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TCU Basketball opponent preview: 1-seed Arizona

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A trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line tonight.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Wright St vs Arizona Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

TCU Basketball is looking to make history tonight.

The Horned Frogs have a chance to win multiple NCAA Tournament games for the first time in program history as they take on the 1-seed Arizona Wildcats.

On paper, the Frogs have their work cut out for them. This Arizona squad is legit. The Wildcats have the third highest-scoring offense in the country (84.6 PPG), are the third-best shooting team in the country with a 49.74% team FG percentage, and also rank in the top 10 in terms of rebound margin right behind the Frogs.

That’s not to mention Bennedict Mathurin, a projected NBA lottery pick, and the Wildcats’ dynamic frontcourt duo in 6-foot-11 forward Azuolas Tubelis and 7-foot-1 center Christian Koloko. The trio combines for an average of 44.1 ppg, 19.2 rpg, and 6.1 apg. In other words, literally half of their offensive production.

The Frogs are accustomed to facing NBA-level talent and even a few 7-footers here and there, but the Wildcats are right up there in talent/skill level with Big 12 powerhouses like Kansas. Being just the second Pac 12 team the Frogs have faced all season (76-62 W vs Utah), the Wildcats will serve as a new challenge for Jamie Dixon’s group.

Although the Frogs and Wildcats have faced only one similar opponent this year (Utah), both groups have a battle-tested resume worthy of a second-round appearance.

Notable results for each team:

  • Arizona: Michigan (W by 18), Illinois (W by 4), Tennessee (L by 4), UCLA (W/L), Colorado (W/L), USC (won twice), Arizona St. (won twice)
  • TCU: Kansas (W/L/L), Baylor (lost twice), Texas Tech (W/L), Texas (W/L/L), LSU (W by 9), Oklahoma (won twice), Iowa St. (W/L), Texas A&M (W by 4), Seton Hall (W by 27)

Even though the Frogs rank ahead of them in terms of Q1 wins with an 8-8 record, the Wildcats aren’t too far behind with a 6-3 record against Q1 teams. The difference though; Arizona is 9-0 against Q2 teams compared to 2-4 for the Frogs.

It’s safe to say both teams have an impressive resume to get to this point in the season, but there’s something about that Big 12 style that the Wildcats might not be accustomed to.

I know the media has been preaching that “elite conference background” all year, but the numbers don’t lie. The Big 12 went 6-0 in the first round of the tournament, and other than Baylor is looking strong to continue the run into the Sweet 16.

TCU will be the only Big 12 squad the Wildcats have faced all season, but if anybody can make the necessary adjustments, it’s a top 3 Tommy Lloyd squad lead by a Wooden Award finalist in Mathurin.

We’ve already seen one 1-seed go down as Baylor fell to 8-seed UNC in overtime yesterday, so who’s to say the Frogs can’t make it two 1-seeds to fall in the second round for the first time since 2018?

Coming in as 10-point underdogs in the eyes of Vegas, TCU will need to play a near-perfect game if they want to take down the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament. Here are what I believe to be the keys to victory tonight for the Frogs:

Defending the big men

There’s no sugar coating it, the Wildcats will have a mismatch in the low post based on the Frogs’ regular rotation. Jamie Dixon somewhat steered away from the question, not looking to give away any secrets prior to tipoff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Eddie Lampkin and Xavier Cork see the floor together a lot rather than their traditional trade-off rotation.

Tubelis and Koloko are really, really good. At the same time, though, Lampkin and Cork are really, really good defensively. It’s going to be a battle in the paint regardless, but limiting the Wildcats’ points in the paint would be huge.

Offensively, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The Frogs have always utilized a fundamental pick and roll to create shots on offense, but they took it to a new level last time out against the Pirates. Eddie was setting sometimes three or four screens per possession, which essentially eliminated Seton Hall’s 7-foot-2 center from making any plays in the paint.

If the Frogs can continue that recipe, it’s sure to limit the Wildcats’ big men’s impact on defense.

Don’t let Mathurin get hot

It may seem like an exaggeration based on how many elite-level athletes the Frogs have lined up against this season, but Bennedict Mathurin might be the best basketball player the Frogs have faced all season.

The 6-foot-7 Canadian-born sophomore averages 17.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, and puts on big-time performances in big-time moments. 30 against Illinois, 28 against Tennesee, 27 against UCLA, 24 against Oregon; Mathurin is the Mike Miles of this Wildcat team.

He might not be the greatest shooter in the world, 45.7% FG percentage and 37.7% from deep, but if he starts hitting shots early the Frogs are in trouble.

If TCU’s defense can shut down Mathurin like they did Seton Hall’s Jared Rhoden, the Frogs will be a-okay.

Mike Miles has to show out

I said it last game, and I’ll say it again: The Frogs need a bigtime performance from their best player tonight.

Miles dropped 21 in the win over Seton Hall on Friday, but he might need to score more to match the pace of the high-flying Wildcats offense. The sophomore guard accounts for roughly 35% of TCU’s offensive production, so a rough game from him means a rough time for the Frogs, especially going up against a team that drops 85 points on average.

There’s already been plenty this season in which Miles has stepped up to the plate, but this serves as another “prove it” game for the NBA hopeful. Miles has a chance to show out against another top NBA prospect in Mathurin, and lead his team past the second round for the first time in school history.

This is a special night for Miles as well as the rest of this Horned Frog team. Special players make special things happen when it matters most, and Miles is as unique and talented as they come.

Theorizing and predicting is all fun and games, but all of that goes away as soon as tipoff takes place. This is March. This is Madness. Anything can happen.

The Frogs tournament hopes will be put to the test tonight with game time set for 8:40 pm CST. The game will be broadcast on TNT or can be viewed live on the MM Live app!

Let’s go make history!