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KU Hoops Preview: TCU

Big 12 play begins!

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Series-Toronto-Clemson at Texas Christian John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The non-con is behind us, with Kansas coming out of it at 12-1, ranked 2nd in the country. More advanced analytics don’t quite see them as a top 5 team, but with the Big 12 being far and away the toughest league in the country, the next couple of months will provide plenty of opportunities to sort things out.

The Big 12 slate starts with what qualifies as one of the “easier” contests on the schedule, a home game against TCU, ranked 33rd nationally by KenPom. There is a storyline in this game connecting these two squads. You may remember that Ernest Udeh, backup center for last year’s KU squad (and thought to potentially become the starter had Hunter Dickinson not transferred), went to Ft. Worth in the offseason. He showed increasing flashes of being a rim running center with great shot blocking potential as last season went on. So far this year, those flashes have yet to turn into anything consistent for Udeh at TCU. While Udeh has started every game, he averages just 15.5 minutes per game, playing in less than 40% of the team’s available minutes. A lot of that has to do with foul trouble, as Udeh averages 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Both his block rate and steal rate are down from his freshman year at Kansas, and his offensive game largely consists of shots at the rim, or getting hacked and sent to the line, where he’s nearly in Udoka Azubuike range as a shooter. He’s early in his sophomore year and still has time to put things together, but as of now it’s unlikely he’ll show more than some flashes (and fouls) in limited minutes Saturday.

There’s plenty more to this TCU team than Udeh. Emmanuel Miller has to be mentioned, averaging 16 points per game while hitting almost 36% from three, and getting to the line efficiently, where he hits 85% of his shots. A big key to Miller’s game is his ability to shoot, get to the basket, and even dish out a few assists while very rarely turning the ball over (his TO rate is just 9.5%, which is pretty stunning for a high usage player). Miller is a 6’7 wing and likely to demand Kevin McCullar’s defensive services when they’re both in the game. Other players to watch are Jameer Nelson, one of the nation’s top steal threats, and JaKobe Coles, the team’s second-leading scorer who hits nearly 39% of his threes. If you’re like me and always waiting to see which player is going to come off the bench and bury a bunch of threes, TCU’s player to watch is Trey Tennyson, who doesn’t start but leads the team in 3 point attempts anyway, and is burying them at a 44% clip.

Stylistically, this TCU team likes to turn as many possessions into transition opportunities as possible. Their temp is the fastest in the Big 12 and among the faster tempos in D1. KenPom likes their defense (ranked 32nd) a bit more than their offense (ranked 49th), but they’re a fairly balanced team. Though they have some shooting, the team as a whole doesn’t attempt many threes and is sitting around 33% for the year so far. Their primary offense is getting the ball and heading straight to the rim, where they’re a top 20 two point shooting team that’s good at getting to the line and hitting their free throws. Kansas, who has been a poor offensive rebounding team this year, needs to make the most of their shots in the half court offense, because TCU is unlikely to give them second chances. TCU is an outstanding rebounding team on both ends of the court, and they limit opponents to hitting 47% of their twos and block 11% of shots without allowing a ton of free throw attempts. In a perfect world, this would be a team to attack with great three point shooting, but that’s not this Kansas team’s M.O. This Kansas team has, however, struggled with turnovers at times, and that’s probably the scariest thing about this matchup. TCU is 6th nationally in steal rate, and 10th nationally in forcing turnovers. Kansas needs to be very careful handling the ball and making passes, because TCU lives to jump the passing lanes and get transition buckets, rather than turning games into a half-court battle.


This Kansas team has often showcased Bill Self’s ability to orchestrate late-game wins in close contests, and my guess is that we’ll see it again Saturday. TCU absolutely has the talent and playing style to make Kansas look sloppy. I’m confident Self has a gameplan to minimize that, but he’s also limited by the players he has on the roster, which means guards who turn it over a little too often. Playing at home, I expect KU to be a 6 or 7 point favorite, and I see this as a game that will almost certainly be decided by single digits in one way or another. If the game were in Ft. Worth, on that court that only I seem to like, I would be picking TCU right now. But at Allen Fieldhouse I think KU will take every opportunity to slow the game down from TCU’s preferred pace and as long as they don’t give the ball away, I trust them to execute on the offensive end against TCU a bit more than I trust the Horned Frogs to compromise KU’s defense.

Kansas 74, TCU 70