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No. 15 TCU Horned Frogs: Is TCU second-best in Big 12?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 15 TCU.


Jamie Dixon, who reached 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 seasons as Pittsburgh’s head coach, was run out of town after the 2015-16 season because he wasn’t good enough.

That’s what happens when you take a historically-downtrodden basketball program and win big for a few seasons. Missing two NCAA tournaments in a five season stretch becomes a fireable offense.

Since Pitt ran off Dixon, the Panthers have had their come-to-Jesus moment, ending the Kevin Stallings-era after just two years, one of which included a winless ACC season. Dixon, on the other hand, has landed in Fort Worth and turned TCU into a top 25 program.

Seriously.

The Horned Frogs won the NIT in Dixon’s first season at the helm, winning 24 games and finding themselves in the midst of the bubble picture in February before a seven-game losing streak to close the regular season ended those dreams. This past season, TCU was even better, as a four-game winning streak in late-February propelled Dixon to his first tournament appearance with his alma mater and TCU’s first trip to the Big Dance in 20 years.

To get an idea of the significance of what’s happening with this team right now, think about this: Since 1968, TCU has been to the NCAA tournament just four times (1971, 1987, 1998 and 2018). The last time that they reached the dance in back-to-back seasons was in 1952 and 1953. I, frankly, never thought I would see a time where TCU was the best team and, arguably, the healthiest basketball program in the state of Texas, but that’s where we are right now.

Because despite losing two starters from last year’s team, TCU looks like they should be better this year.

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TCU WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

They are going to be able to score, I have little doubt of that.

Last season, despite missing Jaylen Fisher for half of the year, the Horned Frogs finished as the No. 9 team in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, and I think they are going to be better on that end of the floor this season.

For starters, they are going to be one of the growing number of programs that will be playing with two point guards this season, as Fisher will be joined in the backcourt by Alex Robinson. Those two compliment each other well. Robinson is a slick passer that really excels in ball-screens while Fisher is a bigger, more physical athlete that has shot 39.9 percent from three on more than 200 attempts through his first two seasons. Both players notched assist rates above 30 last year, which is a very good number; to put that into context, they both averaged more than 5.4 assists.

I’d hesitate to call TCU the best backcourt in the Big 12 this season, but they are never going to be at a disadvantage there this season.

And that’s before you factor in Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi. Bane is the best shooter in the program, making 46.1 percent of this triples last season while averaging 12.3 points. He’ll be asked to play something of a bigger role this year, as replacing Kenrich Williams is not going to be an easy thing to do, but I expect him to be up to the task. Noi is the x-factor here. As a freshman, he was an impact scorer off the bench, averaging 10.2 points in just over 22 minutes a night. He’s 6-foot-7 with some length, and he shot 43.4 percent from distance while attempting the most threes of anyone on the roster.

With those two point guards and those two shooters on the floor, TCU is going to be a nightmare to defend. Depth could be a bit of an issue, as TCU’s perimeter bench options are largely unproven, but people are the program are bullish on them. R.J. Nembhard is a redshirt freshman and former four-star recruit that saw some action last season before a knee injury forced him to redshirt. Kaden Archie is TCU’s top recruit this season, while another redshirt freshman — Lat Mayen, a 6-foot-8 native of Sudan by way of Australia — fits the mold of TCU’s roster to a T; he’s a combo-forward with three-point range that was considered the top prospect in Australia in his class.

Even if those newcomers struggle to adjust to the college level, it’s hard to imagine TCU finishing the season outside the top 15 offensively.

Kouat Noi #(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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BUT TCU IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

There are real doubts about how good they are going to be on the defensive end of the floor.

The Horned Frogs finished 100th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric last season, and while Pitt had a reputation for being one of the Big East’s tough, physical defensive monsters in the mid-2000s, that mostly faded away once Ben Howland’s recruits matriculated out of the program. Dixon has had just one team finish in the top 20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric since 2007, and that was when his 2009 team finished 19th.

Not only did TCU struggle to get stops last season, but they will now be losing the guy that was one of their most important defenders in Kenrich Williams. He was the program’s best rebounder. He led the team in steals last season. He was switchable and physical and allowed TCU to be able to play four-around-one when he was on the floor because of his ability to deal with bigger defenders. Frankly, he was really underrated last season.

Bane probably isn’t big enough to fill that role. I’m not sure Noi or Mayen is physically ready for for a Big 12 battle in the paint. TCU does have an injection promising frontcourt talent coming into the program — specifically redshirt freshman Kevin Samuel and the nation’s top JuCo big man, Yuat Alok — but they will be replacing the now-graduated Vladimir Brodziansky. That should be an upgrade defensively at the very least, but it won’t necessarily make TCU a better than average team defensively.

