Conference play starts tonight, with the Kansas Jayhawks traveling to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs. With new head coach (and former Pitt coach) Jamie Dixon leading the charge this year, there has been surprisingly little coverage of this team. To help familiarize us with our opponent for tonight, I reached out to Chris Conaty over at Frogs O’ War, who was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: So obviously TCU underwent some big changes since last year, hiring Jamie Dixon away from Pitt. How has the hiring affected the fanbase coming into this year?
FOW: There has been more buzz around this program since Dixon arrived then over the past four seasons combined.I feel like a good portion of TCU fans had kept tabs on Dixon at Pitt since he was a notable Horned Frog alumnus and seeing him come home brought a lot of excitement. He’d taken the Panthers to 11 NCAA tournaments over the past 13 seasons, which is 11 more times than TCU has been over that time. Fans are also excited to see some big-time recruits like Jaylen Fisher signing with the Frogs since Dixon made the switch. This program has a lot of momentum and fans are fired up.
RCT: TCU has started off hot again this year, only losing at SMU in the nonconference schedule. The team had a similar start back in 2015, where they went undefeated in the nonconference before starting the conference season with only 1 win in the first 11 games. What similarities do you see between those two teams, and what gives you hope that this won’t be a repeat of 2015?
FOW: One major similarity that is glaring between these two teams is the emergence of Kenrich Williams. Williams was a star in the 2015 season and brought a lot of toughness and energy to that squad. After missing last year with an injury, Williams is back and he is leading the Big 12 in rebounding which is incredible for a wing player in a league with such good post players. He is also helping out on the offensive end, putting up 10.4 points per game.
The main reason I believe this season won’t be a repeat of 2015 is the increased depth on this team. In the 2015 season, TCU had a fairly young team and for the most part only used a 7-man rotation. Everyone else on the roster played less than 10 minutes per game. On this year’s team, we have seen balance and depth. So far, we have seen nine different players averaging more than 10 minutes per game and have six players averaging 8+ points per game. Some of that may be due to Dixon rotating the roster and seeing what he has, but this roster seems to be much deeper than two years ago.
RCT: Speaking of the Big 12, the conference appears to be loaded yet again this year. With only 3 teams having more than 2 losses, there appear to be 3 distinct tiers of teams this year, with 3 teams on top (Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor), 5 teams in the middle and Oklahoma and Texas on the bottom. How do you see the conference shaking out this year, and how many teams do you see making the NCAA Tournament?
FOW: The Big 12 is definitely split into three tiers at this point. Oklahoma and Texas are currently on course to be sitting at home in March. Both teams are talented but seem very inexperienced. Texas seems to have a more talented bunch but can’t be dropping home games if they want to make the NCAA tournament. As I see it today, I’ll put Kansas, West Virginia, and Baylor definitely in. Iowa State is usually very tough in Ames and Monte Morris is a star so I expect them to be playing in the NCAA tournament has well. I think the league will get to 6 teams in the tournament but the last two spots will be up for grabs between TCU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Texas Tech. I’ll give the Frogs and the Pokes the edge for now due to a stronger non-conference slate.
RCT: With so many big names around the nation and no Kyan Anderson-type player on this roster, there isn’t a lot of national coverage for this team. Who are the key players on this TCU team?
FOW: I already mentioned Kenrich Williams, but two other players of note are point guards Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson. Great teams are led by their point guards, and if TCU wants to get to the next level, they will need these guys to continue to play at a high level. Fisher is the star freshman for the Frogs. He is the highest-rated recruit to ever sign with TCU and he has done a good job stepping up to the college game. Robinson joined the Frogs last season as a transfer from Texas A&M and was finally eligible to play this season. He has had a couple major performances this year, including dropping 24 points on Washington in the Global Sports Classic championship in Las Vegas. Both of these point guards can play at the same time and it allows the Frogs’ offense to move the ball and find openings in any opponent’s defense. They both are top two on the team in points and assists per game.
RCT: What are the key matchups for this game? If TCU pulls the upset, what big things have to happen?
FOW: The two key matchups to watch in this game are Robinson & Fisher vs. Mason and K. Williams vs. Jackson. If TCU wants to come away with a win over the Jayhawks, they will have to lock down both of those players. Williams will have to challenge Jackson and keep the defensive pressure on him. He will also have to keep Jackson off of the boards and help limit Kansas’ second chances. The Frogs’ point guards will have to keep Mason from getting going offensively and make him uncomfortable. As a team, TCU will have to crash the boards and make sure they aren’t giving Kansas more than one opportunity to score per possession. On offense, they will have to do the little things right. Attacking the basket and getting players in foul trouble will be helpful, but the Frogs have to convert at the free throw line to keep things competitive. They will also need to take care of the ball and limit the Jayhawks ability to get out and run. The last thing TCU will need is Josh Jackson getting a breakaway throwdown to steal all of the momentum.
RCT: Prediction Time! How do you see this game actually going? Who is the high scorer for each team?
FOW: This is tough. If this game was later on the schedule I would pick TCU to win. However, a lot of Frog fans will be in Memphis for our bowl game and students are all at home for the break. That mixed with how well Kansas fans travel means Schollmaier Arena will be filled with blue and red. TCU will be able to compete but will ultimately come up short 83-72. Williams will lead the Frogs in scoring by attacking the basket and getting to the line and I think Mykhailiuk will lead the Jayhawks in this game. We have struggled to defend good three-point shooters and a lot of emphasis will be put on Mason and Jackson.
RCT: BONUS - Help us settle a big debate. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Defend your position.
FOW: I have to say yes. Anything that has some sort of filling between bread is a sandwich to me. I compare it to getting a meatball sandwich somewhere. The bread may not be split into two pieces, but it is still considered a sandwich.
A big thanks to Chris (even if he is horribly wrong on his hot dog takes). Don’t forget to check out the questions that I answered for him over on Frogs O’ War.