No. 21 Baylor (11-3, 0-2) vs. TCU (13-2, 0-2)
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Both teams are 0-2 in conference so far, and only one can go 0-3. That's the rule.
Maybe that sounds a bit too pessimistic. For the Frogs (13-2, 0-2), a win today would be highly significant. Their last conference victory was at home against Oklahoma on March 9, 2013, the final game of the season. Last season, they were winless in conference. A win this afternoon would be only their third in conference as a Big 12 member. Their first was against Kansas (!), also in the 2012-2013 season. For the Bears (11-3, 0-2), a loss would be much more significant than a win. Last season, Baylor began conference play 2-8 before a mid-February turnaround that took them to the Sweet 16. That's not an easy thing to do, and this year's roster doesn't have the next-level talent to turn things around in a hurry like last year's, not to mention that the Big 12 is brutally deep. Every winnable game needs to be won, and playing TCU, even on the road, is a winnable game.
I said at the end of the Q&A with Frogs O' War that this isn't your older cousin's TCU basketball team. TCU began it's season 13-0, albeit against a laughably weak non-conference schedule that included only one game against a top 100 RPI team. Their non-conference strength of schedule ranked 346th in the country. Even so, you can't take away what Trent Johnson's team has accomplished for their program this season.
Senior guard Kyan Anderson, who got buzz last season as one of the league's most underrated players, is the undisputed heart of this team. Anderson alone has scored nearly a fifth of TCU's total points this season (201 of 1,098) and has assisted on an additional 62 other baskets. He is shooting fairly well from outside. His clip of .342 from three isn't particularly impressive, but he has also taken more than twice as many threes as any of his teammates. Additionally, he gets to the free throw line. This season he has attempted 65 free throw attempts, just 3 fewer than Rico Gathers, who seems to get fouled every other possession.
In fact, the Frogs as a team draw a high rate of fouls. They are 35th in made FTs this season and 7th in attempts, per Sports-Reference. Almost a quarter of their points (23%, precisely) come from the charity stripe, which ranks 79th in the country, per KenPom. Anderson and Trey Zeigler, another senior guard, average 5.1 and 5.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, respectively. Compare that to Baylor, whose leading foul drawers are front court players: Gathers (5.3 FD/40) and Johnathan Motley (5.1 FD/40). Those are two aggressive guards for TCU. Baylor's perimeter defense will be challenged to keep the guards out of the paint without fouling, something the 1-3-1 zone should be capable of accomplishing.
If you're looking for a way Baylor to take over this game, look exactly where you expect: offensive rebounding. Despite playing against mostly weak competition, TCU has allowed opponents grab offensive rebounds at a rate of 31.2%, 171st in the country, per KenPom. That stat does, however, include a massive 47.7 OReb% that West Virginia put up against the Frogs in their Big 12 opener, when the Mountaineers grabbed 21 offensive rebounds. Baylor's average for the season? 15.7 offensive rebounds per game at a rate of 44%.
TCU also fouls quite a bit. Opponents have logged a FT rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempts) of 46.4, 312th nationally. Paradoxically, their high opponent FT rate might be a contributor (or at least, a corollary) to their incredibly good interior defense. TCU ranks 2nd in the country in opponent 2pt% (35.3), per KenPom. They also rank 13th in block% (16.1). Those three stats together (opp FT rate, opp 2pt%, and blk%) indicate a very aggressive defense that contests interior shoots. If someone goes to the hoop against this team, he's either going to miss a highly contested shot, draw the shooting foul, or get blocked. As Baylor fans know all too well, the Bears need very little help missing interior shots. Additionally, Baylor has been pretty awful at free throw shooting (64.1%). All of these factors combine to mean one things: today's game will be u-g-l-y. Expect lots of fouls and lots of missed free throws from both teams.
I think that's a deep enough dive for today's game. I recommend checking out that Q&A I linked above for more info, especially if you're interested in learning who else on TCU's squad you should look out for besides Anderson. Now for the usual: three quick keys, stat distributions, and (new, so not usual) my score prediction, because we're all about looking foolish on the blogosphere.
Three Quick Keys
1.) Offensive rebounding: duh.
2.) Contain Kyan Anderson: He's a very tough guard. He shoots from deep when you give him space, and he drives when you stay close to him. It will be a team effort to limit his outside shooting while also keeping him out of the lane and off the free throw line.
3.) Layups, make them.
This is a tough game to call. The line, which I saw a few days ago giving TCU +1 at home, has now swung the other way, favoring TCU by -1.5. KenPom predicts a 61-60 Baylor win, giving the Bears a 53% chance of coming out ahead on the road. TCU fans' favorite prediction is 61-58 TCU win for some reason. Can't figure out why those numbers, but whatever. My prediction? The Bears hit threes and contain Anderson just enough, with both teams missing way too many free throws. I can't take TCU too seriously because of their schedule, while Baylor has shown toughness on the road against teams of TCU's caliber (South Carolina, Vanderbilt) and the ability to stick with high quality opponents. Final score: Baylor 63, TCU 57.
Have your own predictions? Share them below in the comments and chat with us during the game!