Game on at the garden: previewing TCU vs UCF

A look at TCU's NIT semifinal match-up with UCF.

It’s been nothing short of impressive seeing coach Jamie Dixon take TCU Men’s Basketball from being the cellar dweller of the Big 12 Conference to an NIT semifinalist in the span of exactly 365 days. Having secured the trip to the historic Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, the Horned Frogs are one step closer to an appearance in the NIT Championship game on Thursday night, but they’ll first have to get past the UCF Knights Tuesday night in the Big Apple.

The matchup will carry significance for both squads, each making their first ever appearance in the NIT Final Four. For the Frogs, they’ve managed to do it without top three-point shooter Jaylen Fisher the last games after he suffered a broken wrist in the opening round against Fresno State. The star-freshman averaged 9.9 points per game with a 38 percent success rate from beyond the arc before going down with the injury.

Though Fisher’s absence didn’t keep the Frogs from sneaking past Iowa in overtime or comfortably defeating Richmond to punch their ticket to the Garden, it won’t make things any easier as TCU faces-off against a UCF squad that has won nine of its past 10 games, the only loss coming to No. 12 SMU in the American Conference Tournament on Mar. 11.

While the relatively young TCU squad can exhibit plenty of athleticism against any opponent, as evidenced by a stunning upset of No. 1 Kansas during the Big 12 Conference Tournament, size won’t be on TCU’s side on Tuesday night. UCF boasts five players 6-foot-8-inches or taller, led by 7-foot-6-inch center Tacko Fall. Fall recorded 10 and 14 rebound-performances in UCF’s last two contests, respectively, so expect the Frogs to have their hands full with the sophomore from Senegal.

UCF’s size also presents an interesting challenge given how much the Frogs relied on points in the paint in last Tuesday’s 86-68 rout of Richmond. Should the lanes be taken away and the Frogs be forced to rely on jump-shots again, the loss of Fisher could have a far greater impact than in previous games. The saving grace for TCU may be that UCF has been a far less impressive team on the road than at home, going just 7-6 away from Orlando despite a 15-3 record on their home court.

The Frogs’ fate on Tuesday will likely rely on the trio of Vladimir Brodziansky, Alex Robinson and Kenrich Williams to get the job done once again in the scoring department – all three averaging double digit points per game this season, with Brodziansky leading the charge at 13.8. And with 333 rebounds alone on the season, Williams will have keep his numbers up in that category to offset UCF’s height. The Knights recorded 1433 rebounds on the season, over a hundred more than TCU’s total of 1316.

Of course, it’s difficult to compare the quality of competition between the American and the Big 12 Conferences, the latter easily regarded as the premier basketball conference in the nation. That may very well play to TCU’s favor, having averaged 75 points per game this season opposed to UCF’s 67.

Win or lose, Tuesday night will be a milestone in the Frogs’ rise back to relevancy, but a trip to the finals would put the Frogs on the national spotlight, albeit on a smaller stage than the NCAA Men’s Tournament. If the Frogs want to reach full glory in the NIT though, it’s going to take a team performance from start to end.

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