Quick scout: Why TCU’s defense could have problems against KU

Texas Christian’s Vladimir Brodziansky (10) and Oklahoma’s Christian James (0) fight for a loose ball in the second half at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. Oklahoma won, 90-89. | Rodger Mallison | Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

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

Saturday’s game: No. 10 Kansas at No. 16 TCU, 8:15 p.m., Schollmaier Arena (Fort Worth, Texas)

TV: ESPN2

Opponent’s record: 13-1

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 22

Point spread: KU by 2.

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

3 Strengths

▪ Interior scoring: TCU ranks 44th nationally in its ability to get shots at the rim, which has helped the team to rank 17th in two-point percentage. This will be one of the best half-court offenses KU faces this season.

▪ Rebounding … both ends: The Horned Frogs greatest defensive strength is defensive boards (22nd nationally), and they’ve also been strong getting second chances as well (55th in O-board percentage).

▪ Free throws … both ends: TCU is 80th in offensive free-throw rate and 81st in the defensive version of the stat, so don’t be surprised if the Horned Frogs get 10 to 15 more free throws Saturday at home.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Transition defense: TCU has had issues getting back, allowing a higher-than-average number of fast-break attempts while ranking 221st in defensive shooting percentage on those shots.

▪ Interior defense: The Horned Frogs are decent at blocking shots yet are 232nd nationally in two-point percentage defense. Part of the issue here could be tied into the team’s struggles with getting back in transition.

▪ Three-point defense? Thirty-nine percent of opponents field-goal attempts have been threes against TCU, which is a higher number than NCAA average. As we know, this KU team often has take advantage of teams that display this defensive tendency.

3 Players to Watch

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

Kenrich

Plus: Efficient scorer who can play inside and out

Plus: Draws contact often and is good free-throw shooter

Plus: Doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, but is 48 percent on season

Plus: Team’s best rebounder on both ends

Plus: Ranks 25th nationally in steal rate

Minus: Not a great shooter in mid-range

6-foot-2 guard Jaylen Fisher (No. 0)

Fisher

Plus: Elite passer

Plus: Good three-point shooter

Plus: Decent finisher on two-point attempts

Plus: Isn’t team’s best at getting to line, but makes 86 percent there

Minus: Can be turnover prone

6-foot-11 forward Vladimir Brodziansky (No. 10)

Brodziansky

Plus: Good shot-blocker when helping inside

Plus: Draws fouls often and its 74 percent free-throw shooter

Plus: Great shooter at rim (79 percent) and in mid-range (46 percent)

Plus: Has three-point range when he’s open (44 percent)

Minus: Synergy lists him as “below average” defender who especially struggles in post-up situations

Prediction

Ken Pomeroy’s projection has KU at 50 percent to win this game. It’s a good reminder that even though most advanced rankings have remained bullish on the Jayhawks, the team will still likely need a better-than-average performance to beat the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.

I see that happening, though. TCU’s poor transition defense and inability to limit threes are huge concerns against this KU team, and odds are that after Tuesday’s loss at home, coach Bill Self will have motivated his guys to do better both defensively and on the glass.

Traditionally, this also has been a not-so-tough environment for KU, with many alums from the Dallas metro making the short drive to support the Jayhawks. That might help a point or two.

Either way, I see KU’s offense having success Saturday. If the Jayhawks can fight their way to a draw on the boards, I like their chances.

Kansas 87, TCU 79

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

Another mismatch for TCU is Brodziansky trying to defend the bigger and more physical Udoka Azubuike. KU’s Landen Lucas had success scoring with angles against Brodziansky last season, and Azubuike could follow with a similar performance if his technique is sound Saturday.

Last game prediction: Kansas 78, Texas Tech 76 (Actual: Texas Tech 85-73)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 6-7

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 64-50-3

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell


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