To be clear, I don’t think they need to be Virginia. We’ve seen over and over throughout the years that, in the NCAA tournament, teams that are elite offensively and good enough defensively have more success than elite defenses that can struggle to score. But if TCU is trending towards finishing the 2018-19 season as a borderline top 100 defense, that probably isn’t “good enough”.

Jaylen Fisher (Harry How/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

This is pretty obvious, I think: Jaylen Fisher’s health.

Fisher, a Memphis native and former UNLV commit, was one of the first players to commit to Jamie Dixon when he arrived at TCU. A four-star prospect that was a top 40 recruit, Fisher has lived up to the billing. He averaged 9.9 points and 4.0 assists as a freshman. He averaged 12.3 points and 5.4 assists as a sophomore. The kid can play.

He also can barely find a way to stay healthy. A wrist injury cost him most of TCU’s NIT run when he was a freshman. A torn meniscus in his left knee suffered in August of 2017 cost him TCU’s summer trip to Australia and slowed the start to his sophomore campaign. He tore the meniscus in his right knee in January, ending his sophomore year midway through, and in early September he needed an arthroscopic procedure on the knee to clean some things up.

The hope is that Fisher is healthy by the time the season starts.

It should be noted that TCU has had success when he’s not on the floor. They won the NIT when he was out. They went 13-4 — with three overtime losses — in their 17 games after his injury last season. There are enough pieces here to make it work with or without Fisher.

But for TCU to hit their ceiling, to make a run at finishing second in the Big 12 this year, they are going to need Fisher healthy.

Hopefully, they get it.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

TCU is going to be really good. There’s little doubt that they will finish in the top half of the Big 12 once again this season; there is a clear-cut top four in the league, and TCU is one of those four.

Frankly, 15th might be somewhat high for them. I doubt there are going to be many, if any, preseason top 25s that have the Horned Frogs higher, but I also doubt there is anyone that will call you crazy for projecting TCU to get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Personally, I think the upside is there for more.

If TCU can keep Fisher healthy throughout the season, and if they find a way to be able to consistently get stops, I think we’re looking at a team that has the horses to make a run to the Final Four. Those are two pretty big ‘ifs’, I know, but they are certainly within the range of outcomes for this group.

It should be a fun year in Fort Worth.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Wesson, No. 6 Ohio State unload on Penn State 106-74

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds for his ninth career double-double, helping No. 6 Ohio State rout Penn State 106-74 on Saturday.

Ohio State scored 100 points against a Big Ten rival for the first time since 1991.

Four players hit double figures for the Buckeyes (9-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who shot 57.4 percent from the field. Andre Wesson scored 15, and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad each had 14.

Izaiah Brockington scored 19 points and Seth Lundy added 10 for the Nittany Lions (7-2, 0-1), who lost for the second time in four games and gave up 100 points for the first time since 2017. Penn State managed just 25 rebounds, far below its average of 44.

Senior Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s leading scorer averaging 17.9 points, managed just 11 against the Buckeyes and fouled out after getting a technical with 13:26 left in the second half.

Ohio State started the first half 1 for 6 from beyond the arc, but started draining 3-pointers in the second half, hitting 14 of 26 for 53.8 percent for the game. The Buckeyes were led by Washington, who hit four straight and Kaleb Wesson who shot 4 for 6 from long range, including three straight in the second half. Ohio State now has back-to-back games with 10 or more 3-pointers.

BIG PICTURE

Penn State: After showing early promise, Lions ran into Ohio State’s potent offense.

Ohio State: Solidified its standing as a Top 10 team, dominating every facet of the game and dispatching Penn State with ease.

UP NEXT

Penn State: At Maryland Tuesday.

Ohio State: At Minnesota Dec. 15.

Balanced effort leads No. 24 Butler past Florida 76-62

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sean McDermott and Aaron Thompson each scored 16 points to lead No. 24 Butler to a 76-62 win over Florida on Saturday.

Thompson made 6 of 7 shots and delivered seven assists. McDermott contributed a team-high seven rebounds.

Jordan Tucker added 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (9-0). Kamar Baldwin, who was averaging a team-high 17.5 points for Butler, scored 12 points.

Baldwin picked up two fouls in the first 3-plus minutes of the game and was limited to 11 minutes in the first half. The senior guard finished with three fouls.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Florida (6-3) with 17 points. Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke each scored 11.

The Bulldogs shot 52% percent while holding the Gators to 44%. Butler made 9 of 20 3-pointers while Florida was 6 of 21. Each team had 10 turnovers.

