Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:27AM

#17/18 Texas Longhorns (13-4 overall, 2-2 Big 12) at TCU Horned Frogs (14-3, 1-3)
Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center | Fort Worth, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Texas -3 | KenPom: TCU, 59-58 (54%)

The Texas Longhorns bounced back from a two-game losing streak in impressive fashion on Saturday night, thumping West Virginia by a 77-50 count. The win brought Texas back to level on the young Big 12 season, with tonight’s road game at TCU providing a chance to build a little momentum heading into this weekend’s clash with Kansas.

Although TCU is just 1-3 in the league and has been a doormat since joining from the Mountain West, the Horned Frogs are not nearly the easy win of years past. With some solid transfers and key players finally staying healthy this season, the Horned Frogs finished a fairly soft non-conference schedule with a pristine 13-0 mark. While they haven’t found the same success in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs battled both West Virginia and Baylor in close losses at home, with the latter contest going to overtime.

Texas once again looked like a legitimate contender in Saturday’s dominating win over West Virginia, but if they are going to remain relevant in the conference race, they have to follow it up with a road win tonight. Even though Ken Pomeroy’s model gives TCU the slight edge in this one, the Fort Worth road trip will likely prove to be the second-easiest in the Big 12 this year. The Longhorns cannot afford to give up ground to their competitors by dropping a winnable game away from home.

Trent Johnson finally has a healthy team in his third year
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

By the Numbers

Although the Horned Frogs only played two power-conference opponents in their non-conference slate, their adjusted defensive statistics are still very solid. They are currently ranked 13th in the nation, having allowed an adjusted .902 points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy. Through four Big 12 games, they have the league’s third-toughest defense, having allowed an adjusted .951 points per possession in conference play.

That stifling defense is anchored by a stout interior D, where the Horned Frogs have a ton of length. TCU’s big men are very patient and disciplined when protecting the rim, as they constantly keep their feet grounded and arms extended to the sky. As a result, opponents find it very difficult to score inside, and don’t usually get bailed out by foul calls. TCU’s two-point field goal defense is second-best in all of D-I, with opponents making just 34.8% of their shots inside the arc.

It only takes an instant for a second and sometimes a third Horned Frog big to collapse on a ball handler in the paint, so Cameron Ridley will need to pick where he left off against West Virginia. He, Prince Ibeh, and the other Texas giants will have to react quickly when they get the ball in the low post, or they will quickly find their window of opportunity closed.

While the big men tend to avoid fouling in the paint, the Horned Frogs do foul quite often when trying to stop dribble penetration, and when battling on the glass. Their defensive free-throw rate, which measures how often a team sends opponents to the line, is the 20th-highest in Division I, with TCU opponents shooting nearly one free throw for every two shots taken. Consequently, TCU opponents score nearly 30% of their points from the line, which is the highest percentage in the nation.

Although TCU gives opponents frequent trips to the charity stripe, they do a great job earning their own trips to the line to balance it out. TCU’s offensive free-throw rate of 51.6 is third-highest in the country, but they fail to take advantage of the opportunities. The Horned Frogs have made just 62.3% of their free throws this season, the 18th-lowest success rate in Division I. They have shot even worse in conference play, making just 61.5% of their free throws against Big 12 opponents.

The extremes demonstrated in free-throw rates are also mirrored in TCU’s rebounding numbers. The Horned Frogs are a top-ten team when it comes to winning back missed shots, while checking in near the bottom third of Division I teams on the defensive glass. TCU reclaims 41% of its own misses, but still allows opponents to snag 32.5% of their own. With the Longhorns posting strong rebounding numbers on both ends of the court, those extra possessions could big a huge factor in tonight’s game.

Meet the Horned Frogs

Kyan Anderson leads TCU in scoring and assists
(Photo credit: Tori Eichberger/Associated Press)

The Horned Frogs are led by senior point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5), who has ascended TCU’s historical scoring ranks, and now finds himself in the top ten. Although he’s made just 33.7% of his threes this season, his career rate is just shy of 36%, and his range extends well beyond the arc. On a team that doesn’t shoot a ton of threes and is fairly average in its accuracy, Anderson’s ability from behind the arc is something that opponents have to keep in mind.

Typically, Anderson is slicing up defenses with the bounce, and he’s always alert enough to find open teammates when opponents take away a finish at the rim. More than three-quarters of Anderson’s assists come when he’s in the paint, and with an assist rate of 28.2%, Texas defenders off the ball will have to be aware of that fact when trying to help on his penetration.

