There’s no doubt, the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. At the time of writing, it’s the only conference to have all of its teams rank in the Top 45 of KenPom.
Now, we get another fantastic conference matchup on Wednesday night, as the TCU Horned Frogs travel to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns.
Both squads own a 13-2 overall record, and are both 2-1 in conference play, so this game should be crucial in deciding which team sits at the top of the standings the rest of the way.
When it comes to the Horned Frogs, we’ve LOVED watching one aspect of their game: transition offense. The Frogs love pushing the speed of the game to their pace of play, and according to Synergy, it shows. A heavy, 24.3% of the Frogs’ possessions are played in transition.
Based on average possession length, the Frogs are the 33rd fastest team in the nation (fastest in the Big 12), averaging only 15.8 seconds a possession.
These stats, on top of the eye test, makes it clear that even after a made bucket, the Frogs are hunting to push the tempo. We’ve seen it many times this season, and the blistering pace the Frogs play at is a major reason TCU completed a 17-point comeback to defeat Baylor in Waco.
But - the thing is, TCU needs to run to have a chance. The Frogs can’t shoot this season. Shooting 29.7% from 3-Point range this season, the Frogs rank 320th! in the country.
For a team who wants to shoot a lot, this is unacceptable.
Luckily for the Frogs, when the offense isn’t capable of winning games, sometimes Mike Miles Jr. can just do it all himself. In the last few games, his shot-creating and finishing abilities have been top-tier, and paired with his playmaking, he’s truly looked like one of the best players in the country.
His play-making has opened up big moments for Chuck O’Bannon Jr., Damion Baugh, and Eddie Lampkin, and knowing Mike’s game he’ll continually try to get these three involved, especially as he faces defensive threat Marcus Carr in the backcourt tonight.
Speaking of those other “reinforcements” - TCU’s defense has really stepped up so far in conference play. In large part due to the Five of Miles Jr., Emanuel Miller, Micah Peavy, O’Bannon Jr., and Baugh, the Frogs allow only 0.749 points per possession in the half court, which is one of the best marks in the Big 12.
Defensively - it will have to take a solid effort tonight to stop the high-flying Longhorn offense led by Marcus Carr.
Preview: #10 Texas Longhorns
It’s been a roller-coaster of a season for Texas. The Longhorns started the season as a top team in the country.
And then Chris Beard got in some trouble.
Since then - Texas has fired its ‘somewhat-new’ head coach, and has replaced him with interim Rodney Terry.
Luckily for the Longhorns, the squad remains one the best teams in the country, ranking Top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Marcus Carr (17.7 PPG) is Austin’s Mike Miles Jr., and like Miles, can spark a run at any moment.
But aside from Carr, consistent scoring from Tyrese Hunter (11.6 PPG), Timmy Allen (10.6 PPG), and (sick name) Sir’Jabari Rice (9.6 PPG), provides the Longhorn offense with consistent scoring all-around.
Yet- Texas often gets too complacent in its half-court, motion offense, and settles for bad outside/mid-range jumpers when they don’t have the arsenal for it.
Only Carr, who shoots 44.6% from deep, is consistent from beyond the arc. No other Longhorn (who plays good minutes) shoots higher than 32%.
And - like the Frogs, the Longhorns’ free-throw shooting could use some work. Texas is 242nd in free-throw rate in the country.
Still - Texas has high offensive efficiency numbers, and scores a lot of its points off forced turnovers.
The Longhorns are 17th in the country in opponent turnover percentage, and as we know from watching TCU, turnovers lead to transition offense.
19.5% of Texas’ possessions come in transition, (less than the Frogs’), but an astonishing 1.21 points come per those possessions, which is more than the Frogs’ offense.
When the Longhorns’ defense is clicking, and forcing turnovers, it’s a really hard team to beat.
And, even when the defense isn’t clicking, you may just have to put up 104 points to beat them, as Kansas State did a week ago in a 116-103 win.
If they get the ball out of the Frogs’ hands quickly, hence controlling transition play, and the Frogs continue to play sloppy (like how they played against Iowa State), this could be a bad matchup for TCU.
Clearly - both teams are built very similarly, and play off very similar strengths, so it really will be a matter of which team is more physical, which team forces more turnovers, which team runs better, and, ultimately, which Guard plays better. (Miles or Carr?)
In a matchup like this, both defenses aren’t going to allow easy half-court looks, so transition play will be key.
Ultimately - with how shaky and sloppy the Frogs were against Iowa State, it doesn’t leave me confident tonight, in a matchup where TCU will have to play disciplined, and commit little-to-no turnovers.
The path to beat this Texas team is clear - control the half-court offense, make your shots, and limit turnovers. It, generally, is pretty simple.
But - for a TCU team who hasn’t been able to do either three consistently all season long, I see a close loss coming in this one…
Especially knowing the game is played in Austin, where fans will hope to compensate for an unremarkable football season with a win over TCU in, at least, basketball.
They just may be able to have this.
Let’s hope the Frogs can prove me wrong though, because this could decide the Big 12 pecking order for weeks to come.
And - as always, Horns Down.
TCU 70, Texas 73