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Gary Johnson Debuts Against TCU

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The #14 Texas Longhorns (11-2) will look to steady the ship this afternoon as TCU (8-4) visit the Erwin Center for a 4 p.m tip. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest in Texas only and is also available via ESPN Full Court.

After starting the season 11-0 and reaching #4 in the national polls, the Horns have dropped back to back contests against physical Big Ten opponents that forced Rick Barnes’ club into half-court affairs. It is unlikely that this afternoon’s game will look anything like the last two games with Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Horned Frogs have nine players averaging more than a dozen minutes per contest and have scored more than 75 point in each of their eight victories. This afternoon’s game should be played at an up tempo pace that will be ideal for the debut of freshman Gary Johnson.

TCU This Season
The Horned Frogs have played well at home but poorly on the road this season. For the year, they are 8-1 in Fort Worth and a winless 0-3 on the road. After starting the season with four straight wins (Angelo State, Rice, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling State), TCU dropped three straight. TCU lost by 13 points at Texas Tech, by 24 points at home to Oklahoma, and by six points at SMU. The Frogs did rebound nicely to run off four straight over lesser competition before falling at Rice on December 29th. The Owls overcame a 15 point half time deficit to defeat the Horned Frogs in that one. Most shocking, Rice outrebounded TCU by 28! If Texas with the addition of Gary Johnson doesn’t dominate the boards this afternoon, I will be very disappointed.  

Horned Frogs
The most consistent Horned Frog this season has been 6-4 junior guard Henry Salter. Salter has scored in double figures in every game but one and leads the team in scoring at 14.9 ppg and in rebounding at 6.1 rpg. He is a 49% three-point shooter and a 49% foul shooter. Odd. Salter will be a tough matchup for Damion James on the perimeter.

Kevin Langford, a 6-8 junior forward and brother of former Kansas Jayhawk Keith Langford, provides TCU with its best inside scoring threat. Langford is averaging 14.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg and has scored in double figures in each of the last nine games, including a season-high 31 points against Prairie View A&M two weeks ago.

The final Horned Frog averaging double figures in scoring is 6-2 guard Brent Hackett. Hackett is another threat to score from behind the arc and isn’t afraid to launch it. He has shot ten or more three-pointers five times already this season, yet is shooting only 30% on the year.

The last two TCU starters are 6-9 forward Alvarado Parker and 6-0 freshman point guard Mike Scott. As mentioned previously, TCU is a very deep team. No player averages more than 27 minutes. In contrast, all five Texas starters average more than 30 minutes per game.

Ken Pomeroy
TCU is an average offensive team and a pretty bad defensive team according to Pomeroy’s statistics. The Horned Frogs are not a good shooting team from inside or outside the arc and are terrible from the free throw line (61%). The one area that is impressive is their turnover percentage. TCU is coughing up the ball on only 18% of their possessions, good for a top-25 ranking nationally. If TCU is able to knock down some threes and hold on to the ball, they could keep things close for a half.

Predictably, the TCU defense has been decent in their wins and horrible in their losses. In each of their four losses they have allowed their opponents to score a point per possession or more. During their eight wins, that has happened just once. Conversely, Texas has scored more than a point per possession in every game this season and, despite recent offensive woes, still leads the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Keys to the Game:
(1) Get Gary Johnson Involved Early: While Johnson has been practicing with the team for months, this will mark his season debut in an actual game. It will be easy for AJ Abrams, DJ Augustin, and Damion James to forget about Johnson and continue their perimeter assault on the basket. Texas should try to feed the ball to Gary early and often. TCU is not going to beat Texas, so let’s see start to develop a low post scoring option from the opening tip.

(2) Quality Minutes from the Bench : Justin Mason will not start for the first time this afternoon and will be able to spell DJ, AJ, and Damion at any of the three backcourt positions. Playing all three of them for 35+ minutes every game will no longer be necessary. But the bigger need from the bench will be quality minutes from Alexis Wangmene, Clint Chapman, and Dexter Pittman. Connor Atchley has been playing a high number of minutes as well, and it is unreasonable to expect Johnson to play more than 25 minutes in his first game. Wangmene looks fine on defense but lost on offense, Chapman’s minutes have diminished because he is no longer rebounding effectively, and Dex is still hit or miss on both ends. The addition of Johnson makes the Horns a legit six deep, but Rick Barnes is surely hoping to be seven or eight deep during conference play and in March.

(3) Defend the Three-Pointer: Unless TCU gets hot from long range, this game will be over by halftime. Expect to see Texas play less zone and more man-to-man in this one. Man defense allows the Horns to defend the three-pointer easier and grab defensive rebounds, while also keeping the pace of the game quick.

After this game, the Horns play just one more non-conference game, against a very good St. Mary’s team, before opening conference play at Missouri on January 12th. While the last two losses were disappointing, neither was devastating. If the Horns can take care of their next two opponents, they will enter Big XII play with some regained confidence and an impressive 13-2 record.

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