Anderson is also a fantastic defender who hardly fouls, yet forces opponents to start their offense well behind the arc. He is quick enough to stop dribble penetration, and he makes it very difficult for his man to receive passes. Anderson’s 3.1% personal steal rate is currently ranked 220th in the nation, while his 2.5 fouls per 40 minutes also ranks him 427th in Division I.

Well-traveled senior Trey Zeigler (No. 32) joins Anderson in the backcourt after stints at both Central Michigan and Pitt. Zeigler loves to drive to the rack, and he will quickly spin around defenders who try to cut him off on his path to the rim. He has taken only four of his 113 shots from behind the arc this season, so Texas should give him a nice cushion and make it more difficult for him to penetrate.

Zeigler also rebounds well for his position, constantly finding cracks to get past defenders and snag the offensive boards. To put his offensive rebounding numbers in perspective, Zeigler’s personal rate of 7.1% is better than Connor Lammert’s and just a hair behind that of OU’s Ryan Spangler.

Coach Trent Johnson has made some quick strides in recruiting since arriving in Fort Worth, and the addition of JUCO transfer Kenrich Williams (No. 34) is another nice boost. The 6’7″ sophomore made his first start on Saturday at Texas Tech, and is averaging more than 23 minutes per game.

Williams is very poised with the ball, and has shown the ability to knock down the three, having made 5-of-12 on the year. He has used that threat to shot fake opponents out of position, and then found space in the midrange to sink a jumper. He also owns one of the nation’s 50 best offensive rebounding marks, while his defensive rebounding rate is in the Top 400, and his block percentage is 249th.

Sophomore forward Chris Washburn (No. 33) is another transfer for the Horned Frogs, arriving in Fort Worth by way of UTEP. The 6’8″ lefty can knock down midrange jumpers and hook shots, and does a good job stripping the ball when he helps on defense. Washburn also does a nice job blocking shots, despite looking like he could stand to shed a few pounds.

In the middle, sophomore Karviar Shepherd (No. 14) is a vacuum on the glass and an intimidating presence in the lane. The Horned Frogs don’t often post up their big men, so Shepherd can often be found knocking down midrange jumpers and causing a nuisance in pick-and-pop situations. Unfortunately, he has limited his effectiveness in some games by picking up dumb fouls away from the basket. The Horned Frogs will certainly need him for extended minutes tonight, so Shepherd will have to avoid picking up cheap fouls on the boards and defending outside the lane.

On the occasions where Shepherd has found himself in foul trouble, Amric Fields (No. 4) has had to step up, but the 6’9″ senior is only playing about 16 minutes per game this season. Like Shepherd, Fields can also stretch the floor, but he is not as comfortable with the bounce as Shepherd, and has had issues when teams throw doubles at him.

The other post reserve is 6’8″ junior Devonta Abron (No. 23), who is in his second season with TCU after starting his career at Arkansas. Abron is not nearly as disciplined on defense as the other Horned Frog bigs, but he gobbles up rebounds on both ends of the court and is chipping in 8.5 minutes per game.

Sophomore swingman Brandon Parrish (No. 11) came off the bench in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech, after starting the team’s first 16 games. He is not a strong ball handler, but is a deadly shooter from beyond the arc in catch-and-shoot situations. Parrish’s 41.9% success rate from three is the team’s best, but he’s averaging less than one make per game. On defense, Parrish has had difficulty keeping quick guards in front of him.

Another three-point threat for the Horned Frogs is sophomore Hudson Price (No. 21), the son of former NBA star Mark Price. Although he came in with a reputation as an outside scorer, he’s made just 32% of his threes in college, and has not found much success putting the ball on the floor when opponents chase him off the line.

The final member of TCU’s core rotation is freshman guard Chauncey Collins (No. 1), who is playing about 10 minutes per game. The 6-footer is very quick with the ball on offense, but that speed has not yet translated to good defense. Collins often lets his man get the corner, and he logs quite a few fouls as he struggles to keep opposing guards from penetrating.

On the other end, the freshman has taken 75% of his shots from behind the arc, but connected on just 30% of those attempts. At that rate, the Longhorns can probably afford to give him some space to neutralize his speed.

Keys to the Game

TCU’s defense does not give opponents much space
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

1. Attack with the bounce – The Horned Frogs do a fantastic job defending against typical post-up opportunities, and foul often when opponents put the ball on the floor. The Longhorns can earn themselves quite a few trips to the line if they are aggressive with the ball, and can also open things up a bit for the big men inside by drawing defensive attention with their penetration.

