Coming off of Saturday's road win against Kansas State, the Texas Longhorns have now played every team in the Big 12 at least once. Every game is a rematch the rest of the way through the season, which will surely yield One True Champion, or possibly a three-way tie for first place.
Helping us breakdown tonight's game is Andrew Felts, from SB Nation's TCU blog Frogs O'War. Andrew was generous with his time and thoughtfully answered our questions. You can also see my answers to Andrew's questions here.
BON: Texas and TCU have already played, but since that time are there any new developments with the team that we should be familiar with?
Andrew Felts: In the Frogs' next two games after falling to Texas in January, TCU was one possession away from knocking off #17 West Virginia in Morgantown and one possession away from forcing overtime with #9 Kansas in Fort Worth. It looked like TCU was finally going to break through and knock off a ranked opponent, however, the Frogs dropped their next three games by at least 12 points each. TCU is competing with significantly better teams for 20 or 30 minutes at a time, but the competition level has been so great as of late that the Frogs can't keep up for a full 40 minutes. TCU certainly has the pieces to pull an upset, but they are still working to put everything together.
When the Longhorns came to town in January, Kenrich Williams made his second career start. He has started all five games since then, scoring double-figures in points in four of those five contests. The sophomore transfer from New Mexico Junior College has emerged as a key component of this TCU team, and will likely be an anchor moving forward. Trent Johnson alluded to it after the first Texas game, but Williams isn't timid or afraid to go up against any defense. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he has another solid performance against the Longhorns tonight.
Outside of the progression of Williams, this TCU team has remained pretty constant throughout the season. The Frogs have seen a significant reduction in scoring since Big 12 play began, averaging just over 60 points per game in conference play. The defense has been their calling card, and I expect that trend to continue tonight.
BON: How does the TCU fan base feel these days about its basketball team? My take is that TCU is a significantly improved team this year, but because of the high level of Big 12 competition, that improvement hasn't translated to many wins. How are the TCU fans taking this?
AF: Your impression is exactly correct. The Frogs have made tremendous strides since the 0-18 season that they had a year ago. The only problem is that the Big 12 is arguably the best basketball conference in the country right now. Eight of TCU's nine losses have come against ranked opponents, and the other loss was a five-point defeat on the road. I think that for the most part, TCU fans realize that this team is improving. What a lot of people outside the Horned Frog community don't fully appreciate is that TCU was a pretty mediocre Mountain West team. In TCU's last season in the Mountain West, the Frogs finished in fifth place, which was the highest finish ever for a TCU team in the MWC. The program is in the midst of a seismic shift in the level of their opposition.
I think that TCU fans realize that this is a long-term project that will require a lot of patience and effort. For the most part, fans have been pretty supportive of Trent Johnson and his coaching staff, realizing that it will take time for recruiting to get to the level where it needs to be for TCU to consistently compete in the Big 12. The addition of the renovated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum next season will be another big step forward for the program in terms of getting TCU on par with the rest of the conference. Overall, the program has a pretty high ceiling, but it will take time to get there. Like in any fanbase, there are those who have a "win now" mentality, but those opinions seem to be in the minority among TCU fans. As a whole, we understand what we're up against.
BON: After a promising freshman season, Karviar Sheperd doesn't seem to have taken much of a step forward as a sophomore. What is still missing from his game, and are their signs of growth that the occasional viewer of TCU hoops misses?
AF: Karviar Shepherd is somewhat of a curious case to solve for TCU. He joined the Frogs as the highest rated recruit in program history last season, but like you mentioned, he really hasn't progressed much during his time in a TCU uniform. He has all of the physical attributes to be a dominant center in Trent Johnson's system, but he often struggles with aggressiveness and foul issues. Shepherd leads the team in fouls committed with 65, including three games in which he has fouled out. He averages a personal foul nearly every 8.5 minutes. This has led to inconsistencies in playing time, further prohibiting his game from developing.
Shepherd has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, including a 14 point, nine rebound performance at Ole Miss, as well as a nine point, eight rebound night against West Virginia. The talent and physical attributes are definitely there, but I think Shepherd struggles to play at a consistently high level of play. With that being said, Trent Johnson is a great coach for a guy like Shepherd. With two full seasons remaining in Johnson's system, Shepherd definitely has the opportunity to develop into a dominant center in this league. Johnson has a history of sending big men into the NBA - Garrett Temple, Nick Fazekas, Jarron and Jason Collins, as well as Brook and Robin Lopez, just to name a few - and I believe that Shepherd can develop into that type of player eventually. But for now, his level of physicality and foul issues are prohibiting him from taking that next step forward.
BON: Am I crazy to think that Kyan Anderson deserves some consideration for the all conference team? While I am sure Buddy Hield, Frank Mason, and Juwan Staten will get chosen ahead of him (just because that is how these things go), am I wrong in thinking that Anderson is the most under appreciated player in the conference?
AF: I'm actually really glad that you said that because every time I bring it up, I sound like a huge homer. I completely agree that Anderson is under appreciated in the eyes of the rest of the conference.
Is Kyan Anderson one of the five best players in the Conference? Probably not. But does he deserve to be in the conversation as one? Definitely. I don't know if there is another player in the conference that means as much to his team as Anderson means to TCU. He will go down as one of the best players in TCU program history. Anderson is currently in the top ten in program history in points scored, three-pointers made, free throw percentage, assists, steals, minutes, starts, and games played. He has been the glue for this TCU program during perhaps the most difficult time in its history.
Anderson will make his 109th consecutive start for TCU tonight, continuing a streak that began on December 11, 2011. His contributions on the court are significant. He is the undisputed leader of this team, and more often than not, as Kyan goes, so does the TCU offense. He is usually the focal point of opposing team's defensive plans, but I don't think that he gets the recognition that he deserves as one of the league's best.
BON: Who wins tonight, and why?
AF: I am a firm believer that this TCU team has the pieces necessary to knock off a ranked opponent. The Frogs' defense is a good as any in the Big 12, and they have been close to putting everything together on several occasions. I believe that TCU will pull an upset somewhere, but not tonight. I hate to pick against the Frogs, but when you look at how each of these teams are trending, it's hard for me to see TCU getting it done tonight.
The Frogs are riding a season-long six-game losing streak in which they've been beaten up pretty good. On the other side, I think that the Longhorns are beginning to realize that they're running out of time to salvage their season. I don't like the idea of going up against a desperate Texas team at this point in time. Not to mention, Texas dominated TCU inside the paint in the first matchup with the likes of Turner, Ibeh, Ridley, and Holmes blocking shots and pulling down defensive rebounds. In the end, Texas' defense is just too much for the Frogs' offense to handle. I think TCU keeps it close for 30-35 minutes, but the Longhorns prevail 64-58.
Thanks again to Andrew. We will see how things turn out tonight.