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Monday Morning Point Guard: Uneven tournament performance leads to lineup change

The Horned Frogs played three games over the weekend, looking dominant in two and inferior in the other.

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic - TCU v Hawaii Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Horned Frogs came out hot to begin the Hawaiian Airline Diamond Head Classic with a 111-87 win against Old Dominion. Against ODU, TCU set the record for the most points scored in the Diamond Head Classic with 111. A day later, the Horned Frogs took on the Nevada Wolf Pack in the semifinals. However, the Horned Frogs fell flat in an 88-75 defeat. TCU looked outmatched, especially on the defensive end. Two days later, in the battle for third place, TCU took on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. This affair was starkly different than the previous two, as TCU won 65-51 in a low-scoring battle. The Horned Frogs have been a tough team to pin down this season. And with only one non-conference game left, the time is now to find some consistency.

The Good

Getting to the line: The Horned Frogs lived at the free throw line during the Diamond Head Classic. TCU shot 79 free throws across the tournament, knocking down 63. Good for an 80 percent mark, about three percent better than the season average. The Horned Frogs got to the line the most against Old Dominion, attempting 38 freebies, the second-highest mark of the season.

Jameer Nelson Jr. and Emanuel Miller were the two mainstays at the charity stripe. Nelson Jr. went 19-of-21 from the line, while Miller shot 20-of-25. Both seniors do a fantastic job of getting to the rim and drawing contact. On the season, Nelson Jr. shoots 86.3 percent from the line and Miller shoots 83.6 percent. Despite a lack of confidence from the 3-point line, both players are uber-efficient from the free-throw line.

Although the half-court offense can appear stagnant, the Horned Frogs do a fine job getting to the line. Whether it be off cuts, offensive rebounds, or drives, TCU finds a way to create contact and draw fouls. The Horned Frogs are a physical bunch, thus undisciplined teams will have difficulty corralling the athletic TCU guards and forwards. But more on that later.

Transition offense: Likely a staple in “the good” column, transition offense will be here to stay. Over the past couple of seasons, TCU has found success on fast breaks. And this year appears no different. Despite an infusion of new talent in the offseason, the Horned Frogs continue to play fast and opportunistically. Avery Anderson III, Micah Peavy, and Nelson Jr. cause havoc in transition. All three guards are adept at creating turnovers and capitalizing on the break.

TCU feasts off turnover-prone squads. The Horned Frogs rank 8th in the nation, averaging 10.7 steals per game. Moreover, the Horned Frogs ranks 11th in the nation in turnovers per game. TCU forces its opponents to cough the ball up 17 times per contest. No team is remotely close to the Horned Frogs in fast break points per game. TCU is the only squad averaging more than 20 fast break points per game in the nation. The Horned Frogs average a mind-boggling 24.6 fast break points per game. Almost a third of their points come from transition baskets.

Lineup flexibility: After a stellar first game and a poor second showing, the Horned Frogs altered the lineup for game three. But besides the lineup change, it should be noted that TCU has extreme lineup flexibility.

First and foremost, the TCU bench is deep. The Horned Frogs rank 20th in the nation in bench scoring. The TCU bench averages 32.4 points per game. Against Old Dominion, Chuck O’Bannon Jr. scored 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor and 6-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. O’Bannon Jr.’s spark off the bench ignited TCU’s first-half run and extended the second-half lead. Not only did O’Bannon Jr. have a nice game off the pine, but Essam Mostafa and Anderson III contributed as well. Mostafa scored 10 points and recorded four boards. Anderson Jr. notched 9 points to go along with four steals.

TCU is deep, with multiple options across various positions. After the loss to Nevada, the Horned Frogs opted for a lineup change. Nelson Jr. and Jakobe Coles went to the bench and the pair was replaced by Anderson III and Trey Tennyson. Nelson Jr. has been struggling from the 3-point line, while Coles’ play has seen a decline in recent weeks. Although the infusion didn’t lead to more points, this lineup may be what’s in place moving forward. Tennyson will likely stay, as he’s the only confident 3-point shooter on the roster. However, an Anderson III and Nelson Jr. swap might be in store once again.

