The Cyclones hit the road tomorrow to face TCU in their next conference battle. Before the game, Frogs O' War's Andrew Felts was nice enough to answer some questions about the 2015-16 version of the Horned Frogs. Check out my questions and his answers below!
WRNL: The Horned Frogs currently sit at 9-9 on the season, but six of those losses have been by single digits. Is this a classic case of a team being better than their record indicates, or does TCU have a problem closing games?
Andrew: It's definitely a little bit of both. With the exception of road defeats at Washington, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, the Frogs have either led or been within one possession with under 6:00 to go in each of their losses this season. I would argue that for the first 35 minutes, TCU out-played Rhode Island, SMU, and West Virginia - three of the teams that gave the Frogs a single-digit loss. TCU looked competitive in the second half against Kansas, and went blow-to-blow with a vastly improved Texas Tech team earlier this week. I think it's fair to say that the Frogs are slightly better than their 9-9 record indicates. A couple of breaks along the way and this team could realistically be 12-6.
Closing games has been a major problem for Trent Johnson's squad. Once the clock hits 3:00, it's almost as if everything stops. In the Frogs' nine losses, the team has combined to shoot 36.2% while being outscored 73-51 over the final 3:00. In the loss to Texas Tech on Monday, TCU went 0/3 from the field and 1/4 at the line, only see their one-point lead turn into a seven-point defeat in the final minutes.
It really boils down to attrition. This team only has nine healthy players, and that includes two true freshmen and a junior college transfer. It's rare that TCU's starting five isn't on the floor in the final minutes, and in most cases, it's pretty clear that they're tired. This team has struggled with depth, as seven of the 12 players on the roster have missed at least one game due to an injury or suspension. With better luck on the injury front, I think there's no way this team would have been 9-9 heading into tomorrow's game.
WRNL: This year, TCU is without the services of energizer bunny Kyan Anderson and impact transfer Trey Zeigler. Who has stepped up to replace some of their production? Also, who are the new faces on the team in Fort Worth that ISU fans should be aware of?
Andrew: Replacing the production from Kyan Anderson and Trey Zeigler has been a pretty difficult task for Trent Johnson. He loaded up on scorers during the offseason, adding two freshmen and two junior college transfers that lit up the scoreboard at their previous stops. Entering the season, it was the two transfers that led the way for the Frogs. Vladimir Brodziansky didn't skip a beat as he made the transition, scoring in double-figures in 10 of his first 11 games. He has cooled off a bit in Big 12 play, but enters tomorrow's contest averaging a team-high 11.8 points per game, thanks to his 18-point outburst against Texas Tech on Monday.
Malique Trent had been a pretty consistent scorer after transferring from New Mexico Junior College, averaging 11.7 points per game in his first 15 games. However, the sophomore guard has missed the last three due to an unspecified violation of team rules. His status for tomorrow is still uncertain, but I would be pretty surprised if he plays.
Iowa State fans likely don't remember Chauncey Collins, since he logged just four minutes in the season series last year, but he has been a spark plug for the TCU offense as of late. The sophomore guard charged with leading the offense after Anderson's departure is averaging 10.5 points per game this season, and 13.2 in Big 12 play. He dropped 19 against Texas Tech, keeping the Frogs within striking distance for much of the second half. Collins is a pure shooter, and there's really no reasonable shot that is outside of his range. The Cyclones will have to keep an eye on him as TCU's primary scoring threat.
WRNL: Coach Johnson has nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game on his roster. Does he simply like to go deep with his bench, or has he been experimenting quite a bit to find some combos that work?
Andrew: It appears that Trent Johnson has used his bench more out of necessity than anything else. The amount of injuries has played a role in some of the reserves seeing more playing time than likely imagined at the beginning of the season. Nearly every player on this team has had to step in to fill the shoes of an injured Frog at some point this season. With both Chris Washburn and Kenrich Williams missing significant time at the beginning of the year, Vladimir Brodziansky, Devonta Abron, and JD Miller each saw an increase in playing time. Michael Williams has been a workhorse, helping to replicate production lost first when Chauncey Collins went down with a quad injury in December, now with Malique Trent's suspension.
Additionally, as was mentioned above, Johnson relies on his starters quite a bit. The starting five usually log significant minutes at the beginning and end of each game. In an effort to keep them fresh for the final minutes, (which, again, hasn't exactly been working,) Johnson often goes to his bench during the middle portion of each half. I think the bulk of the strategy is focused toward competing late into games, rather than trying to find that ideal set of five that is most successful.
WRNL: The biggest win so far this year for the Horned Frogs was the 58-57 victory over Texas a couple weeks ago. As a fan of a team that lost to the Longhorns in their next game, how did TCU go about knocking off Bevo?
Andrew: TCU knocked off Texas by doing a nearly flawless job of exploiting the Longhorns' weaknesses. With no Cameron Ridley defending the paint, the Frogs went straight down the lane into the foul-prone Prince Ibeh and inexperienced Shaquille Cleare. TCU was able to draw contact, create an easy scoring opportunity, or both. The Frogs shot nearly 50% in the paint, finishing the game with 26 points in the lane while forcing Ibeh and Cleare to combine for nine total fouls.
TCU also benefited from a rare poor shooting performance from Texas behind the arc. The Longhorns hit just one of their 21 three point shot attempts, a miracle for a TCU team that entered the game allowing their Big 12 foes to shoot almost 43% from deep. Finally, the other big key was limiting Connor Lammert. He was a non-factor in the game, scoring just one point on an 0/7 night from the field in which he also picked up four fouls. It was really a perfect storm of events that culminated in a very narrow win for the Frogs.
WRNL: Let's hear your prediction. Does TCU pull the upset at home, or does Iowa State continue their winning streak in the series?
Andrew: I have a hard time seeing TCU knock off Iowa State, especially after Monday night's performance against Texas Tech. The Frogs are really struggling on the offensive end as of late, averaging a Big 12 low 63.2 points per game in league play. TCU is at a pretty significant disadvantage going up against an Iowa State team with a very talented starting five that can light up the scoreboard. The Frogs have done a good job of keeping things close lately, at least for the first 35 minutes, so I'm optimistic that TCU can remain within striking distance. However, I'm thinking the Cyclones take it, something like 79-64.
Thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer these questions. As always, if you'd like to mingle with our southernmost purple friends, head on over to Frogs O' War and do some friendly commenting.