The TCU men’s basketball team is sitting in a good spot, sporting a 9-2 record and essentially cancelling out their home loss in conference with a road win. However, the close results of the past week’s games combined with a brutal pair of games at home should give Frog fans pause as we move into the heart of conference play.
In the last game of 2020, Prairie View A&M came into town as a last minute replacement for Texas Southern. The Panthers were 1-3, sporting one of the worst offenses in the country. This should’ve been a snoozer for the Frogs that was over by halftime; instead, the Frogs trailed at halftime and the game was tied with 8 minutes left. While they pulled away for a 66-61 victory in the end, many of the same problems I warned about in my last article came to fruition. The Frogs were a ghastly 17-30 from the free throw line. Nebraska transfer Cam Mack was on the verge of detonating before getting into foul trouble; he ended up with 16 points. To be fair, the Frogs were without their best player in RJ Nembhard, but really they should’ve been able to handle the game regardless. Some positives: Francisco Farabello made his return, Kevin Samuel did turn it up against the smaller Panthers in the second half and ended with a double double, and Mike Miles continued to be aggressive even when the shots weren’t falling. All three of these developments are welcome for a young and volatile team, but the final score is also reflective of these same attributes.
The Frogs kicked off 2021 in the Little Apple, where they secured a 67-60 victory over Kansas State. Nembhard led the team with 21 points in his return, while Mike Miles did a bit of everything. Kevin Easley had his second back-to-back double digit scoring game, while he and Jaedon LeDee did a great job cleaning up the glass. The Wildcats basically shot themselves out of the game; they were behind and kept trying to get it all back quickly, which ended up with them shooting 7/25 from three. Similarly to the PVA&M game, some key KSU players got into foul trouble which helped out the Frogs, including stud freshman Nijel Pack. Regardless of how bumpy the road was, a road conference win is something you always take. Now the road gets even tougher, with two of the top three teams in the conference coming to town.
Tuesday 1/5 vs #6 Kansas (8-2), 9:00 PM Central on ESPN
Saturday 1/9 vs #2 Baylor (9-0), 2:00 PM Central on ESPN
The Frogs start the week with a really tough task: facing Kansas off a loss. The Jayhawks were slapped around by Texas at Allen Fieldhouse 84-59 their last time out—their first loss since their season opener against #1 Gonzaga. These two losses are against tough teams, and the Jayhawks have shown their mettle by beating tough teams like Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Creighton already this season. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and even in this pandemic altered year the Jayhawks will once again be challenging for the Big 12 title.
There are some injury concerns for the Jayhawks, with 5 star freshman Bryce Thompson being ruled out and starting guard Marcus Garrett being listed as “day-to-day”. I would expect Garrett to play, but if he doesn’t, that is a huge loss. Garrett is not the team’s best player, but he’s been there forever, knows the system, and is the team’s leader in assists. If Garrett and Thompson are both out, redshirt freshman Dajuan Harris will need to take a step up. A former four star recruit, he has yet to break out, but then again he hasn’t been asked to do much by Bill Self, using less than 10% of the offense’s possessions when he makes it on the floor. The redshirt freshman who has made an impact is Jalen Wilson, who alongside guard Ochai Agbaji, is expected to be a late first round pick in April. Wilson and big man David McCormack do most of the work on the glass for the Jayhawks, letting Agbaji, Wilson himself, and other starter Christian Braun fire away from behind the three point line. Rounding out the KU rotation is staple rotation bigman Mitch Lightfoot, Dutch international Tristan Enaruna, and top JUCO signee Tyon Grant-Foster. Last year the Frogs were done in both games by Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, who have both since moved onto the NBA, so the Frogs will need to tread carefully and expect Wilson and Agbaji to be two major threats.
The Jayhawks are a big team, the opposite of the KSU squad that started four guards on Saturday. That being said, they shoot the ball well from distance, remaining a top 100 team in that regard at ~36%. The biggest consequence of their length comes on the glass and on defense. KU is aggressive on the offensive boards, ranking 32nd in offensive rebound rate, while also taking care of the ball and not committing unforced errors (53rd nationally in non-steal turnover %). Defensively, the Jayhawks are elite, sporting a 90.0 defensive rating that sits just outside the top 10 nationally. They force bad shots inside, and despite the departure of Azubuike, reject plenty of shots inside. This is an omen for guards like Nembhard and Miles who make a living on straight line drives to the hoop. Kevin Samuel will need to be patrolling, willing to help out on the glass, and insulate the Frogs against the long Jayhawks inside. You don’t need to be a diehard college basketball fan to know that KU is a tough matchup, and Tuesday night will be no exception.
Meanwhile, the Frogs have a yet another marquee game on ESPN Saturday, when they play host to the #2 team in the country: the Baylor Bears. Baylor hasn’t had the toughest schedule, but they have been absolutely dominating everyone put in front of them, including #12 Illinois. They were incredibly sloppy on the road against Iowa State last time out, yet still won by double digits. The Bears will be looking for revenge against a TCU team that upset them in Fort Worth towards the tail end of last season, so look for a scrappy game on Saturday afternoon.
The Bears are led by Jared Butler, who should be in the NPOY conversation. The junior guard is shooting 45% from three on about 5 attempts a game and co-runs the offense with Davion Mitchell, all while being an absolute pest on defense. Mitchell is similar, actually sporting higher steal percentages (5.1, 25th nationally) and three point shooting (50% on four attempts a game) than Butler. The duo form what is possibly the most deadly backcourt in all of college basketball. Helping out with the scoring is one time UNC Asheville guard MaCio Teague, who is just barely behind Butler is scoring and also hitting threes at a solid (38%) rate. Filling out the starting five are UNLV transfer Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who mans the middle as one of the top rebounders in the country, and senior rotation staple Mark Vital, who remains one of the best team defenders in college basketball and does all the little things to help a team win. This starting lineup is incredibly strong, but Baylor makes great use of their bench as well. Presbyterian transfer Adam Flagler got off to a hot start this season, shooting the ball well from all over the court, though he is coming off two cold games. Backup guards Matthew Mayer and LJ Cryer also see plenty of time, and all three guards would be starting calibur on most teams not just nationally, but in the Big 12 as well. Flo Thamba is deputized to back up Tchamwa Tchatchoua, while Zach Loveday has also pushed for more minutes at the 5. Overall, this Baylor team is loaded with talent top to bottom, and it will be tough to slow down Scott Drew’s men.
Baylor is one of only 2 teams in the country who rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency (the other being Wisconsin). Their offense is 3rd in the nation (119.4 ORtg) thanks to 44% shooting behind the line and an insane 40.3% offensive rebounding rate, good for 2nd and 5th respectfully in the nation. Baylor is a team that relies on the three ball for a heavy amount of their scoring, which is okay when they make as many as they do and grab the misses at such a high rate. While the Frogs have been more than solid defending the three this year (28% on opponent threes), Baylor will put that to the test. Their defense ranks 6th in the nation (88.8 DRtg), and they are a havoc making machine with their stud guards. Turnovers are a common theme, they force them at the 8th best rate in the country, with a huge percentage of these coming off straight steals. For a TCU team with young ball handlers and an inconsistent offensive attack, this could spell trouble. It will take an all out effort to win this game, but if the Frogs play their best they can pull it out.
The Frogs are going into the thick of their schedule starting this week, and you have to think they would be happy if they could just split these two games at home. Obviously you need to win your home games, but these two opponents are just so tough it is likely too much to ask for the Frogs to pull them both out. Split these games, stay at 0.500 in conference, and live to fight another day.