UPDATING THE HORNED FROGS
A football program in a football town, TCU basektball didn't register much more than a blip in the Dallas - Ft. Worth metroplex in recent years -- that is, until the Frogs knocked off Kansas on Feb. 6. That turned the West Virginia game into a contest that will at least attract more than cursory interest -- making it a much more challenging game for WVU.
Since dropping a 71-50 decision to the Mountaineers in late January, TCU lost two more games to Baylor and Texas by similar margins, and had next to no zip in their play. However, they put together a near-perfect game against the Jayhawks, showing that they do have the potential to be competitive in the league.
Sophomore guard Kyan Anderson (5-11) and senior forward Garlon Green (6-7) contine to provide the most scoring punch for TCU, averaging 11.0 and 10.7 points per game, respectively. Anderson tops the squad with more than three assists per game. Senior forwards Adrick McKinney (Sr. 6-8) and Connell Crossland (6-7) maintain their status as board leaders, tallying 7.0 and 5.8 per contest.
McKinney has also boosted his offense since Big 12 play began on Jan. 5, and is averaging 9.9 points per league contest. He continues to be a second chance threat that must be attended to when shots go up, as he's pulling down nearly three boards per game on the offensive end. Crossland has averaged almost a double-double (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) in his last four contests.
The Horned Frogs have continue to play at a slow pace in order to keep the score down, but have also ramped up their defense of late. TCU has forced 13.6 turnovers per league game, while at the same time cutting down its rotation from the 11-man cycle that marked many of its earlier games. In its last two contests, the Frogs have played just eight and nine players, respectively, and are giving more minutes to the starters in the lineup.
Was the Kansas game a perfect storm for TCU, or a marker for more consistent play?
WVU won't get that answer until it steps on the floor on Saturday, but the Mountaineers don't need to worry about that. They have enough inconsistencies in their own game that they are trying to overcome, although they, too, have shown some positive signs of improvement in their last three contests. Deniz Kilicli has become a stronger force in the paint, especially on offense, while Jabarie Hinds has become a better scorer and game manager.
4:00 PM E
Ft. Worth, TX
WVU 11-11, 4-5
TCU 10-12, 1-8
Big 12 Net
WVU - 94
TCU - 205
The Mountaineers might be able to use some of TCU's lingering excitement from the Kansas win to their advantage. TCU likes to play at a slow pace, but WVU might be able to push the ball and get the Frogs caught up in it, especially if a good crowd turns out for the afternoon game. That could help West Virginia create more turnovers, which are a Horned Frog bugaboo. TCU has just one game this year in which it has committed fewer than 10 turnovers, so forcing it to play an an uncomfortable pace would be to the Mountaineers' advantage.
In the end, this game isn't about match-ups. It's a must win for West Virginia. It's not for TCU. That doesn't mean the homestanding team won't play hard, but it's a squad that doesn't have much left to play for other than personal pride. That can't be discounted, however, as the core group of TCU seniors could be motivated by their win over Kansas to finish the season strongly. West Virginia needs to control this game early and not let the Frogs or their fans get into it. If WVU can do that, it flies home with a .500 conference record and a tad more momentum for its tournament hopes. A loss, and the Mountaineers are done in terms of NCAA aspirations.
Number 5 Kansas was the highest-ranked opponent ever defeated by TCU. The previous high water mark was a pair of wins over #5 Arkansas in 1983 and #6 Oklahoma in 1987.
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The TCU game will be the 1,000th contest WVU head coach Bob Huggins has participated in as the head man. It also marks his 199th game at West Virginia.
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First year TCU head coach Trent Johnson has been named the conference Coach of the Year in each of the three previous leagues in which he has coached (2003 WAC, 2008 Pac-10, 2009 SEC).
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WVU has a chance to match its longest winning streak of the season today. Earlier this year, the Mountaineers fashioned a three-game victory thread against Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky.
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Today's game is the third in the midst of five consecutive contests against teams from Texas.