2. Force long jumpers – While the Longhorns should be trying to create things with the bounce, they will also want to take away that aspect of the game for TCU. The Horned Frogs thrive on dribble penetration to create open looks, so Texas needs to give some space on the perimeter and force TCU into taking long jumpers. Although the Horned Frogs have a few guys who can knock down the three, they are not used to relying on the outside shot for much of their scoring

3. Win second-chance battle – With both teams currently among the nation’s ten best offensive rebounders, there will likely be quite a few second-chance opportunities for these teams tonight. If either squad can limit the number of those extended possessions, it will take away a huge aspect of the opposing offense’s scoring. The edge seems to go to Texas here, as the Longhorns have posted much stronger defensive rebounding numbers. However, if they can’t reproduce that success in Fort Worth tonight, the Horns may find themselves in a tight one.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings in the January 19th polls.]

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:12PM

TCU Horned Frogs (9-19 overall, 0-16 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (21-8, 10-6)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -18 | Pomeroy: Texas, 77-60 (94%)

It won’t be Senior Night, but the Texas Longhorns will play their final home game of the year when they host TCU tonight. In a season where the Horns were expected to finish at the bottom of the standings and maybe flirt with the NCAA bubble, they are instead safely in the field with a week left in the regular season and are only playing for seeding at this point.

In addition to that NCAA tournament seeding, the Horns are also still locked in a fierce battle for seeding at the Big 12 Championship tournament in Kansas City. Heading into tonight’s action, Texas is tied with Oklahoma for second, although the Sooners own the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep of the Longhorns. A half-game behind the Red River rivals are Iowa State and Kansas State, two teams who have home games scheduled on Saturday in arenas where they hardly ever lose.

TCU, meanwhile, is fast approaching history with their winless conference mark. At 0-16, the Horned Frogs are two losses away from a perfectly futile Big 12 campaign, and just three wins away from tying Texas A&M’s record 20-game Big 12 losing streak. With stretch forward Amric Fields (No. 4) out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, the Horned Frogs now have just one player taller than 6’6″ on their roster.

The first time around, the Longhorns had a very tough time with TCU in Fort Worth, just days after taking care of Kansas in Austin. Early turnovers and horrid shooting made Texas fight for the win until the final seconds, as the Longhorns had to rely on a ridiculous 59.5% offensive rebounding mark to squeak out a narrow, 59-54 victory.

There are far too many tiebreaker permutations to compute before tonight’s action, but with wins in their final two games, the Longhorns would be guaranteed no worse than the No. 3 seed in Kansas City. There is still a doomsday scenario on the table where five teams could tie for second at 10-8, but my computer started smoking and shooting out sparks when I tried figuring out how those tiebreakers would shake out. So, for the sake of my laptop, let’s just hope Texas wins tonight’s contest.

Keys to the game

1) Hang on to the ball – Turnovers are what kept things close in Fort Worth, and they are what kept TCU within striking distance until late in the second half of games at Oklahoma and against Iowa State. With TCU taking the air out of the ball and limiting the number of possessions, even a moderate turnover rate can make things dicey against the Horned Frogs.

2) Dominate the paint – The Horned Frogs have a promising young center in Karviar Shepherd (No. 1), but he is their only post option and he is not yet a dominant one. Shepherd and TCU often give up far too easily when trying to establish an inside game, meaning that their only big man will often drift out and play a midrange game. Although he has a nice midrange jumper in his arsenal, the Horned Frogs cannot afford to have Shepherd anywhere but the painted area.

If the Longhorns play their typical style of tough, physical D, they can likely own the lane and force Shepherd off the blocks. In addition to making it tougher on TCU to score, that will also serve to increase Texas’ advantage on the boards. While it’s hard to imagine that Texas could top the 59.5% offensive rebounding mark and 79.5% defensive rebounding rate from the first meeting between these two teams, another strong performance on the glass would cripple TCU’s upset hopes.

3) Take away penetration – With Fields out of the game, the TCU offense is now almost entirely reliant upon the ability of point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5) to generate points. He is great at varying his speeds and taking good angles to get to the rim, and he knows how to get his shots up through taller defenders, despite being listed at a very generous 5’11”.

