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Monday Morning Point Guard: The Frogs disappoint in Ames

TCU returned to play this Saturday but performed less than stellar in a 12-point loss.

TCU v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

The Horned Frogs have now dropped back-to-back games after winning three consecutive contests. TCU fell to the Iowa State Cyclones by the score of 71-59 on Saturday. Losing to the Cyclones isn’t unusual for the Horned Frogs. TCU has lost five in a row versus Iowa State. The last time the Frogs defeated the Cyclones was in the 2021-22 season.

Earlier in the season, TCU lost to Iowa State in Fort Worth after committing a season-high 27 turnovers. This time around, the Horned Frogs took better care of the ball, but the offense didn’t fare much better.

The Horned Frogs shot just 44.2 percent from the field, 29.4 percent from downtown, and 50.0 percent from the charity stripe. The Cyclones held the Horned Frogs to a season-low 59 points, almost 23 points lower than their season average. Before more analysis is done, we’ll dive into this week’s “Monday Morning Point Guard.”

The Good

The second unit: The starters combined for just 31 points, while the reserves totaled 28. TCU star forward led the way with 18 points, yet no other starter scored more than five. Meanwhile, Jakobe Coles led all bench scorers with 14 points. Jameer Nelson Jr. added six, and then, both Chuck O’Bannon and Xavier Cork scored four. Coles has continued to play well. Following a rough stretch to begin conference play, the junior forward has scored double-digits in three straight games. Coles scoring came with great efficiency, he went 5-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.

Perhaps one of the best qualities of this year’s team is the depth of the roster. The Horned Frogs consistently run a nine-man rotation, with a 10th just on the peripheral. Nelson Jr. has proved to be a solid contributor off the bench. Furthermore, Cork and O’Bannon are capable of providing a spark at any moment with rim-rocking jams and timely buckets.

Emanuel Miller: By far the most consistent player on the team, Emanuel Miller dropped 18 points and hauled in six boards against the Cyclones. He also did so with his usual extreme efficiency. Miller went 8-of-12 from the floor and cashed in on one of his two looks from behind the arc. A 40.7 shooter from 3-point range, Miller kicked off the game with an early triple. He did most of his damage in the second half, scoring just five points in the first 20 minutes.

Miller scored a third of the Horned Frogs’ second-half points. He orchestrated multiple runs to bring TCU closer to the leading Cyclones. With a little over 11 minutes to go, Miller scored five straight to narrow the lead from 12 to seven in just 67 seconds. A few minutes later, the senior forward scored four quick points to cut the lead to eight with six minutes to go. Miller was the only Horned Frog starter to produce at even an average level. Without Miller, TCU would look like an entirely different squad.

The Bad

Slow starts: The Horned Frogs led the Cyclones by two points with 17 minutes to go. However, after two early triples, TCU failed to record a field goal for nine straight minutes. The Horned Frogs came out slow and looked unable to muster anything at all on the offensive end of the floor. The halfcourt offense looked atrocious after the two early 3-pointers. From 17 and a half minutes to 10 minutes, the Horned Frogs turned it over five times and went 0-of-10 from the floor.

Too often the Horned Frogs have fallen behind quickly in winnable games. Just three weeks ago, the Horned Frogs suffered the same fate against the Cyclones. In that contest, TCU trailed by 11 points after five minutes of action. The poor start led to an 18-point halftime deficit, forcing the Horned Frogs to mount a massive comeback to bring the game within striking distance.

Free throw shooting: The Horned Frogs converted on 8-of-16 free throws against the Cyclones. On the year, TCU ranks in the middle of the pack amongst Big 12 squads, shooting 71.7 percent from the line. Without glancing over conference stats, would assume the Horned Frogs would likely rank in the latter half of the fourteen schools. TCU rosters one confident shooter, Trey Tennyson. Unfortunately for the Frogs, Tennyson has attempted only 22 free throws this season, 19 of which he’s made.

Other than Tennyson, just two Horned Frogs have connected on 80 percent or higher of their freebies. For the most part, TCU players don’t look confident from the line. It appears as if the Horned Frogs are projecting a miss from the line. Nelson Jr., Ernest Udeh Jr., and Micah Peavy all lack confidence from the free throw line. Each player is athletic enough to draw fouls, yet none of the three look comfortable from the line. The aforementioned players have each missed at least 20 free throws this season.

Against Iowa State, only one Horned Frog shot better than 50 percent from the line, Avery Anderson III. Every other TCU player who attempted a free throw missed half or all their looks from the free-throw line. Free throw shooting hasn’t been a major weakness thus far, but it’s cause for concern when a majority of the Horned Frogs don’t aspire much confidence shooting the game’s easiest shot.

Guard play: The TCU guard play has subtly declined throughout conference play. Sure, Nelson Jr. and Anderson III have had big games, but neither guard has proved to be a consistent scorer or facilitator. Tennyson can be grouped in with the others, but he’s more of an off-guard who should be spotting up for catch-and-shoot triples rather than initiating the offense.

Against Iowa State, Nelson Jr. and Anderson III combined for 11 points, 7 assists, no steals, and 3 turnovers. The lead guard pair knocked down only 4-of-11 field goals. Group Tennyson and Peavy into the mix and TCU guards managed to connect on 5-of-23 attempts from the floor. It was a poor showing from the Frogs’ guard. The Iowa State defense proved to be too tall of a task for TCU ball handlers.

A common theme throughout conference play is the doubling of the ball handler coming off a pick-and-roll. After a simple double-team, TCU guards appear quickly outmatched. Neither Nelson Jr. nor Anderson III has proven to be skilled facilitators when pressured. Far too many times were open rollers missed when the opposing big attacked the pick-and-roll ball handler.

Teams are beginning to double the Horned Frogs guards for two reasons. First, not one player on the roster is capable of making a play when doubled. No Horned Frog can dribble out of a double team, nor can they swing it to an open man before a double comes. Second, TCU bigs are incapable of making a play in a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 situation. From now on, using Miller or Coles would make the most sense as a screen setter. While a premier pick-and-roll ball handler doesn’t appear to be on the roster, it’s the coaching that’ll determine if Nelson Jr. and Anderson III are capable of figuring out what to do when the double team comes.

The Play of the Game

Udeh Jr.’s monster slam sparked a short-lived comeback.