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MMPG: Newfound weakness puts a damper on promising start

The Horned Frogs lost two consecutive games after sudden ascension.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 20 Iowa State at TCU Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will the real Horned Frogs please come forward? After narrowly losing to Kansas, and then defeating Oklahoma and Houston in back-to-back contests, TCU lost to unranked Cincinnati and 24th-ranked Iowa State at home. It’s likely the Horned Frogs will drop from the AP Poll after finding themselves in the top 25 just a week ago.

Although the Big 12 is a toss-up in every contest, it’s worth noting dropping two straight games doesn’t bode well for the Horned Frogs’ long-term outlook. TCU is now 2-3 in the Big 12, near the bottom of the standings. Despite losing hard-fought affairs to both conference foes, a loss is a loss, and come tournament time, the Horned Frogs’ postseason hopes hinge on their conference record.

On the bright side, it’s impressive that TCU almost defeated both the Bearcats and the Cyclones. Against Cincinnati, TCU shot 11 percent worse from the floor and turned the ball over four more times. Fast forward to Saturday, and TCU lost the turnover battle egregiously. The Horned Frogs turned the ball over 27 times, the most since the 2000-01 season. All in all, this article could be an analysis of TCU’s poor ball handling and decision-making. But, we’ll keep it on brand and discuss what TCU did well and what they did poorly.

The Good

Rebounding: In both contests, the Horned Frogs dominated the rebounding battle. Against Cincinnati, TCU won the battle of the boards 41-35. Then, against Iowa State, TCU bested the Cyclones 40-24 on the glass. In both affairs, the Horned Frogs won the offensive rebounding battle. TCU hauled in 18 offensive boards against Cincinnati, before recording 15 against Iowa State.

The Horned Frogs do a fantastic job of crashing the boards. And, it’s not just the bigs. Emanuel Miller is just about the best offensive-rebounding forward you’ll ever see. His anticipation is top-tier. The senior forward has a nose for the ball and always seems to be in the right spot. Besides Miller, center Ernest Udeh Jr. averaged 5.0 offensive boards over the past two games. His activity level is off the charts. Udeh Jr. also knows how to use his body to clear out space in the paint to corral rebounds.

Although the half-court offense is disjointed, the Horned Frogs feast on the offensive glass, leading to secondary opportunities. TCU scored 18 second-chance points against the Bearcats. And despite the 15 offensive rebounds against the Cyclones, the Horned Frogs only managed a meager six second-chance points.

Trey Tennyson: The Texas A&M Corpus-Christi transfer has become a staple in “the good” column. In back-to-back games, he knocked down a total of eight 3-pointers, nearly half of the Horned Frogs’ makes.

Against Cincinnati, Tennyson scored 17 points off 6-of-12 shooting from the floor and 5-of-8 shooting from downtown. He nailed a clutch 3-pointer with less than 30 ticks to go to build a 2-point lead over the Bearcats. Tennyson also added three rebounds and two assists on the night. His shooting is the Horned Frogs’ go-to method of offense in the half-court.

On Saturday, Tennyson shot less than 50 percent from beyond the arc. But, he still shot a respectable 3-of-7 from distance. And, head coach Jamie Dixon likely wouldn’t have been bothered by a few more 3-point attempts from Tennyson. The TCU guard is the only player on the floor that requires constant attention. Defenders must stay glued to Tennyson or else an open look typically spells bad news for the opposing team.

Ernest Udeh Jr.: Former Kansas big man Udeh Jr. has taken a step forward in recent games. He’s still recording only about 20 minutes of action, but he’s quickly proven to be the most valuable big on the roster. Udeh Jr. is the most athletic and active center on the team. Against the Bearcats, he recorded six offensive boards and five steals. Additionally, the TCU big played a season-high 24 minutes and made five of his eight field goal attempts.

After missing a crucial free throw on Tuesday night, Udeh Jr. knocked down 8-of-10 freebies against the Cyclones. His hyper-activity on the offensive glass leads to an abundance of second-chance looks, most of which lead to fouls. If Udeh Jr. can keep up the quality free throw shooting, watch out. The TCU center is a foul waiting to happen.