Although he is also a good three-point shooter, Texas should be most concerned with taking away Anderson’s driving ability. None of the other Horned Frogs are very good at creating their own looks, so if Anderson can’t open things up with his dribble penetration, he’ll have to single-handedly beat Texas from beyond the arc.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:59PM

#15/18 Texas Longhorns (17-4 overall, 6-2 Big 12) at TCU Horned Frogs (9-11, 0-8)
Daniel-Meyer Coliseum | Fort Worth, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/Watch ESPN

The Super Bowl is over — although Denver apparently never received the memo that it was starting — which means that most of the sports world finally turns its attention to college basketball. If you haven’t been along for the ride over the last three months, you might be surprised at what is going on in Austin.

In the offseason, Rick Barnes had his name on every Hot Seat countdown list, having just struggled through the program’s first losing record in his tenure. Texas also missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in his in 15 years on the Forty Acres, and a mass exodus of players left the Longhorns with no seniors and only one junior on the 2013-14 roster.

To say that expectations were at an all-time low was an understatement. After nail-biting wins against solid mid-major competition in Mercer and Stephen F. Austin, it seemed like it could be a very long season in a stacked Big 12 Conference. Instead, these young Longhorns have played with a chip on their shoulder and a physical nature that has served them well in a defeat of Kansas and key road wins against North Carolina, West Virginia, and Baylor.

Now, the Longhorns sit just three wins away from the magical 20-win plateau and the .500 conference record that seemed like a pipe dream a few months ago. Texas is now feeling very comfortable with its NCAA tournament chances and finds itself just one game behind Kansas as the conference race reaches the halfway mark.

There are still a multitude of tests awaiting the Longhorns. Road trips to Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma are still to come, while home games against Baylor, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia should all prove challenging, as well. The Horns will likely find it difficult to keep up their current success rate the rest of the way in the Big 12, but it’s still hard to believe that the team should comfortably finish with a winning conference record.

After pulling a clean sweep against four consecutive ranked opponents, the Longhorns have the prototypical trap game at TCU tonight. The Horned Frogs are down to just seven or eight scholarship players, depending on whether starting center Karviar Shepherd plays with the broken hand he suffered two weeks ago. If he isn’t able to go, TCU will not only have a seven-man rotation, but will also be severely undersized against the Texas frontcourt. The Horned Frogs have nothing to lose at this point, so the Longhorns can’t afford to look ahead to their road trip to Kansas State on Saturday.

TCU is not a good shooting team, and the offense often relies on point guard Kyan Anderson creating dribble penetration to make anything happen. Although the Horned Frogs burn a ton of clock in half-court sets and keep the number of possessions low, they still look for opportunities to score in transition, where Anderson is particularly dangerous leaking out on the perimeter.

Although Anderson often has to carry the offense on his back, there are other options for TCU. Freshman Brandon Parrish has shown some promise as an outside shooter and slasher, but against pressure he often will dribble the air out of the ball and put up challenged midrange Js that just clank off the iron. Amric Fields — who will be the lone big if Shepherd is out — is a 6’9″ guy with a solid outside shot and face-up ability to go with his post skills.

We’ll have more pregame thoughts on the Horned Frogs and provide Texas’ keys to the game on Twitter in the hour leading up to the game. Keep your eyes peeled to the Longhorn Road Trip timeline for the rest of our preview tonight. And if for some reason you feel like reading the same tweets twice, they will be archived here sometime tomorrow.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:01PM

[7] Texas Longhorns (15-16 overall, 7-11 Big 12) vs. [10] TCU Horned Frogs (11-20, 2-16)
Big 12 Championship First Round | Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO
Tip: Approx. 8:30 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)
LRT Consecutive Game #252

The Texas Longhorns open play in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship with one, straightforward goal: win the whole damned thing. For the Longhorns, anything less than that will mean an end to a 14-year streak of NCAA appearances. And while Texas is hoping to preserve its historic streak, the rest of the program’s history is stacked against it. The Longhorns have never won the Big 12 Championship, despite appearing in the finals on six different occasions.

Rick Barnes and the Horns face an uphill battle in KC
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

Even getting to that championship will be extremely difficult, as Texas must win three games in a row to reach that point. Until Saturday’s overtime win at Texas Tech, the Longhorns had not even strung together two consecutive victories in league play. Furthermore, Texas would still have to get past Kansas State and then either Oklahoma State or Baylor, three teams which the Horns posted a 1-5 record against in the regular season.

Of course, the old adage holds that you must take it one game at a time. For Texas, that would be sage advice. Although the Horns open tournament play against last-place TCU, they have to remember that the Horned Frogs have pulled off surprising upsets to earn their two league victories. Earlier this season, TCU shocked the college basketball world with a home win over a Top 5 Kansas team. On Saturday, they wrapped up their regular season by building a massive lead against Oklahoma and then hanging on for the improbable win. If Texas makes the mistake of looking ahead to a possible matchup with Kansas State tomorrow night, the Horns might not even get there.

