The TCU men’s basketball team’s woes continued over the past week, with their losing streak reaching 5 games after road losses to Kansas and Missouri. While an 0-2 record on the road trip was not entirely unexpected (both teams were in the top 25), it was how the Frogs lost that made it so painful. The Frogs led during halftime at the Phog, in an ugly 19-18 slugfest. They continued to keep it close with the Jayhawks throughout most of the second half, before an 11-1 run had the Frogs sunk by the last 5 minutes. The Missouri game is even harder to swallow; the Frogs had a 12 point lead with 4:40 left in the game, and proceeded fumble it away and allow the game to sneak into overtime. While there were certainly some questionable calls that went against the Frogs in that timeframe, it’s no excuse for blowing that kind of lead, especially when you are team whose season is on life support.
If you want a bright side from these past two games, it has to come in the form of Mike Miles. The freshman appears to have broken out of his cold spell, and he was the team’s best player in both games this past week. He led the team with 18 points against Kansas before dropping a career high 28 points to go along with 5 boards, 5 assists, and no turnovers against Missouri. Imagine this man with a full offseason full of practices. He has all-conference level ability and should have Frog fans optimistic about the future.
Miles’s renaissance and the shootout in Columbia hopefully portend a revitalized Horned Frog offense. Since the turn of the new year, the Frogs had not broken 70 points until their 98 point showing against Mizzou. Their overall offensive rating is a dreadful 91.4, which ranks 9th in the conference and would rank 334th in the nation. That’s not to give a pass to the defense, which would similarly rank 326nd (109.8 rating) when stretched for a whole season. Now extrapolating offensive and defensive ratings in this way is not entirely fair; the Big 12 is much tougher than the median Division I opponent. Certainly it is entirely reasonable to expect a dip in efficiency when you are playing the best of the best every week. But the caliber of drop is dreadful, and any fan who watches each week can see it.
TCU’s next game is a return to the Schollmaier to face off against Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State. The good news is the Frogs already won the first matchup in Stillwater, and in theory this should be the easier of those two matchups. The bad news is that OSU is in a much better run of form than the Frogs since the two teams last met; the Pokes beat Tech in Lubbock and bested a Kansas team that beat the Frogs twice. They annihilated Iowa State without Cunningham and won their Big 12/SEC Challenge game over Arkansas.
My key for the OSU game is Kevin Samuel. The junior big man is having a rough go of it as of late. He hasn’t scored in double figures in 2021, and seems to be in his own head at times. He can still be impactful, he flashed on offense against a very skilled Jeremiah Tilmon, but the Frogs desperately need more from him. A look at the stats below shows how much Samuel’s play has dipped in the new year. Across the board his stats are down, particularly in points, defensive rebounds, free throw shooting, and blocks. As above, some of this can be attributed to the higher level of competition in the Big 12, but certainly not all of it, and Samuel simply doesn’t look like the same player that started this season. That being said, I think that could change Wednesday. The reason I think Samuel has a chance to bounce back in this game is how he played in Stillwater. He was a monster inside that game, blocking 7 shots, grabbing 3 offensive rebounds, and pouring in 18 points. He has a serious size advantage that he can hopefully put to good use and lead the Frogs out of the darkness of the current losing streak.
The Frogs’ next game is on the road against #2 Baylor, and as well as the Frogs played them for a half in Fort Worth, I think that game is pencilled in as a loss. Baylor and Gonzaga simply seem a step above this season. This puts added pressure on the OSU game, as a loss there would likely have the Frogs on a 7 game losing streak headed into the Iowa State game next Tuesday. Even for the most pessimistic Frog fan, the game on the 9th represents a great chance to stick in the win column against a floundering Cyclones team. They played West Virginia and Texas tight, but the fact of the matter is they are in last in the Big 12 with a 2-10 overall record (0-7 in conference play). If the Frogs drop both Oklahoma State AND Iowa State? Then it’s time to hit the panic button. But I don’t think that will happen. The Frogs have shown plenty of life against two tough teams, and this is coming off an extended layoff due to COVID. I expect a big showing from Miles and Samuel over the coming week, and for the Frogs to snap out of their funk and put a W on the board.