounding could be a real nuisance, but it seems unlikely that he’ll play even 10 minutes.

#14 Kaleb Joseph (Senior from Nashua, NH)

2018-19 Stats: 4.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 44/43/72 shooting splits

A former Syracuse transfer, Joseph has seen the most burn of his career in his senior season. His 43% shooting from three is encouraging, and played a big role in wins over Providence (12 points, 5/7 shooting) and Georgetown (16, 6/8). Joseph also remains key on the defensive end for the Blue Jays, rotating in and being able to provide value on that end. He saw plenty of minutes including a few starts in February, but his minutes have slowly been trending back to lower levels as the Blue Jays have gotten healthier.

#13 Christian Bishop (Freshman from Lee’s Summit, MO)

2018-19 Stats: 3.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, 66/0/45 shooting splits

Bishop came up big for the Blue Jays against Memphis, and if he can learn to stay on the court then there could be many more games like that for him in the future. He is a terror on the offensive glass, 13.2% offensive boarding, and he rotates well as a shot blocker. As a freshman, the keys will be consistency, avoiding foul trouble, and putting more weight on his frame so he can truly fill the center position. Bishop is a very talented young player, I’m impressed, and it wouldn’t shock me if he becomes the latest backup center to have a big game against the Frogs.

#31 Samson Froling (Freshman from Townsville, Australia)

2018-19 Stats: 3.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 58/25/39 shooting splits

Froling has received two straight DNP-CDs, and has only played twice for a total of 10 minutes in the whole month of March. TCU recruited the Aussie out of high school, and his 7 foot stature is very intimidating, but I’m not sure if we’ll even see Froling make an appearance on Tuesday.

#2 Connor Cashaw (Senior from Lincolnshire, IL)

2018-19 Stats: 2.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 52/50/44 shooting splits

Cashaw, a grad transfer from Rice, has been shockingly invisible during his time in Omaha. The senior guard was a high usage scorer for the Owls, and now uses under 10% of Creighton’s possessions when he’s on the floor. Unlike Froling, he has been checking into every game, and his previous tape suggests he could have a big game at any time. It’s a curious situation that Cashaw has made for himself, but the Frogs just have to hope it continues one more day.

Three Things to Look For

Attack, Attack, Attack

The Frogs are at their best when they (particularly Desmond Bane) are going hard at the rim. Creighton’s interior defense is not great, and the Frogs’ ability to score inside looks like it has rounded back into form. The Blue Jays roll out a lineup that can kill you with shooting, but the flipside is that you get a free look at interior scoring. You can’t afford to squander that.

A One Man Show

One thing I noticed going back through Creighton’s losses is that they often give up big games to a single player. The most obvious example was Markus Howard dropping 53 points on them, but opposing team players routinely crack the mid-20s in scoring, and usually a few guys get in in the mid teens. I think this is a prime opportunity for Bane to have another big game, and once again assert himself as the team’s top player.

Senior Night Part Deux?

This will officially be the Frogs’ last home game of the season. Attendance was pretty disappointing down the stretch, but now the Frogs get one last chance in front of Fort Dixon to get to NYC. Everyone needs to be there and be loud, especially as a thanks again to A Rob and JD. Creighton is no slouch, so a home court advantage worthy of those two seniors could go a long way.

Prediction

Creighton is good, and on a roll, but so are the Frogs. The Tournament snub really woke this team up; the Nebraska game was the most comfortable I’ve been in a long time watching TCU. Add in the fact that the Frogs are at home, and I think they make it back to the Big Apple. The only thing you can’t afford to do is look ahead to the Texas/Colorado game; Creighton is very good and can make you pay if you sleep on them.

Prediction: TCU 82, Creighton 75

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

  • TCU will host Creighton Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the NIT. TCU is looking for its second trip to the NIT semifinals in three seasons.
  • TCU is 16-6 all-time in the NIT, including 7-1 at home, and won the tournament during its last appearance in 2017. It was the Frogs’ first postseason tournament championship.
  • It’s the second time in school history that TCU is playing in a postseason tournament for a third-straight seasons and the first time since 1999.
  • Desmond Bane (2nd Team), Alex Robinson (3rd Team) and Kouat Noi (Honorable Mention) were named All-Big 12. Bane and Robinson were also named All-Big 12 by the Associated Press.
  • Alex Robinson ranks fifth in the nation at 7.1 assists per game. He is TCU’s all-time assist leader at 668 and ranks No. 2 nationally with 752 total career assists when including his freshman season at Texas A&M.
  • Desmond Bane (15th), Alex Robinson (20th) and JD Miller (23rd) have each gone over 1,000 career points and rank in the top 25 in school history in points scored.
  • Kevin Samuel’s 68.4 percent shooting would rank as the best in school history if the season ended today. His 72 blocked shots are the fourth-most in a season at TCU, the most ever by a freshman.
  • TCU has made 270 3-pointers this season and is four away from surpassing the school record of 273, set during the 2016-17 season.
  • The Horned Frogs rank 16th in the nation with 16.4 assists per game. For the third-straight year, TCU is leading the Big 12 in assists.
  • TCU’s roster consists of just 11 players, six who are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The Frogs have played seven guys in nine of their last 10 games.