“All last year — we had Baylor at home, lost to them close, lost to Kansas at home close — we really just needed that win that could put us over the hump,” TCU guard Desmond Bane said. “We knew we were good all along, but that [Kansas] win really helped put us over the top.”
Now, the sixteenth-ranked Horned Frogs have an opportunity to leap past the No. 10 Jayhawks in the Big 12 title hunt for the first time with back-to-back wins against the program that has run the conference with 13 consecutive outright or shared championships.
“We’re excited about the conference being as wide open as it’s been in the last 13 years, anybody could win it,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said.
While just last season and in each of the last 13 seasons that statement may have been lip service with the strength of past Jayhawk squads, but this season a few teams, including TCU, have real shot at dethroning Kansas.
“I feel like we’re the best team in the country right now and that there’s no other team that can beat us so we go into to this game with a positive and winning mindset to get the W,” TCU forward Kouat Noi said.
The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 in shooting at 51.4 percent, and they’re the league’s second-highest scoring team, averaging 87.1 points. They also lead the league in three-point shooting percentage at 41.2 percent, assists at 19.8 per game, and TCU also allows the fewest rebounds to its opponents in the Big 12, just 30.1 per game.
The Horned Frogs are also one of the deepest teams in the conference.
“We’re a better team depth-wise with more experience and we’ve proven that here,” Dixon said.
In the starting lineup, TCU boasts the conference’s top two three-pointer shooters (Bane and Kenrich Williams), and the fourth-best shooter from the field in the conference, Vladimir Brodziansky.
“Anytime you have someone like Vlad who is scoring just under 70 percent of the time he shoots it, you want to get it in there as much as possible,” Bane said.
The Horned Frogs bring last season’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (Alex Robinson), a 6’10, 235-pound behemoth (Ahmed Hamdy), and the Big 12’s third-best three-pointer shooter (Noi) off the bench.
Kansas is still having a good start to its season at 11-3 as the league’s third-highest scoring team at 86.8 points per game and the Big 12’s best in assist-to-turnover ratio.
They also boast Devonte’ Graham, the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, who leads the Jayhawks with 17.9 points and 7.5 assists per game, but their style of play and the way they’ve lost this season reveals weaknesses the Horned Frogs could take advantage of.
The Jayhawks heavily rely on the three-pointer this season, shooting the deep ball at the highest rate ever under head coach Bill Self, with more than 41 percent of their total shots coming from deep, and they have hit on 40.9 percent of three’s this season, the 20th highest clip in the nation.
“This year they’re a different team in a lot of ways: they are a team that makes three’s and when they do as they did against Texas, they’re very good,” Dixon said..
However, this is also a team that gets to the free throw line at the fewest rate of any team in the Big 12, and in the Jayhawks’ three losses, two by double-digits at home, it shot a total of 25-of-84 from beyond the three-point line. Kansas also shoots threes at a higher rate than they do in its wins, and their rebounding rate is the lowest of any season since 2004 — the farthest back KenPom data goes and the last time they didn’t win the conference.
“They rely on the three more and don’t shoot as many free throws this year, so you can’t let them get going from three,” Dixon said. “No more evident than their last two games: made threes on the road against Texas and won, they didn’t make them at home and lost [to Texas Tech].”
Conversely, perimeter defense is an area the Horned Frogs have seen improvement this season. When TCU traveled to Waco to face Baylor last season, the Bears’ King McClure and Manu Lecomte combined to hit six of Baylor’s seven three-pointers in a 70-52 beatdown of the Horned Frogs.
Tuesday in Waco, the Horned Frogs harrassed Baylor into shooting a putrid 1-12 from the three-point line in an 81-78 overtime victory.
“I thought we guarded the three’s well, we got 1-17 from the two guys averaging more than 30 points between them [McClure and Lecomte],” Dixon said. “It certainly was a reason we got a win. They got up shots and I thought we did a pretty good job, kept them off the foul line.”
Saturday’s game at Schollmaier Arena will feature two teams with pent-up frustrations with Kansas looking to bounce back from its worst home loss under Self, a twelve-point defeat to Texas Tech and with TCU looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
“I hope Kansas is ready for us too, they’ll be angry, we’re angry, it’s going to be a competitive match,” Noi said.
Tipoff is set for 8:15 p.m.