The Big 12 is still the best conference in college basketball.
So - there’s not much more a Big 12 fan could ask for than Saturday afternoon’s Top 20 matchup between TCU and Kansas State.
The 2023 Big 12 season may be in its infantry, as each team has only played four conference games, but the stakes are already very high for these two teams. Kansas State could stay in a tie for first place in the Big 12 with a win, while the Frogs look to rebound after back-to-back losses to Iowa State and Texas.
At 13-3, and 2-2 in conference play, TCU is in a must-win spot already if they want to stay competitive at the top of the conference with Kansas State, Iowa State, and Kansas.
While TCU has reeled as of late, the Wildcats have only shown flashes of brilliance. Kansas State’s looking for their 10th! win in a row, and a fifth win over a team inside the top 30 in the last 14 days.
Clearly - this is a statement game for two teams with lofty Big 12 aspirations, and the result should kickstart one to the top of the conference standings.
We don’t use the term “must-win” often over here, especially, usually, in January, but it could be the case here if the Frogs mean to keep their title aspirations alive.
After averaging only 71 points, and losing the last two to Iowa State and Texas, TCU will need to get back in form on the offensive end.
To accomplish this - look at coach Jamie Dixon to manipulate TCU’s size advantage and advantages on the interior.
The Horned Frogs score an absurd 58.6% of their points from inside the 3-Point line, which is 19th in the country, and this ability to create from the paint should come up huge against a Kansas State team which allows 52.4% of opponents’ points coming from 2-Point range.
Another area the Frogs will look to manipulate, but a major reason why TCU lost close games to Iowa State and Texas, is free-throw shooting.
Look - the Frogs can get to the line. Coach Dixon will use this to his advantage today; the Frogs score 20.4% of their points from the free-throw line, while the Wildcats allow 20.4% of opponents’ points to come from free-throws. But, it’s a matter if they’ll make them or not.
Poor free-throw shooting against Iowa State bogged the team down. What’s the point in getting to the free-throw line if you can’t make the shots?
Regardless - there may be some upside here. Even IF the Frogs miss some free-throws today, it’ll be hard for Kansas State to stay in the game if they get into some foul trouble.
The Wildcats have some of the worst depth in the league, and if they can’t defend without fouling, it’s going to be forced to come into play.
For an inexperienced Wildcat bench unit, this could cause some concern. Kansas State gets only 24.6% of their minutes from the bench; TCU gets 40.3%.
The stat could hold an even bigger impact when called to mind that this is a K-State team that’s gone to overtime two of its last four.
The recipe to success is written for the Frogs - attack the interior, and dominate the free-throw line.
Preview: #11 Kansas State
Kansas State has beaten West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State in an 11!-day-span to push themselves towards the top of the Big 12.
They’ve looked beyond impressive, and are dominating the conference with their surprisingly stellar offensive play.
The Wildcats are 29th in the country in offensive efficiency, and score a whopping 78.8 points a game.
Most of it is generated through star Senior Guard Markquis Nowell, who’s listed as 5’8 but more than makes up for it in his scoring column; he’s averaged 27.7 points during this K-State winning streak.
On top of his scoring, his 45.7% assist rate is 2nd-highest in the country, and has averaged an insane 8.8 assists over this same stretch.
This means, roughly, almost 46 of the Wildcat’s 79 points a game are generated through Markquis Nowell. That’s an eye-opening stat. Through the league’s first four games, Nowell’s been the best in the conference.
According to Evan Miya, who ranks college basketball players by their ‘BPR’, Nowell is currently the 7th best player in the country, and is ranked a full 1.34 points higher than any other Wildcat. (Keyontae Johnson is next; ranked 7th in the Big 12).
Kansas State's 116 points against Texas was the most points scored against a high-major program this season.— ShotQuality (@Shot_Quality) January 5, 2023
The Wildcats went nuts from deep, converting 54.2% of their triples. Star of the night: Markquis Nowell with 6 of them (86th %ILE w/1.10 PPP). pic.twitter.com/YbLGj8KJ9y
This level of offensive intensity by Kansas State and Nowell will be challenged against TCU, however. The Frogs create turnovers on 23.6% of opponents’ possessions, which is 22nd in the country, and doing so against a Wildcat team who struggles to limit turnovers will be crucial. Kansas State averages 13.4 turnovers a game.
On top of this advantage in the turnover battle - the Frogs should have the advantage from the free-throw line.
TCU only allows opponents to score 17.3% of their points from the foul-line. Continuing this against Kansas State will be huge for a comfortable win, as the Wildcats only score 19.8% of their points from the foul-line.
While K-State has looked unbeatable as of late, and the Frogs have reeled, this is a great matchup for TCU, as this defense is motivated as ever, and equipped beyond prepare to create havoc.
If the Frogs can create turnovers, dominate the interior, and control the foul-line, this should be a Frog win in a ruckus Schollmaier Arena.
Ultimately - it’s hard to be confident in TCU’s ability to beat this Kansas State team. The Wildcats have put up 80!! or more points in 3 of its last 4, and show no sign of slowing.
But, they’ve gotten incredible 3-Point production, to the point where it must be luck, and it’s going to get harder and harder to continue this production, especially against a TCU team who’s allowed just 27.1% of opponent points to come from that range.
And, the Horned Frogs just have the perfect combination of size and athleticism in the interior, which should slow, and wear down, a small Kansas State team that lacks depth.
I’d say half of the student body is back from Winter Break - Schollmaier Arena should be rocking today for the first time this season.
This, coupled with TCU’s motivation to get back into the win column, and Kansas State’s “lucky” four-game stretch, leads me to predicting a Frog win.
But - because we TCU fans can’t have anything easy since that trip to Los Angeles, it’ll be a heart-stopping, cardiac-inducing 40 minutes again.
This time though, the Horned Frogs leave Schollmaier with a win
TCU 72, Kansas State 71