Meet the Horned Frogs

For an in-depth look at the TCU roster and the team’s style of play, check out LRT’s preview of the first match-up between these two teams.

The first meeting

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.

The rematch

When the two teams squared off once again on February 19th, Myck Kabongo was back on the court for Texas, and he made an immediate impact. The sophomore point guard scored eight points in the first half and dished out five dimes, as the Longhorns took a 33-25 lead to the locker room.

Texas moved the ball extremely well in the first half, while Kabongo was aggressive with the bounce. The Longhorns could have been even more efficient on offense, if not for a series of poor passes into the paint that resulted in turnovers.

On the other end, the Longhorn defense had a tough time shutting down a TCU team that typically struggles to score. Even though Demarcus Holland did a solid job turning back the penetration of point guard Kyan Anderson (No. 5), the Horned Frog bigs repeatedly found great post position. Cameron Ridley especially struggled to force McKinney off the block, and he played only six minutes as a result. Even with that interior success, TCU did not limit its scoring to the paint, as Garlon Green repeatedly knocked down midrange jumpers.

In the second half, TCU coach Trent Johnson made adjustments to slow down the Horns, most notably tabbing Nate Butler Lind (No. 21) to guard Kabongo. While he is perhaps a step slower than Anderson, Butler Lind’s extra length made it tougher for Kabongo to score, even when the Texas point guard was able to drive the lane.

The Longhorns briefly experimented with a zone in the second half, but Anderson quickly took advantage without Holland in his shirt. Anderson penetrated the zone and hit his teammates in good position as the defense collapsed, logging six assists in the second half alone. He also chalked up some of those dimes by being alert after missed Texas shots, judiciously picking the spots where he could push the tempo for transition points. His leadership allowed the Horned Frogs to tie the game with just under nine minutes to go, and he kept them within a few buckets of Texas down the stretch.

In the end, it was clutch plays from Connor Lammert and Holland that iced the game, keeping Texas just ahead of a determined TCU squad. After a pass by Kabongo from the opposite three-point line, Lammert made an acrobatic, backwards layup in transition as he was fouled, and then he converted the free throw. A few possessions later, Holland drilled a three from the corner as the shot clock neared zero. Thanks to those timely buckets, the Longhorns escaped Daniel-Meyer Coliseum with a 68-59 win, their first true road win of the season.

Keys to the game

1) Clean up the glass – Although TCU is just an average rebounding team, the Longhorns had trouble keeping them away from the offensive boards in both games. Texas allowed the Horned Frogs to reclaim 37.8% of their misses in the first meeting between the two teams and 45.2% of their misses in the second game. The Horned Frogs do not shoot the basketball well and rely mostly on scoring from their bigs in the post. If the Horns wants to avoid the upset tonight, they have to take advantage of that offensive weakness by limiting second and third chances once they have forced missed shots.

Texas must challenge TCU big man Adrick McKinney
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

2) Make the bigs uncomfortable – With TCU’s preference for dumping it into the post, Texas has to make it a point to put the Horned Frog bigs in uncomfortable positions. (No, not the back of a Volkswagen.) The Longhorns can force TCU to make entry passes further up the lane or perhaps choose to immediately double on the catch near the block. With TCU hitting less than 31% of their threes on the season, the risk of doubling down is diminished greatly.

No matter which approach is taken, the Horns have to focus on making things tough for McKinney and Devonta Abron (No. 23). The Longhorns also need to make sure that their interior fouls count, limiting the number of and-one opportunities they concede. At the line, TCU is the eighth-worst team out of 347 in the country, making less than 60% of their attempts. If the Horns are beat in the paint, they must make the Horned Frog bigs earn both of the points, not give up the two and still allow a chance for the bonus.

3) Aggression from the guards – TCU has a very stout defense that packs it in tight and forces opponents to beat them with outside and midrange shooting. In the last meeting, Kabongo showed how easily dribble penetration can make that TCU defense break down. The adjustment to put Butler Lind on Kabongo slowed down his attack, and it also slowed down the Horns as a result.

If the Texas point guard is unable to mix things up with the bounce, Holland, Sheldon McClellan, and Julien Lewis will need to pick up the slack and drive from the wings and along the baseline. Otherwise, the Longhorns will be forced to win this game with their jump shots, and those have been very inconsistent all season long.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 7:51AM

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.

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