Emanuel Miller: TCU forward Emanuel Miller looked terrific over the weekend. Miller averaged 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game on his way to an All-Tournament Team appearance. The Canadian wing consistently got to his spot all weekend long. Miller uses his savviness and athleticism to get to the rim and draw contact. As previously discussed, the TCU forward got to the line numerous times over the weekend. He shot an astounding 25 free throws. Perhaps what’s most encouraging is Miller’s improvement from the line. While playing for TCU, Miller had never shot better than 80 percent from the line. This season, on 4.6 attempts per game, Miller is up to 83.8 percent

Going into conference play, it’s likely Miller will have to take on the alpha scorer role. The Preseason All-Big 12 Teamer already leads the Horned Frogs in minutes, points, and rebounds per game. He’s also played mistake-free basketball, only turning the ball over 12 times in 12 appearances. Throughout the early portion of the season, the Horned Frogs have looked deep, yet unassuming at the top. Miller must parlay his non-conference dominance into a lead role come conference play.

The Bad

Nevada: The typical stout TCU defense looked lost against the Wolf Pack. TCU lost 88-75 against Nevada, allowing the Wolf Pack to shoot 52 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from beyond the arc. Playing against a well-disciplined squad, the Horned Frogs were unable to cause disarray. The TCU defense forced eight turnovers, less than Nevada’s season average of 9.7. The Wolf Pack don’t turn it over often, the 20th-best in the nation, thus forcing turnovers and scoring in transition is harder to come by.

TCU did score 19 fast break points, but the half-court offense looked helpless. The Horned Frogs went 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Nelson Jr. and Coles went a combined 0-of-6 from distance. TCU made a living from the paint and the charity stripe. If not for a 24-for-27 showing from the free-throw line, this game would’ve looked a whole lot worse.

Conversely, TCU allowed Nevada to shoot 35 freebies. The Wolf Pack knocked down 80 percent of their free throw attempts. Other than the habitual fouling, the Horned Frogs turned the ball over 11 times. While 11 turnovers aren’t staggering, the Wolf Pack capitalized off TCU’s turnovers to the tune of 21 points. TCU played a messy game and Dixon being ejected in the first half certainly didn’t help.

Shot blocking: A lack of shot blocking does seem a bit nit-picky. But, it’s been a problem against quality opponents. TCU only allowed 84 points in the paint over a three-game stretch, but they allowed opponents to shoot 75 free throws. The Horned Frogs lack an intimidating interior defensive presence. Udeh Jr. might be just that, but he only plays about 15 minutes per game. He averages 0.8 blocks per game on the year, the highest average on the Horned Frogs.

Opponents have a difficult time getting past their initial defenders, but when they do scoring in the paint comes easier than it should. The Horned Frogs employ a three-headed attack at the center position, but none of the centers are true defensive anchors. Udeh Jr. is a superb athlete, Mostafa is sound fundamentally, and Cork is a good backup big. However, none of the bigs present themselves as intimidating defenders.

Facing disciplined teams: Nevada and Clemson. Both TCU losses are top 50 in the nation in turnovers per game. When the Horned Frogs play a fundamentally sound squad, the chances of victory dwindle. The Horned Frogs play best in up-and-down games, where their opponent attempts to match the Horned Frog’s pace and physicality. Whenever a disciplined team crosses TCU’s schedule, opportunities to score are harder to come by.

Against Nevada, TCU only scored eight points off turnovers, the lowest total of the season and the only time the Horned Frogs have managed single digits. The Horned Frogs must find a way to win without forcing turnovers and causing havoc on the defensive end. TCU only recorded four steals against Nevada, leading to low totals in points off turnovers and fastbreak points.

Play of the Week

One of the many thunderous lobs Ernest Udeh Jr. caught and threw down over the tournament.