The Gators, who trailed by nine at halftime, narrowed the deficit to six points twice before the Bulldogs pulled away. Butler’s largest lead was 19 points at 61-42 with 7:33 remaining.

Butler finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a 35-26 lead at halftime. Trailing 21-16, the Bulldogs had an 11-0 run.

Butler owns the nation’s longest streak of consecutive non-conference home victories at 56.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: After a solid start on the road, the Gators’ four-game winning streak end with a thud. Entering the game with a 30% average from 3-point range, Florida shot 23%.

Butler: The Bulldogs won their third meeting with an SEC opponent in the last four games, previously beating Missouri 63-52 in the Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 24 and host Mississippi 67-58 Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Florida: Home game against another Big East opponent Providence on Dec. 17.

Butler: Travels to No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday.

No. 18 Baylor beats No. 12 Arizona 63-58 as fans get free tickets

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WACO, Texas — MaCio Teague scored 19 points, Freddie Gillespie had 17 points and 13 rebounds and No. 18 Baylor defeated No. 12 Arizona 63-58 on Saturday for the Wildcats’ first loss.

Admission was free at Baylor’s campus arena because the Bears were playing Oklahoma in the Big 12 football championship game, which started about the same time 100 miles north of Waco at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

It was supposed to be the first true road game for the Wildcats (9-1), but their fans might have outnumbered the Baylor contingent. They loudly chanted “U of A” before the Baylor introductions but had a hard time getting into the game early, with Arizona giving up a 15-0 run and shooting 33 percent in the first half.

The Wildcats, whose 52-game home winning streak was stopped by Baylor last December, did enough to stay close and had the fans chanting several times in the second half.

Arizona finally got the deficit under six by scoring five points on one possession to get within 57-56 with less than two minutes remaining. Jemarl Baker Jr. hit a 3 as a foul was called and Zeke Nnaji made both free throws.

Teague, who was 9 of 10 on free throws, made a pair at the other end, then blocked a 3-point attempt by Nico Mannion, who led the Wildcats with 15 points. Leading by four, Baylor got another block from Gillespie in the final minute.

Nnaji scored 12 for Arizona, which made just two of 18 3-pointers after coming in sixth in the nation at 43% shooting from long range. The last miss came from Josh Green with a chance to tie in the final seconds.

The Bears (7-1) started hot in the fourth-ever Top 25 matchup in Waco but cooled off while Arizona simply stayed cold. Baylor shot 30% to 27% for the Wildcats, who came in fourth in the nation in scoring at 87.1 points per game.

The Wildcats stayed close by making free throws. Mannion was 8 of 8 and Chase Jeter matched Teague by going 9 of 10. Arizona was 28 of 34 from the line.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats didn’t play well in their first real test this season, and first true road game against ranked team since beating rival Arizona State 77-70 in February 2018. Arizona won’t have to wait long for the next one. No. 9 Gonzaga visits next Saturday.

Baylor: The Bears took control early without a lot of help from Jared Butler, third in the Big 12 in scoring coming in. The sophomore guard didn’t score until after the 15-0 run that put Baylor up 22-8 and finished with 13 points.

UP NEXT

Arizona: Omaha at home Wednesday.

Baylor: Butler at home Tuesday.

Best Bets: Previewing the weekend’s biggest college basketball games

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There are no Vegas lines for these games just yet. All analysis will be based on KenPom projections, which typically end up close to the opening lines anyway.

No. 7 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 5 VIRGINIA, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Virginia 61, North Carolina 55
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am going to be fascinated to see where the line for this game opens up, because neither of these teams are playing all that well right now, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia was blown out by unranked Purdue on the road, 69-40, while North Carolina is coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in their own building, 74-49.

My initial lean here is going to be the Virginia side, depending on how much they are laying, but I do think that the best bet would likely be the under assuming the line opens at or around 116. The logic is relatively simple, really. Virginia has still been one of college basketball’s most intimidating defenses this season despite what happened against Purdue. While nice, 69 points doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 1.19 points-per-possession the Boilermakers did post was one of just four times in the last two-plus years that a team has done that against Virginia.

Purdue has done it twice.

That’s because the Boilermakers run the precise kind of action you need to run to beat the Pack-Line. There is a ton of motion, guys running off of screens every which way and action happening simultaneously on both sides of the floor. This is not what North Carolina does, and when combined with the fact that – as shown in the video embedded below – the Tar Heels have basically one option offensively right now, leads me to believe that the Wahoos will control tempo, overwhelm UNC defensively and keep this game in the 50s.

Think about it like this. Ohio State-UNC finished at 123 total points. Virginia is the only defense in the country ranked higher on KenPom that Ohio State, and Virginia is a full 100 spots lower offensively.

