The last time KU faced TCU, it did not go well for the Jayhawks. Coming off a tough overtime road loss to Kansas State, Kansas was back in the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse, facing a struggling TCU squad that was off to just a 3-3 start in Big 12 play. The Horned Frogs handed Kansas their second-worst home loss since Bill Self arrived in 2003. The Jayhawks lost that one 83-60, in what would turn out to be the second game of a three game losing streak.
It’s been a bumpy ride for TCU since that game. At first glance, it might appear that they fell apart, losing five of their next seven games, including two double digit losses. However, during this time they were battling major injury issues. Mike Miles, Jr, who just happens to be TCU’s best player, missed five games following a knee injury he sustained in the overtime loss to Mississppi State in the Big 12-SEC challenge. Despite leaving that game and missing the next five, Miles remains the team’s leader in points scored, and averages nearly 18 per game. Miles isn’t a great three point shooter, hitting just 31.8% of his 66 tries this year, but he more than makes up for it by getting to the basket to wreak havoc. It’s almost unheard of for a guard to hit 63% of his twos, but that’s exactly what Miles has done this season. And if he doesn’t finish at the rim, there’s a good chance he’ll head to free throw line anyway, boasting a 60% free throw rate, averaging just under seven free throw attempts per game, and hitting 72.7% when he gets there. Just how important is Miles to TCU? Well, he returned Saturday for their game against Oklahoma State, and the Frogs immediately put up 100 points for a second time this season. Miles contributed 15 of those while hitting 50% of his shots. The other big time injury they’ve dealt with was to their top big man, Eddie Lampkin Jr. He went down with an injury in the first game between this teams, and would miss three of the team’s next four games. He once again sat just over a week ago in TCU’s loss to Baylor. Lampkin still isn’t back to playing a normal allotment of minutes, getting just 14 minutes in Saturday’s game. When Lampkin is at 100%, he’s an outstanding offensive rebounder, passes well for a big man, and plays solid post defense without fouling too much.
As a team, it’s tough to look at TCU’s season-long numbers and draw confident conclusions. With Miles out they lost four straight games, but it seemed like they were getting things straightened out before that happened, having notched wins over Kansas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma before the injury. and were sitting at 16-4 on the year. KenPom ranks them 44th nationally in offense, and 29th in defense. However, a team losing their top scorer is typically going have some difficulty offensively. In their four losses with Miles, they scored over 1 point per possession just once. With Miles in Big 12 play, they’ve scored a least 1 PPP in seven of their nine games. It’s clear he makes a difference.
One thing fans should be able to relax about in this one, following the Baylor game in which the Bears seemed to hit every three they tried in the first half, is TCU’s perimeter shooting. Anyone can get hot at any time, of course, but for the year TCU is among the absolute worst 3 point shooting teams in the country. They actually rank 352nd out of 358 teams, hitting a miserable 29.2%. It hasn’t improved in league play either, where they’re dead last in the Big 12 at 29%. They also shoot the fewest threes of any team in the conference though, so don’t expect them to beat their heads against a wall by jacking up three after three. Despite their hideous shooting, this team actually ranks 1st in Big 12 play in eFG%, by virtue of ranking first from inside arc, where they hit an outstanding 56%. And again, they were missing their top scorer in nearly a third of the games that make up that number. This team has a lot of players who take and make good shots around the rim, so KJ Adams and Ernest Udeh will need to be ready to make things as difficult as possible in the paint for TCU. And since TCU has an abundance of wings between 6’4 and 6’7 who shoot very effectively in the paint, Kevin McCullar will also be a major factor. It’s noteworthy, then, that after Saturday’s win over Baylor he indicated that McCullar’s ankle is not nearly 100%. That’s bad news heading into a game where his defense might be a huge factor in limiting TCU on the scoreboard.
While TCU gets to the line a fair amount when they have the ball, they rarely send the other team to the free throw stripe. Their opponents’ 29.1% free throw rate ranks them first in the Big 12, Their other major area of strength defensively is forcing turnovers. They rank 2nd in the conference by turning their opponents over almost 22% of the time. However, they allow league opponents to shoot 51.6% from two, ranking eighth. That means players like McCullar and Jalen Wilson need to be aggressive when driving, while Adams and Udeh will need to look for easy opportunities in the paint. TCU is also 8th in defensive rebounding, so while KU has not been a great offensive rebounding team this year, they may be able to steal a few extra shots if they crash the offensive glass.
This team boatraced Kansas in Lawrence, so it’s hard to feel very confident about the rubber match in Ft Worth. KU will enter this game a very slight underdog, and it’s not hard to come up with explanations for why they might win, or why they might really struggle. The Jayhawks’ 2 point defense is now at the top of the league, which makes TCU’s best offensive attribute a battle of strength vs strength. The first time these teams played, TCU was around their Big 12 play average in hitting 55% from inside the arc. TCU also burned KU from the three point line, where they went 8-15 (53%). It’s hard to see them shooting so effectively from outside, even on low volume, a second time, given where they sit in that category for the year to date. Kansas helped them out by making just 42% of their twos while making just 33% of their threes. It’s not hard to see why Kansas scored just 60 and lost the game.
It would be very unlikely for KU to come out and struggle again on their twos while TCU comes out and once again hits half their threes. Still, this is a dangerous matchup for Kansas. TCU will no doubt look to get the hampered McCullar into foul trouble, something he’s prone to anyway, as well as Adams and Udeh who are no strangers to fouling either. This would be a great game for Gradey Dick to get going from outside again, having gone just 2-8 in their first meeting, and shooting just 11-33 (33%) from outside since the Kentucky game. On the bright side, he’s finding other ways to score, but KU needs someone to hit their threes if they want to keep the defense honest and spread out. A Dick rising to the occasion would be a great asset in this game, where TCU may just go out and get themselves a lot of points again. It would also be a good time for Wilson, very much a volume scorer of late, to take advantage of TCU’s mediocre defense in the paint, to have a more efficient shooting game to get some extra points on the board. I don’t see another beatdown, because the way it happened in the first game was a bit fluky. Still, I see a game where some of KU’s most important defensive players end up in foul trouble, and where TCU once again scores over 1 PPP. At that point, it comes down to how well Kansas shoots it. If Kansas can duplicate their shooting from the Baylor game, even despite their poor three point shooting, the Jayhawks should certainly come out on top. Unfortunately, TCU is healthy once again, and their 100 point statement against Oklahoma State over the weekend has me concerned.
TCU 80, Kansas 75