SCOUTING THE HORNED FROGS
TCU has likely gotten an emotional lift from playing in its newly-remodeled digs after a year of camping out in a local high school arena. Sill, the Frogs' wins have all been over much-lower level teams, and they've suffered blowout losses to Washington and Oklahoma State among their five defeats in 2015.
TCU head coach Trent Johnson has built his team around big men Karviar Shepherd (Jr. 6-10, 230 lbs.) and Vladimir Brodziansky (6-10, 215 lbs.). The latter, a native of Slovakia and a junior college transfer, has been one of the best newcomers in the league, averaging 13.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per outing. He's probably benefited somewhat from the presence of Shepherd, who is targeted in every game by opposing defenders. He's still talented enough to produce 8.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
TCU also deploys a number of wing players that are productive, with little drop off, at least in scoring ability. Junior Brandon Parrish (6-6 210 lbs.) scores 8.2 points per contest, but he's ably backed by senior Devonta Abron (6-8, 260 lbs.), junior Chris Washburn (6-8, 240 lbs.) and freshman J.D Miller (6-8, 235 lbs.). Abron averages nearly seven points per game, while Washburn adds six and Miller 5.8. Combined, they also contribute more than 12 rebounds per game to TCU efforts on the glass.
Michael Williams and Malique Trent form the backcourt duo, with the former setting the table while the latter, another junior college product, standing second on the team in scoring at 12.1 points per game. Trent isn't an effective shooter (38.7%) but has put up more shots than any other Horned Frog. They'd be better served setting the table for Brodziansky, who hits 60% from the field and 41% of his limited 3-point chances.
The Horned Frogs are improved from the moribund bunch that struggled their way through the league in recent seasons, but this is still a game that West Virginia, and other league heavyweights, aim to win on the road. The primary challenges for WVU, in addition to the Frogs themselves, are weariness (it's their third game in six days, including an extra 10 minutes against K-State) along with uneven production from their starters.
|WVU (12-1/1-0) vs. TCU (8-5/0-1)||Mon Jan 4||7:00 PM EST|
|Schollmaier Arena||Fort Worth, TX||Series: WVU 6-0|
|RPI: WVU - 24 TCU - 213||TV: ESPN2||Sirius: 81|
There are, however, offsetting positives to both of those issues. First, WVU is supremely conditioned. Opposing coaches take note of it, and even usually bland TV announcers have commented on the shape of the Mountaineers. Second, Bob Huggins (and assistant coach Larry Harrison, who has a big hand in substitutions) has kept the Mountaineer rotations in good order. True, some sessions on the bench have been the result of mental lapses, but no West Virginia player averages more than Daxter Miles' 27.2 minutes per outing.
The second issue, one of consistency from players, is something to watch both in this game and down the road. No one is going to have a great outing every time out, especially newcomers or those filling expanded roles. However, West Virginia can't afford to have, for example, Jevon Carter, Jonathan Holton and Devin Williams all have a bad game in the same contest. The Mountaineers survived against K-State in that scenario, but that would be the exception, not the rule. Getting more even performances across the starting lineup will remove the rollercoaster effect, and keep WVU in contests even when one or two players aren't firing on all cylinders.
TCU has the players to win games in the Big 12. It can deploy tall and beefy players along the front line, and can cause problems for opponents on the boards. Many opponents will shoot the ball better than they do, but that's not WVU's forte, so this game, like most road contests in the league, doesn't have the feel of a walkover. Still, if the Mountaineers play reasonably close to their potential, they should be able to return home with a 2-0 Big 12 record.
TCU doesn't fare well in conventional ballhandling stats. The Horned Frogs have just 165 assists on the year as opposed to 198 turnovers. That could be blood in the water for the sharks of the WVU press, which didn't have its best game against Kansas State.
Chris Washburn's return to the TCU lineup after missing the first 11 games with a hand injury bolsters one of the more versatile groups in the league. The Frogs can go big with a lot of beef, deploy a pair of 6-10 players, or range out with a number of 6-7/6-8 swingmen in order to cause match-up problems with opponents.
WVU has only trailed for 74:12 out of a possible 530 minutes this season. The vast majority of that time came in the Virginia and Kansas State games, with the Mountaineers managing to rally against the latter for a double-overtime win.
West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige earned Big 12 player of the week honors for his play against Virginia Tech and Kansas State. Even though he's had a hot hand recently, he has done a great job in not forcing shots or succumbing to “heat check” syndrome. That speaks volumes for the way in which he has grown over his career. Right now, he is probably playing the best basketball of anyone on the team.
TCU has had five players miss at least one game this year due to injury. In addition to Washburn, Devonta Abron, Chauncey Collins, Dalton Dry and Kenrich Williams have all missed action. Williams will miss the entire season, but the others appear to be available for duty for this game.