PICKS: I like Virginia -5 and below, and I like the under for everything 115 and above.

No. 12 ARIZONA at No. 18 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 75, Arizona 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

There are a couple of things to take into account here.

For starters, this game is being played in Waco, but there are some real questions about just how much of a home court advantage the Bears are going to have here. The football team is in the Big 12 title game, which will be played at the same time. I have a feeling that is going to take priority for the majority of the Baylor fanbase. Baylor has resorted to giving away free tickets to make sure the stands are filled.

That said, I think that Baylor has the matchup advantage here. The Bears haven’t been playing as much zone this year but it’s still something they can fall back into, which will be tricky for an Arizona team built around three freshmen. I also think the size Baylor has inside is less than ideal for a team that relies on Zeke Nnaji quite a bit. Then throw in the fact that this is Arizona’s first true road game and first game outside of the western time zone, and I like the spot for Baylor.

PICKS: I’m refraining from betting on this. I don’t have a great feel.

No. 9 GONZAGA at No. 22 WASHINGTON, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 73, Washington 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

A rivalry game, one where I expect Gonzaga to be favored on the road. I think I like Washington here. I don’t fully trust Gonzaga’s guard play at this point in the season, and if anyone remembers the way that the Washington-Baylor game ended the first week of the season, Isaiah Stewart completely dominated Baylor’s frontline down the stretch. I can see that happening again, considering just how much Gonzaga relies on running offense through their posts.

PICKS: I think Washington will win, so getting the Huskies on the money line at +125 would be nice.

FLORIDA at No. 24 BUTLER, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 63, Florida 57
  • TICKETS: Click here

We’ve been betting Butler this season because the Bulldogs have been undervalued by the market all year. But now that they have that number next to their name and coming off of a really impressive win at Ole Miss, I think our chance to be all in on this team may have come to an end.

I also think that six points is a lot in this matchup, which I expect to be really low-scoring. The Gators can defend, are good at running teams off of the three-point line and can’t make threes themselves. They have a number of guards they can throw at Kamar Baldwin and have shown no desire to play fast at all this season. Butler is 348th in average possession length offensively.

PICKS: Let’s see where the total opens, but if it’s in the low-to-mid 120s, I think the under is the play in this game.

No. 20 COLORADO at No. 2 KANSAS, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 73, Colorado 65
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am definitely looking forward to this game because I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really watch Colorado yet this season. I saw a little bit of their game against Arizona State in the opener, but that’s it. So keep that in mind as I proceed to tout the Buffaloes. Here’s the logic: The Jayhawks want to run their offense through Udoka Azubuike in the post, and Colorado is top ten nationally in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have big bodies, they have strong posts and they can make life tough for Azubuike inside.

PICKS: I think this line will open up higher than Colorado (+8). Getting the Buffaloes (+10.5) would make all of my wildest dreams come true.

No. 19 DAYTON vs. SAINT MARY’S, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (Phoenix)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 70, Saint Mary’s 68
  • TICKETS: Click here

I’ll be on Dayton here. What makes Saint Mary’s dangerous is their ability to spread teams out with their shooting and create mismatches all over the court. Dayton does the same thing, only they have Player of the Year candidate Obi Toppin creating mismatches, who should, in theory, be able to limit Malik Fitts’ advantage at the four. Playing this game at a neutral site is a bonus as well.

PICKS: I like Dayton up to (-4.5), and I would think about the under as well. Both of these teams are built on shooting, and neutral sites environments can be tough to shoot in. Saint Mary’s wanting to play at a slow pace will help as well.

CINCINNATI at XAVIER, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Xavier 73, Cincinnati 67
  • TICKETS: Click here

My take on Cincinnati is that the Bearcats are overvalued right now. The biggest reason for that is that there seems to still be some tension between new head coach John Brannen and star guard Jarron Cumberland. I also think that Xavier is one of the teams that is being undervalued at this point. I know they struggle shooting the rock, but they are tough, they are athletic and they have a couple of game-changers in Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs. If Kyky Tandy can provide a bit of shooting and Quentin Goodin is truly out of his funk, the Musketeers are a top 20 team.

The only concern I have: This is a rivalry game. If Jarron Cumberland is ever going to play like a National Player of the Year candidate, this is the game he’ll do it.

PICKS: I will probably be staying away at Xavier (-6).

CBT Podcast: Georgetown’s problems, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a weekend preview

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan from the Fundamentally Sound podcast go through everything that happened in a wild week of basketball, from the four – yes, four! – blowouts of in the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as well as the rise of DePaul and the enigma that is Indiana. Rob also discusses the situation at Georgetown at the top, and the podcast ends with a preview of what should be a lively weekend of college hoops.