The Bad

Turnovers: Recording 19 turnovers is bad, but 27? That’s devastating. The Horned Frogs coughed the ball up in just about every situation possible between the two contests. The point guard play has been extremely concerning, but more on that later. For now, we’ll discuss how the entire team failed to control the ball.

Against Cincinnati, every player who graced the court for more than 10 minutes recorded a turnover. Guards Avery Anderson III and Jameer Nelson Jr. combined for 10 turnovers on Tuesday night. Both guards are shifty, with tight handles. But neither of the two are quality decision-makers. Tennyson, who occasionally handles the ball, also turned it over twice. The Horned Frogs lack a primary ball handler capable of making the right reads, and it showed against the Bearcats.

If you thought Tuesday was bad, Saturday was abysmal. The Horned Frogs turned the ball over 10 times in the first six minutes of action. The numerous turnovers led to a quick 11-point deficit. For the most part, these turnovers were unforced. Whether it be getting caught in the air when trying to make a pass, or assuming a teammate is zigging when they’re instead zagging, the Horned Frogs found a way to turn it over in every way imaginable.

After two Anderson III turnovers in the first minute and change, Nelson Jr. replaced him. Next, Tennyson recorded two giveaways and so did Nelson Jr. in the following four minutes. The turnover epidemic is here. And for such an experienced squad, it’s odd to see unforced errors hamper a team this extensively.

Point guard play: First and foremost, both Anderson III and Nelson Jr. are fine players. Anderson III is a special passer, capable of anticipating player movement like few others. His defense is also special. His quickness and hands are elite. As for Nelson Jr. His mid-range scoring and attacking playstyle bail the Horned Frogs out of a stagnant offense. But, as good as the guard duo has been, their play hurt the Horned Frogs in both contests this past week.

Anderson III averaged 6.5 turnovers, while Nelson Jr didn’t fare much better at 4.5 giveaways. Surprisingly, the guards only rank 12th and 13th in the conference in turnovers per game. The increased giveaways are a recent trend. Anderson III’s turnovers are lackadaisical. It’s typically not a product of aggression, but more losing the ball when slightly pressured or forcing an errant pass. Nelson Jr.’s turnovers tend to be when he’s attacking. The TCU guard gets often caught in the air when trying to make a pass, leading to a turnover.

Both guards also get to the point where they shy away from taking shots or driving the lane due to a bevy of turnovers, Anderson III more so than Nelson Jr. The turnover-prone offense must be rectified, and soon. Besides these two, only Tennyson and Peavy are capable of piloting an offense. And neither of those two is the answer. Tennyson is better suited off-the-ball and lacks a lead guard mentality. Peavy isn’t a shifty enough ball handler and gets caught using the same move upon his drives. Anderson III and Nelson Jr. must figure out their turnover woes, and figure them out quickly.

Half-court offense: When the fast break isn’t working, TCU relies on 1) Tennyson 3-pointers, 2) second-chance baskets, and 3) Miller cuts/face-ups. The Horned Frogs are too reliant on just a few sources of half-court offense. The ball movement is fine, but the lack of confident shooters is inadequate. Far too many players on the roster are apprehensive when they get an open look. Anderson III, Peavy, and even Miller tend to pass up open shots for drives or additional passes.

The Horned Frogs have a few fundamental aspects down. Nevertheless, the half-court offense remains stagnant without capable attackers and floor-spacers. Miller and Jakobe Coles are solid shooters, yet look uncomfortable when launching 3-pointers. Both forwards must rely on the three ball more often. Furthermore, getting the ball to Miller in the mid-post is essential for success. Teams have been doubling bigs on the catch. If a team were to double Miller, he’d give the Horned Frogs the best chance at combatting the defensive approach.

The Play of the Week

Nothing. Morale is low. Just kidding, the Horned Frogs are still a quality team and Trey Tennyson is an all-time TCU shooter. Here’s Tennyson’s shot that