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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

VIDEO: Memphis had some laughably bad flops against Tennessee

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The highlight of No. 3 Tennessee’s win at Memphis on Saturday wasn’t the win itself or a Memphis fan deciding he needed to find some relief behind a concession stand.

It was the laughably bad flopping efforts by the Memphis guards:

Actually, let me take that back.

What is actually laughably bad here is that two of these flops were actually called as offensive fouls.

Seriously, watch that first clip and explain to me how a referee standing ten feet away can possibly believe that was a real foul.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson reigns again

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Nothing has changed with Zion since last week as Duke has yet to play since the last time we rolled out these rankings. We will, however, get a better sense of what he is able to do come Thursday, when the Blue Devils take on No. 11 Texas Tech, the only team in college basketball that has yet to allow more than 1.0 points-per-possession to a team this season.

2. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

The only game that the Badgers played last week was against Savannah State, and Happ finished with 18 points, 11 boards and six assists. The only reason this is relevant is because is bumped Happ up to averaging 5.0 assists on the season, so I can now say that he’s averaging 19 points, 10 boards and five assists. Not bad.

3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Ditto, Zion Williamson.

4. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

I asked around about Grant Williams this week, talking to a few coaches that have scouted or game-planned for him, to try and get a sense for what makes this undersized four-man so good this year. Some mentioned the fact that his long arms make him bigger than he is. Others mentioned his sneaky-athleticism, and that he’s able to step out on the perimeter and be a threat more this year than in the pass.

But one thing that I did hear was how good Williams is as a high-low passer and how well Rick Barnes is able to incorporate this into the offense that the Vols run. The advantage here is that Williams is able to pull a bigger player away from the rim, particularly since he is now effective shooting from beyond the arc. It also allows Rick Barnes to attack matchups, particularly when Admiral Schofield is on the floor. Schofield is 6-foot-5 but is built like a wrestler while also being able to elevate over most defenders. The third clip in the video below shows a perfect example of Williams pulling size out of the paint to allow Schofield to post-up a smaller Zach Norvell Jr.:

5. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

One thing that I have touched on over and over again is that Rui Hachimura is not a great defender on the perimeter. According to Synergy, he’s allowed 25 points in 23 possessions where he was isolated defensively, and the 1.087 points-per-possession that he has allowed is good for the 14th percentile nationally.

It has gotten to the point that opposing offenses target the matchup with Hachimura. Mark Few has been mixing up his defenses this season, but one of the things that he does quite a bit is to switch everything on the perimeter, and when he does, opponents have had a tendency to create those switches until they get the matchup they want: Hachimura guarding a ball-handler on the perimeter. The last three clips in the video below show that happening:

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter had one of his worst games of the season the last time we saw the Wahoos play, but that was last Sunday. UVA is at South Carolina this week.

7. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Texas Tech has looked really good this season. They’ve also played Nebraska, USC and Memphis … and that’s basically it. We’ll be able to better have this conversation on Friday morning, after the Red Raiders get Duke in Madison Square Garden.

8. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson was awesome again on Saturday, going for 28 points and 12 boards as Kansas knocked off Villanova in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The only reason that I don’t have Lawson ranked higher than this is that he might not actually be the best player on his own team this season; Lagerald Vick, when he’s not benched or suspended, has been a monster.

9. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker was the best player on the floor for the the Hokies as they smoked Washington in Atlantic City on Saturday. He finished with 24 points and three assists, a return to dominance in the first game Virginia Tech has played against a relevant opponent in nearly three weeks.

10. CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan

This is the first appearance for Matthews — for any Michigan player — in the top ten of these rankings. I’m torn on who from that team should be considered their all-american candidate. I’ve discussed this before, but the way that this Michigan team is built does not lend itself to having a player in that mix. Zavier Simpson is their leader, but that doesn’t really show up in the box score. Ignas Brazdeikis is the team’s leading scorer, but this is a team that wins with defense. Jon Teske is the most-improved player on the roster. Jordan Poole is in that conversation as well.

But for my money, Matthews — who is an alpha defensively, plays a leadership role himself and is the team’s second-leading scorer — is the guy that should get the nod.

IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Luguentz Dort (Arizona State) Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Ja Morant (Murray State), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), Lagerald Vick (Kansas)

Trent Forrest helps No. 11 Florida State beat SE Missouri 85-68

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Trent Forrest scored a career high 23 points and freshman Devin Vassell added 16 points as No. 11 Florida State overcame a sluggish first half and beat Southeast Missouri 85-68 on Monday night.

Forrest shot 8 for 12 from the floor, and had a team-high eight rebounds and four assists to help the Seminoles (9-1) win their fourth straight.

Florida State secured its 30th straight non-conference home win. Nebraska is the last non-conference team to defeat the Seminoles, 70-65 on Dec. 1, 2014.

