Texas Longhorns (11-14 overall, 3-9 Big 12) at TCU Horned Frogs (10-15, 1-11)
Meyer Coliseum | Fort Worth, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate List)/ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #246

If there’s one thing the Longhorns can be thankful for this season, it’s that the Big 12 schedule-makers seem to have a bit of compassion. For the second time this year, Texas will get a chance to bounce back from an uninspired, embarrassing defeat by playing the worst team in the Big 12.

On February 2nd, the Longhorns blew out TCU by a 60-43 count, just four days after being waxed by 26 in Manhattan by Kansas State. Tonight, the Longhorns are looking for another bounce-back win against that same TCU team, three days after getting smoked at Kansas, again by 26 points.

Rick Barnes is still looking for answers this season
(Photo credit: Ed Zurga/Associated Press)

For Texas, any and all NCAA hopes now rest on a miraculous run through the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. In most years, that would mean that the Longhorns would want to position themselves on the bottom half of the bracket, avoiding top-seed Kansas and the huge home-court advantage they have at the Sprint Center. This season, the Jayhawks are in a virtual three-way tie for first — Kansas State has a half-game edge — with six games left to play.

With such a contentious battle waging at the top of the league, it’s far too early to tell if Texas would benefit more from being the 7-seed or the 8-seed. About the only thing that is clear about the bracket at this point is that Texas is practically guaranteed to be playing on the tournament’s opening night, necessitating a four-wins-in-four-days run to reach the NCAAs. The Longhorns are currently five games behind the three teams tied for fourth through sixth, meaning that even if Texas ran the table, Iowa State, Baylor, or Oklahoma would have to go 1-5 down the stretch just to fall into a sixth-place tie with the Horns.

Of course, there’s always the NIT. In 2006, the rule was removed that required teams to have a .500 record to make the field, but there has yet to be a team invited with a losing record. North Carolina made the 2010 NIT with a 16-16 mark and went on to reach the championship game, where the team lost to Dayton.

If Texas were to play in the NIT, their record would have to include a loss at some point in the Big 12 tournament. That gives Texas at least 15 losses and means the Longhorns would need to go 5-1 down the stretch or win two games in Kansas City to ensure a .500 record. Needless to say, Texas cannot afford to lose to teams like TCU if it wants to avoid the CBI or a March spent on the couch.

Meet the Horned Frogs

For an in-depth look at TCU, check out LRT’s preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

Texas had to grind it out with TCU in the first game, which saw only 57 possessions on the night. Even with such a slow tempo, the Longhorns were able to build a lead as large as 19 points and won the game by a 17-point final margin. Texas used stifling defense to limit the already-anemic TCU offense to just 0.753 points per possession, while having one of its best shooting nights of the season on the other end.

One reason Texas was able to get so many good looks is that the team made it a point to work the ball inside-out against TCU. Connor Lammert cracked double-digits in points for the first time in his collegiate career, logging 10 on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting night. Since then, the freshman has continued to play with confidence, earning starts in the team’s last two games.

Ioannis Papapetrou also had a solid night against the Horned Frogs, scoring 13 points in his 34 minutes on the court. More importantly, the Greek forward snagged nine boards on a night where the Longhorns performed terribly on the glass. The Longhorns grabbed just 30 rebounds as a team, posting an ugly 26.9% mark on the offensive glass.

For TCU, the bright spots were in the frontcourt, where Connell Crossland (No. 2) continued his surge in conference play. The senior had 12 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Fellow big man Adrick McKinney (No. 24) led TCU in the scoring department with 13, while also logging eight boards.

Since then…

The Horned Frogs pulled off the biggest upset of the year in their very next game, knocking off Kansas at home for the program’s first Big 12 victory. The TCU defense confounded the Jayhawks for most of the game, holding Kansas to just 13 points in the first half. Kansas used full-court pressure to close the gap in the second half, but TCU responded once the lead had been sliced to just four points. On the night, Kansas made less than 30% of their shots and hit only 3-of-22 from behind the arc.

Outside of that historic win, it has unfortunately been business as usual for the hapless Horned Frogs. That outstanding defensive performance against KU resulted in just 0.821 points per possession for the Jayhawks. In the three losses since that game, TCU has allowed an average of 1.184 points each time down the floor.

Point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) has particularly struggled over the last two weeks. In the team’s last five games, he has still managed to average 10 points per game, but has been rather ineffective as a facilitator of the offense. Against Iowa State on Saturday, Anderson finally posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, logging eight dimes against two mistakes. But in the four games prior, which included the previous loss to Texas, the sophomore had six asissts with 11 turnovers.

Unfortunately, Anderson is being asked to shoulder far too much of the load for the Horned Frogs. He is the team’s best playmaker, and when he is unable to penetrate with the bounce, TCU’s offense often bogs down. Even against Iowa State, in a game where he finally was able to set up teammates, Anderson dragged down the offense with a 2-for-11 performance from long range. It doesn’t appear that the Horned Frogs are going to find the answers this season, but they certainly won’t be able to find much success until Anderson can put together another complete game.

Connell Crossland has come on strong in Big 12 play
(Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Although the point guard has been struggling, the Horned Frogs have found a recent spark from Crossland, who has started every game since cracking the starting five against Texas. While he’s averaging just over 10 points per game, his biggest contribution has been on the glass. Crossland averaged 9.6 rebounds in those five starts, and now has offensive and defensive rebounding rates that are both ranked in the Top 300 nationally. Although TCU still struggles to convert their second and third chances, Crossland’s strong work on the offensive glass is at least giving a very bad offense a few more chances to score.

Keys to the game

1) Push the tempo – With Myck Kabongo back for the Longhorns, there is no reason why Texas should settle for playing at TCU’s desired pace. The Horned Frogs are hoping to limit the number of possessions and keep the score low, mitigating the advantages that Texas has on both ends of the court. If Kabongo and Texas can exploit mistakes by Anderson and look for opportunities to score in transition, it will be very tough for TCU to keep up with the Longhorns. Acquiescing to TCU’s pace will only increase the chances for an ugly road loss.

2) Close out defensive possessions – TCU reclaimed nearly 38% of their missed shots in the first meeting between these two teams, and the Horned Frogs outrebounded the Horns overall. With Crossland playing out of his mind, the struggling TCU offense is finally getting some extra chances to put the ball in the basket. Although TCU doesn’t often turn their offensive boards into extra points, Texas cannot afford to find out if tonight’s the night they flip that script. If Texas can close out their defensive possessions after one shot, it will demoralize the Horned Frogs and make it very unlikely that they can score enough to keep pace with the Horns.

3) Attack inside – The Longhorns found success in the paint against TCU during their first meeting, and they did that without the services of Jonathan Holmes, who will be on the court this time around. If Texas again makes it a point to get touches inside, the team should be able to repeat history and find some easy looks at the rim. More importantly, a commitment to attacking the paint will hopefully result in whistles on Crossland, McKinney, and Devonta Abron (No. 23). With Anderson struggling, TCU is having to rely even more on its experienced frontcourt. Tagging the TCU bigs with early foul trouble could quickly cripple their hopes for another home upset.