UPDATING THE HORNED FROGS
TCU has twice endured four-game losing streaks since falling to WVU on Jan. 7, but has won just enough to keep faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive, with a three game win skein earlier this month and back -to-back wins over Texas and Iowa State in mid-January. Like Texas Tech last Saturday, though, the Frogs have no margin for error, and need to win their final three league games (WVU, K-State and Oklahoma) as well as a couple in the Big 12 Tournament to get off the most fagile of bubbles. The Mountaineers were able to turn back the Red Raiders' bid to mount a final push, but will probably find even tougher going against a TCU squad that is playing at home, where it's 12-4 on the year, and with a hunger to end its postseason drought.
Vladimir Brodziansky (6-11, 220 lbs.) has become a mainstay for TCU. After pushing his way into the starting lineup, he's become the team's leading scorer (13.4 ppg) and number two rebounder. He's also tops on the squad in free throw shooting, nailing 80% of his tries, so WVU can't simply hack away at him, ala Texas Jarrett Allen and some other league big men. Sophomore Alex Robinson (6-1, 180 lbs.) has also become an excellent performer, averaging 11.3 points while recording a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. Junior Kenrich Williams (6-7, 210 lbs.) has also been reliable, and nearly averages a double-double with 9.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He has fouled out of three games this year, so West Virginia could look to go at him early to try to keep him on the bench.
A look across most stat lines mirrors TCU's record and achievements this year. This is a solid squad that is on an upward arc, but one that doesn't hold any major advantages over the teams it faces. When it gets good bench productivity (nine player average more than 12 minutes per contest) it can win most any game it plays, but it needs to get near peak-performances up and down the lineup to win in the Big 12.That's been good enough to put the Frogs in sixth place in the league -- several steps up from the last-place finish that was predicted prior to the season.
WVU has never lost to the Horned Frogs, and now would not be a propitious time to break that string.
|WVU (22-6 / 10-5) vs. TCU (17-11 / 6-9)||Sat Feb 25||12:00 PM EST|
|Schollmaier Arena||Ft. Worth, TX||Series: WVU 10-0|
|RPI: WVU - 30 TCU - 53||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM/SXM: 81/81/81|
As noted, TCU is clinging to a last sliver of NCAA hopes, and that could make the Frogs desperate. They have gone with a different cast of players this year, with veterans like Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn relegated to limited backup roles. The junior college trio of Brodziansky, Robinson and Williams has resulted in a notable turnaround for head coach Jamie Dixon, and they can be expected to put up a significant effort in their penultimate home game of the season.
WVU, which will remain in Texas for another roadie at Baylor on Monday, should be accustomed to the Saturday – Monday turnaround by now. This is the third consecutive weekend on which the Mountaineers will play that double, and while both of them are on the road, they are experienced enough to know how to both prepare and get rest for these games. If they pay attention to prep and don't coast into Forth Worth believing a win is in hand, they should be able to leave with a win, but the history of this year's squad in similar games doesn't leave 100% certainty in that regard.
WVU must also continue to get players other than Jevon Carter to take control down the stretch. That doesn't mean taking hero shots or trying to drive against three defenders, but there has been a bit of standing and watching, especially in the latter stages of games. While Carter has been outstanding this year, West Virginia must have other players who can get a couple of buckets or snare big rebounds in the closing minutes of games. Elijah Macon did so against Texas, and Nathan Adrian is almost always contributing in some manner, but one or two more helping hands would make it almost impossible for the Mountaineers to give up a solid lead late.
Jevon Carter doesn't get enough credit for all the things he does. He's routinely great, and thus his showings become expected, and tend to fade a bit. For example, he gets far too little notice for the way in which he protects the ball. Despite handling it multiple times per possession, he averages just 2.5 turnovers per 40 minutes. Of WVU's players that see the court on a regular basis, only Lamont West (1.1) and Daxter Miles (1.7) average fewer per 40.
* * * * *
Esa Ahmad remains in limbo for the road trip while battling back spasms. Concern over the effects of the flight to and from Texas will play into the decision on whether or not he makes the rip. WVU will not have to fly again until Mar. 7, when it dpearts for the Big 12 Championshipin Kansas City.
* * * * *
Both teams are at their best when moving the ball smartly on offense, and both bog down when dribblers take over. WVU is ninth nationally in assists per game at 17.2, while TCU is 17th at 16.6. The Horned Frogs have an assists on 62.1% of their baskets, while WVU checks in at 57.1%.