Ledarrius Brewer scored 16 points and Skyler Hogan added 14 points for Southeast Missouri (5-7).

Christ Koumadje added seven rebounds as Florida State outrebounded the undersized Redhawks 46-28.

Southeast Missouri led 47-42 with 14:46 to go but Florida State went on a 12-0 run to take control for good.

The Seminoles shot 50 percent (31 for 62). They were just 1 for 12 on 3-pointers in the first half before finishing 6 for 24.

Florida State senior forward Phil Cofer played for the first time this season after missing nine games due to a preseason foot injury. Cofer didn’t have a point or rebound in five minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Southeast Missouri: The Redhawks had Florida State on the ropes as Brewer scored 10 points in the first half. They ran out of gas in the second half and couldn’t match up with the Seminoles’ height or athleticism.

Florida State: The Seminoles were playing for the first time in eight days and were able to withstand the scrappy Redhawks.

UP NEXT

Southeast Missouri will host Abilene Christian on Friday.

Florida State hosts North Florida on Wednesday.

Sharp-shooting Vanderbilt beats No. 18 Arizona State 81-65

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Saben Lee scored 14 points to lead five players in double figures and sharp-shooting Vanderbilt beat No. 18 Arizona State 81-65 on Monday night.

Vanderbilt snapped an eight-game skid against ranked opponents that dated to an overtime win over Florida in the 2017 Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Commodores (7-2) also beat Arizona State for the first time in five tries on the Sun Devils’ first visit to Memorial Gym.

The Commodores had a big night from beyond the arc, hitting 6 of 12 from deep in the first half and 12 of 28 for the game.

Aaron Nesmith added 13 points off the bench for Vanderbilt. Yanni Wetzell had 12, and Matt Ryan and Joe Toye had 11 each.

Arizona State, which moved up two spots in the AP Top 25 earlier Monday, has lost two of three.

Rob Edwards led Arizona State with 14 points. Luguentz Dort came in as the fourth-highest freshman scorer in the nation averaging 20.9 points, but he had just 10 points. Zylan Cheatham had 14 rebounds.

This was the first game after the Commodores’ 12-day break for finals and is the second part of a home-and-home deal with Arizona State. The Sun Devils won 76-64 in Tempe last season.

Arizona State opened by scoring the first nine points as Vanderbilt missed its first six shots. After that, the Commodores finished the first half outscoring the Sun Devils 34-19, including an 18-3 run over the final 6:49.

Vanderbilt pushed that to 37-28 when Ryan hit a 3 to open the second half. Dort scored five straight points to pull Arizona State within 37-34, but that was as close as the Sun Devils got until Edwards and Kimani Lawrence hit back-to-back 3s with 3:53 left to pull within 62-59.

Simisola Shittu answered with a layup, and Toye knocked down a 3 as Vanderbilt pushed the lead back to double digits.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona State: The Sun Devils finish 2-1 in nonconference play against the SEC. They beat Mississippi State in November in Las Vegas and edged Georgia last weekend before coming to Nashville. … The Sun Devils came in ninth nationally with a rebound margin of 11.6, yet they outrebounded Vandy only 42-39.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores are part of a rare trio with UNLV and Princeton as the only programs to make a 3-pointer in every game since the 3-point line debuted for the 1986-87 season. After Vanderbilt missed its first seven shots, Nesmith hit a 3 to make it 1,040 straight games with a 3-pointer.

UP NEXT

Arizona State: Hosts top-ranked Kansas on Saturday.

Vanderbilt: Visits Kansas State on Saturday.

Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger lost for season with ACL tear

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Notre Dame senior Rex Pflueger is done for the year.

The 6-foot-6 wing suffered a torn ACL on Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s win against Purdue and will miss the rest of the season, he announced Monday.

“I am saddened to find out that I did in fact tear my ACL in our last game against Purdue,” Pflueger wrote on social media. “This is just one of life’s crazy tests that I have prepared myself for with the loving help of my family and friends. I will continue to cheer and push my Notre Dame family to  not only compete but to dominate for the rest of the season.

“We have an incredible group of players who will pick up right where we left off last game.”

Pflueger has started every game for the 7-3 Irish. He was averaging 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 39 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range.

“I’m extremely disappointed that he won’t be able to continue this season,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in a statement. “He has been an unbelievable winner and leader for us. He has continually helped me endorse our culture he at Notre DAme.

“I look forward to him continuing to lead and giving me great feedback the rest of the season.”

Notre Dame, which previously lost Robby Carmody for the season with a torn labrum, will have some time to acclimate to a post-Pflueger reality as the Irish will face Binghamton, Jacksonville and Coppin State before beginning ACC play Jan. 1 at Virginia Tech.

Given the injury happened in the first half of the season and Pflueger has played in just 10 games, he could potentially be a medical redshirt candidate should he choose to pursue a fifth season of eligibility.