University of Kansas

Quick scout: Why TCU is so much better than last year

Jamie Dixon has TCU off to an 11-1 start in his first season as head coach at his alma mater.
Jamie Dixon has TCU off to an 11-1 start in his first season as head coach at his alma mater. Star-Telegram

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Friday’s game: No. 3 Kansas at TCU, 8 p.m., Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth, Texas (ESPN2)

Opponent’s record: 11-1

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 36

Point spread: KU by 6  1/2

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

▪ Offense: The biggest difference in TCU this year? The Horned Frogs have a real offense now, moving from 228th in Pomeroy’s efficiency measure to 56th. Former coach Trent Johnson could get his teams to play defense, but offense was always a struggle. New coach Jamie Dixon has improved that area quickly.

▪ Offensive rebounding: TCU ranks 13th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, helped by Kenrich Williams and Vlad Brodziansky, who rank top 100 nationally in the statistic.

▪ Forcing turnovers: The Horned Frogs are 16th nationally in defensive turnover percentage and 13th in steal percentage. KU’s guards will especially need to watch for Alex Robinson, who ranks 64th in steal rate.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Allowing easy shots: Thirty-nine percent of opponents’ shots against TCU have been at the rim this season, a split that ranks 282nd nationally. The Horned Frogs do a good job of protecting the rim, but ideally, you’d like to not surrender that many attempts in close.

▪ Defensive rebounding: TCU has been worse than NCAA average on the defensive glass despite facing a nonconference schedule that ranks 248th, according to Pomeroy.

▪ Post defense: This sounds weird to say about a team that blocks so many shots, but Synergy’s logs show that TCU’s forwards have not fared well when having to go one-on-one in the post, as they’ve fouled too much while giving up a high point-per-possession total.

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-11 forward Vlad Brodziansky (No. 10)

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Plus: Seventh nationally in block rate

Plus: Top-100 offensive rebounder

Plus: Efficient offensive player who is dangerous at rim and in mid-range

Plus: Draws fouls often and makes 77 percent at line

Minus: 0-for-3 from three this year

Six-foot-7 guard Kenrich Williams (No. 34)

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Plus: Elite rebounder on both ends

Plus: Only has four turnovers all season

Plus: Creates contact inside

Plus: Has three-point range (41 percent this year)

Minus: 56 percent free-throw shooter

Minus: Below-average shooter in mid-range

Six-foot-1 guard Alex Robinson (No. 25)

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Plus: Ranks 44th nationally in assist rate

Plus: Excels at creating steals defensively

Plus: Can make threes, though doesn’t shoot a lot of them

Minus: Awful mid-range shooter (5-for-23)

Minus: Struggles to finish at rim

Prediction

Dixon has done a remarkable job turning around TCU in a few months.

This team is way better than the 2013 team that was a 19-point underdog at home to KU when it pulled off a 62-55 victory in the infamous “Topeka YMCA” game. I know many have been surprised that this Vegas line is only at 6  1/2, but there are reasons to like the Horned Frogs in this particular matchup.

For one, TCU excels at getting back in transition, and that’s important against this KU team, which has been lethal on fast breaks with its four-guard look. The Horned Frogs also have been solid defensively in pick-and-roll situations while weak in post-up settings — though that’s an area where this KU team isn’t as good as years past.

Offensively, TCU relies mostly on twos and free throws, as Brodziansky and Williams in particular do a good job of muscling up to draw whistles.

This should be a game where KU’s big men and frontcourt depth are tested. Landen Lucas in particular will need to avoid foul trouble, as the Jayhawks’ post defense gets thin quickly if he has to sit out.

These are the types of games KU coach Bill Self has routinely won to keep the Big 12 conference title streak going 12 years, so I’ll stick with the Jayhawks as the pick. I think KU will have issues scoring, though, meaning TCU will probably keep it closer than most people expect.

Kansas 70, TCU 67

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: TCU

Hawk to Rock

If he can stay out of foul trouble, Landen Lucas should nearly be guaranteed his first double-double of the season. Against TCU, he should have opportunities to score with angles inside and a chance to hustle for offensive rebounds against a team that has struggled in this facet.

Last game prediction: Kansas 90, UNLV 70 (Actual: KU 71-53)

2016-17 record vs. spread: 5-5

Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 46-32-2

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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