The 11-seed Syracuse Orange made it to the first round of the NCAA Tournament after a close win over Arizona State on Wednesday. Next up? The 6-seed TCU Horned Frogs, who are coached by Jamie (Goddamn) Dixon, our old nemesis at Pitt.
Since we haven’t played against TCU since 2005, we wanted to learn a bit more about the Frogs in advance of Friday night’s matchup. So we asked Melissa Triebwasser over at SB Nation’s Frogs O’ War to tell us all we need to now about TCU. And we answered some questions over there as well.
Jamie Dixon seems to have gotten the Frogs program up and running pretty quickly. What’s the top attribute he’s instilled that’s led to such success so quickly?
It’s so cliche to say, but Coach Dixon frankly instilled a culture of winning. He taught this team how to win, to expect to win, and to believe they are good enough to win. And, when you haven’t won since your players were in diapers, that counts for something.
Outside of that, the development that has happened in guys like Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky since his arrival should also be credited, as well as finding guys like Desmond Bane and Jaylen Fisher late in the recruiting cycle. Lastly,Trent Johnson, and Jim Christian before him, both had this habit of finding one really dynamic guard that could fill it up and just let that guy go nuts. It was frustrating as hell because you would have a player scoring in the mid-20s and the team losing by 30. This team is much more focused on sharing the ball, and seems to not at all care who scores, as long as they win. That’s much more enjoyable to watch.
Two decades is a long time between NCAA Tournament bids. How does it feel to be back?
Man... it’s insane. I won’t lie, when that TCU popped up on the screen during the watch party, and the team went crazy, I teared up. I’m going to age myself out here a bit, but the last time TCU made the Tourney was my freshman year of college -- that’s before LaDainian Tomlinson, before Gary Patterson, before things like TCU Football and TCU Baseball mattered. It was a time when you said Horned Frogs anywhere outside of Texas, and some places in Texas, and the universal response was “what?” So, all that to say, it was a completely different TCU then than it is now. In the last nine months, TCU has played in a College World Series, a football conference championship game, and now the NCAA Tournament. So, I would say, it feels pretty dang awesome to see basketball matter as much as the other two of the big three. I’m fired up to be in Detroit and watch that first game.
TCU is one of the best passing teams in the country. How might you put that to use against the zone?
I think this will be such a fun chess match between two coaches that know each other well, and TCU’s offense should be able to attack the Syracuse zone with some success. The passing has been beautiful to watch all season long; as I stated earlier, they really don’t seem to care who hits the shot as long as they win. Four of the five starters average double-digit scoring, and the fifth (Alex Robinson) is at 9.8 ppg. But, the real difference is that two of the five starters have well over 100 assists on the year, they all are willing to make the extra pass, and Robinson’s ability to penetrate the zone and attack the gaps should open things up for Brodziansky inside and the plethora of shooters outside. This really comes down to a couple things: can Robinson get into the paint to make things happen, can Noi and Bane bounce back from a couple of poor shooting games late in the year to hit some threes, can Vlad win the battle inside against Chukwu, and can Williams have the kind of all-around game that makes the Frogs tough to beat?
Related: How did you attack Baylor’s zone, and how do you expect Syracuse’s to be different?
Jamie Dixon has been really good this year at making halftime adjustments, and he did that well against Baylor both times they faced off this season. And, with 10 days between games, I expect they have installed a few new sets on offense, too. What worked well against the Bears was getting Robinson or Williams to the free throw line to collapse the zone, and letting those two distribute from there. Baylor has a ton of length, much like Syracuse, and that definitely impacted TCU on offense, as there were a lot of turnovers and deflections, leading to forcing up shots late in the clock. At home, the Frogs shot the ball really well against the Bears, rebounded well allowing them to get out and run, and played pesky defense. That’s the recipe for success Friday night, too.
The Horned Frogs are one of the country’s most efficient offenses. The Orange shut down another top offense (ASU) on Wednesday. What did TCU fans take from that?
That was a pretty sloppy effort from an Arizona State team that has struggled incredibly over the last six weeks of the season, so I don’t think fans are too worried about what they saw from the Sun Devils. I think what fans are more worried about was how the offense looked against Kansas State and Texas Tech in their final three games of the season, when they shot very poorly from three. And now you add in the rust of having a week and a half off? Anyone who has been around the game of basketball knows you have to do two things to break a zone: shoot it well from outside and get the ball to the middle of the floor. That’s not easy against the Cuse zone by any stretch, but I don’t think ASU’s struggles are a bad omen for TCU, it’s more about what the Frogs can do well, and seeing them actually do those things in a game.
Who’s the one unsung player for the Frogs that we should be very worried about?
This game hinges on Alex Robinson. The junior PG is moving up the ladder on TCU’s all-time assist chart, even passing Dixon this, his second season. When A-Rob is at his best, he doesn’t turn it over, hits a three or two, and creates around the basket for himself and his teammates as well as anyone in the country. When he’s not, he can be a turnover machine, shoots poorly, and misses critical free throws. If he’s on his game, and you will know it early, the Frogs are in a great position to win.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the man they call Kenny Hustle, a double-double machine who is hard not to love even when he’s playing against you. He does all the dirty work, can shoot it well enough, and is the consummate team player. He’s the kind of guy that the Spurs draft in the second round and becomes an all-star four years later.
Which Syracuse player worries you most?
After watching him dominate down the stretch Wednesday, Oshae Brissett definitely gives me pause. He will be a tough assignment for Kenrich Williams and Desmond Bane.
Thoughts on Jim Boeheim?
My brother-in-law went to BC, so I probably should not answer this question ;)
I mean, as someone who has coached basketball for over 20 years, I have studied his zone defense, used his zone defense, and won with his zone defense. Yeah, he probably cheated, but don’t they all, and the fact is he is a heck of a basketball coach, one of the best ever, and I adored McNamara and Warrick, so I rooted hard for the Orange during their National Championship run.
What does TCU HAVE TO do if they want to come out of this game with a victory?
They have to shoot the three ball well, but not fall in love with it, make Vlad a centerpiece of the offense early, and get a high assist-low turnover game from A Rob.
Prediction time: Final score and why does the winning team move on to the second round?
I am 100% picking with my heart here, but, that being said, TCU *should* win this game. It’s so hard to know what to expect though, considering we haven’t been in this position in so long, but I am counting on the NIT experience a year ago to keep the moment from being too big. I am going to go with the Frogs, 70-63, as Kenrich Williams gets a double-double, Bane and Noi combine for eight threes, and Robinson has nine assists. On defense, the Frogs are just good enough, despite giving up a 20 spot to Brissett.