The Frogs are back on track! With their Saturday tilt against Baylor postponed, the Frogs were able to win both their other games to snap their 5 game losing streak. Both games were nail-biters and required comebacks deep into the second half. Eeking out home wins over Oklahoma State (81-78) and Iowa State (79-76) has placed the Frogs right back in the middle of a packed Big 12 standings.
The stunning thing about the Pokes games was just how similar it was to the first matchup in Stillwater. Kevin Samuel had the hot hand early, and the Frogs were shutting down potential #1 pick Cade Cunningham. The childhood friend of Mike Miles was held to 0 points in the first half, as jeers of “overrated” rained in from the limited student section. With a player of Cunningham’s caliber, it’s often just a matter of time, and he poured in 19 second half points to make it one crazy ride to the finish. TCU was the beneficiary of some sloppy ball handling by the Pokes down the stretch, and some timely shots from Mike Miles and Jaedon LeDee helped close the door.
Iowa State posed a bigger challenge with Miles unexpectedly out with a non-COVID related sickness. Combined with the continued absence of Francisco Farabello, the Frogs’ backcourt was looking pretty thin. However, the young guys stepped up to the plate. Taryn Todd and PJ Fuller each ended up in double figures, breaking out of cold spells that had lasted for weeks on end. Freshman Terren Frank saw his first meaningful minutes since the opener against Houston Baptist and was active and aggressive, nailing two of his three attempts from distance and grabbing four boards (two on the offensive glass). Iowa State’s record is putrid, but they are a solid team that has given plenty of teams some scares. Rasir Bolton looked like the real deal even against our backup guards, and we cannot write off the trip to Ames as a sure-fire victory.
Now that the Frogs are back on the right foot, what does the upcoming week look like? Well, it doesn’t get any easier. Saturday features a trip down to Austin to take on #13 Texas, before back-to-back games against #7 Texas Tech on Monday and Wednesday.
Texas has finally looked like the team that the Longhorn boosters hoped they would get when they hired Shaka Smart away from VCU in 2015. Despite a recent 3 game losing streak and squeaker win over Kansas State, the Horns have been one of the most fearsome teams in college basketball this season. The dip in form is directly tied to missing a few games due to COVID issues, and pretty much every team in the country can relate to that. The overall resume is undeniable: a demolition of Kansas at the Phog, a blowout over a good Indiana team, and wins against North Carolina and Davidson to boot. This is a veteran Texas team (3rd in the country in minutes continuity per KenPom) that knows how to win basketball games.
The Longhorns have certainly been bolstered by the leadership of Andrew Jones, whose return following cancer treatment has been one of college basketball’s best stories over the past few years. The Horn’s leading scorer has ramped up his play in conference, including a season high 25 in the loss against Baylor. He, along with Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramey, makeup a guard rotation that is among the most experienced in the country. Coleman feels like he’s been around forever running the point, while Ramey has bounced back from a bad shooting season to be one of the most reliable 3 point shooters in the conference. Freshman forward Greg Brown is considered a potential lottery pick due to his explosive ability and long reach, and his bounce back game against Kansas State had to be a welcome sight following his struggles during the new year. The center rotation of Jericho Sims and Kai Jones supplements Brown’s explosiveness at the 4, with all three guys standing above 6’9. The return of sharpshooter Jase Febres has also been a boon, but his availability has been staggered at best over the past few games.
Overall, Texas has a very high level of talent across their roster. As with every team, COVID has upended both rotations and schedule alike, but their core group can go toe to toe with anyone in the country. Their extreme length bothers shooters at all levels of the floor, so the shot creation abilities of Mike Miles and RJ Nembhard will definitely be put to the test. Kevin Samuel will have to contend with possibly the best frontcourt in the league. My X-factor for this game will be Chuck O’Bannon, who has come on strong over the past 3 games. Should the Frogs roll out a Miles-Nembhard-Fuller-O’Bannon-Samuel lineup, Chuck is the only one with a serious experience advantage over his matchup. Brown is extremely skilled, but O’Bannon is a former five star himself, and if he keeps up his recent form I think he can outduel Brown and keep the Frogs in the game.
Texas Tech remains one of the toughest opponents in the Big 12. Coach Chris Beard is among the best in the business, and the amount of talent he has brought into Lubbock in a short amount of time is truly staggering. Georgetown transfer and former viral sensation Mac McClung has lived up to his exciting billing, leading the team in scoring and being named to the Naismith midseason team. Joining McClung in the backcourt is Kyler Edwards, who has evolved into a pretty complete player during his time at Tech. He has regained his three point shot after a down year, avoiding turnovers, and rebounding at the best numbers of his career. An area where Tech excels is on the offensive glass, driven in large part by VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva, who provides the strong interior presence that Tariq Owens did during their NCAA championship game run. Tech has also flexed Terrence Shannon into a 6th man role, allowing their second leading scorer to come in and terrorize opponent 2nd units with his relentless attack of the basket. Starting in his stead has been freshman Micah Peavy, who adds to Tech’s fervor on the offensive glass. Finally, Kevin McCullar’s return from injury has injected even further life into this Raider attack, especially on the defensive end.
Tech is a team that creates havoc; they force a lot of turnovers, block a ton of shots, and never turn down the dial. They generate tons of extra possessions and throughout their lineup have guys that get to the line with ease. Even when you manage to beat them, they never make it easy, which explains why they haven’t experienced the blowouts that basically every non-Baylor Big 12 team has faced. To beat Tech you need to get hot from three, playing inside out is a recipe for disaster with all the aggressiveness they show down there. The only benefit would be to get some guys in foul trouble, an area where Peavy and Santos-Silva struggle in particular. The Tech bench is solid, including Wichita State transfer Jamarius Burton and former prized recruit Tyreek Smith, but there is a drop off from the incredibly high standard the starters set. The Frogs need to get amped up for these games, but not lose control and try and out-energy the Red Raiders. Make your threes and your free throws and you can get in a runout against Texas Tech
This stretch will be among the toughest these Frogs have faced. Winning without Miles against Iowa State and against Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State in a thriller will certainly not have the Frogs lacking for confidence. How will this turn out? Only time will tell, but don’t be surprised if they pick up a game or two out of this murderer’s row.