We all knew last week was going to be tough with Kansas and Baylor coming to town, but the results were still tough to swallow. The Frogs were utterly obliterated in their two games last week, losing by 29 and 18 respectively, and didn’t show much fight outside of a surprisingly good first half against the Bears. The analysis of what went wrong needs to take into account that this is still one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball, but the magnitude of the two losses is unacceptable and prompts further examination.
The Kansas game was always going to be tough. The Jayhawks haven’t lost back to back conference games since 2013, and they weren’t coming off a regular loss, but an embarrassment at home against Texas. Even down two key rotation players, Kansas came out firing and had the game on cruise control by the second half. David McCormack bullied Kevin Samuel inside, the Jayhawks swarmed freshman Mike Miles into the worst game of his career, and RJ Nembhard had no answer for the tidal wave that was coming from the Kansas side. The only bright spot was the surprising shooting stroke of Chuck O’Bannon Jr., who scored a career high 18 points. One area of major concern has to be the defensive rotations. Particularly Nembhard and PJ Fuller seemed to have trouble communicating pick and roll coverages, whether the defense was supposed to switch, hedge, or any other coverage, and the result were plenty of straight line drives and open shots. These problems extended to transition defense, where one of the worst sequences of the season can be seen starting at 3:33. The Frogs miss a wild shot, no one hustles back to get numbers back on 3 on 2, no communication between Farabello and Todd on who is stopping ball, and the result is an alley oop. A terrible game for the Frogs, best forgotten.
The Baylor game started much more promising. Everyone getting on Mike for having one bad game as a freshman was silenced early, as he destroyed Jared Butler’s ankles on a stepback three pointer. He also made a SportsCenter Top 10 play when he hit a 70 foot buzzer beating three pointer to put the Frogs up 1 going into the half. It was a nice rebound game from Miles, who ended up with a team leading 17, but the All-American Butler got his revenge and then some. He destroyed the Frogs throughout the night, finishing with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 steals. The pesky Bears were as dialed in defensively as we expected them to be, forcing the Frogs into 22 turnovers compared to their mere 10. Even with their struggles, the Frogs have typically been a dynamic offense, yet the Bears’ lockdown D kept them from even cracking 50. The second half looked like a completely different Baylor team, and quite frankly if Nembhard and Samuel aren’t playing at NBA prospect level the Frogs have no chance against teams of Baylor’s caliber.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday 1/12 @Oklahoma (6-4) at 6:30 CST on ESPN+
Saturday 1/16 @#13 West Virginia (9-4) at 1:00 CST on TBD
The Frogs hit the road this week for two tough games, one in Norman against a Sooner team they already lost to and another in Morgantown against a seasoned Mountaineers team. Sitting at 2-3 in conference, it would be nice to avoid another winless week and stay in the middle of the pack.
Oklahoma has been a 0.500 team since beating the Frogs in Fort Worth, scoring a nice win against West Virginia while dropping conference games against Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas. The other key difference for this matchup is COVID related: the Sooners will be missing Brady Manek and Justin Hill for the second straight game. That takes out the Sooners’ entire power forward rotation; on December 6, Manek and Hill combined for 52 minutes, 18 points, and 10 rebounds. Manek was replaced in the starting lineup by Elijah Harkless, a transfer from Cal State Northridge who didn’t play in the previous TCU/OU matchup. Even with Manek and Hill out, the TCU killer himself Austin Reaves will be playing. The Sooners’ leading scorer on the season has averages of 36.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists on 49/36/91 splits. He has gotten to the line an absurd amount and punished the TCU defense for any small mistake. Given that I have already mentioned TCU’s communication problems on defense, this is a major concern for Tuesday night.
The first OU game was the coming out party for Mike Miles; he scored 21 points and entered the starting lineup the next game. He and Nembhard will likely play well again in an attempt to equal Reaves’s expected output. The key will be in the frontcourt: can Kevin Samuel and Kevin Easley step up? Samuel only had 4 points against the Sooners, while Easley laid a goose egg on the scoreboard. With Manek out, Easley should have a more favorable matchup, while the Frogs need Samuel to put up more production regardless of opponent. If the Frogs can limit Reaves’s opportunities at the line and get more production from the frontcourt, they have a real shot in this game.
West Virginia is a tough tough team as per usual. They have tough losses against Oklahoma, Texas, and #1 Gonzaga, and in turn have a slew of good wins against VCU, Richmond, Oklahoma State, and others. The word I would use to describe WVU is long; they attack the offensive glass at an elite level and can close out hard on three point shooters even from one pass away. They aren’t an efficient offense, but they generate a huge volume of possessions by not turning it over and crashing the offensive glass. However, roster turnover has made the Mountaineers more volatile, and a COVID outbreak cancelled their game this week against Baylor, so who knows if this game even goes forward.
When I say roster turnover, two rotation players from earlier in the season are already done for WVU. Big man Oscar Tshiebwe has already announced his intentions to transfer to Kentucky, while freshman Isaiah Cottrell had achilles surgery and is out for the foreseeable future. The team still has some serious players though. Sophomore point guard Miles McBride has made major strides this season, seeing improvements both in his three point shooting and ability to run the offense. Sean McNeil has been the starter at the other guard, and he is certainly someone who isn’t going to hurt you with poor decisions. The main backcourt player off the bench, Taz Sherman, has also been a three point assassin at a cool 38% from deep, and he scored 16 points in the OT loss against the Frogs in Fort Worth last season. The other key player in both TCU games last year was center Derek Culver, who is averaging a double double as the second leading scorer on the team. It feels like Culver has been there forever, and he continually gives the Frogs’ frontcourt fits. Emmitt Matthews Jr. remains a rotation mainstay in his junior year, while redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges made a big splash in his first start replacing Tshiebwe, scoring 19 points against Oklahoma. Other players who are likely to make an appearance are Jordan McCabe, Kedrian Johnson, and Gabe Osabuohien.
The Frogs need to at least win one of these games. If I were to bet on it, I would say that the Oklahoma game looks like a more winnable matchup for the Frogs, but this is largely based on how close the game in Fort Worth was. The Frogs will need to sharpen their defense, go back to basics, and come away with a big road win. Maybe even two if things fall the right way.