#6 TCU Horned Frogs vs. #11 Syracuse
Friday March 16, 9:40 p.m., CBS
TCU Horned Frogs (21-11, 9-9) – Big 12 at-large
Player to Watch: Kouat Noi (10.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 43% 3pt)
Despite losing sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher for the year with a torn meniscus, TCU has had some players really step up in his absence. Noi, just a redshirt freshman, began contributing off the bench and has now earned himself a starting job for head coach Jamie Dixon. The 6-foot 7-inch forward from Newcastle, Australia can flat out shoot the basketball, and he knows it. Noi has made at least three 3-pointers in 11 different games this season, and will not hesitate if he gets just an inch of space. That can work both ways for the Frogs, who will have to attack the Syracuse 2-3 zone. If Noi is knocking down shots from the perimeter, he could go off because that zone gives you open looks, but Noi has to take them without hesitation. However, if Noi struggles to find his stroke, as he has the past three games, shooting just 2-15 from beyond the arc, that could lead to TCU forcing up shots against a Syracuse that will slow the game down to limit possessions. It’s important for Noi to take and make the open looks when he gets, but he also must move the ball when it’s not there so the Frogs get a good shot each time down the floor.
X-Factor: TCU must attack the offensive glass
The Horned Frogs have been really good in this department throughout the season, rebounding nearly 33% of their misses, which ranks in the top 30 in Division I. Despite Syracuse’s size, the Orange are susceptible to offensive rebounds simply because it can be so difficult to rebound out of a zone. One person in particular to keep an eye is senior forward Kenrich Williams. If you haven’t had an opportunity to see Williams play, tune in to this game as this matchup perfectly fits Williams’ play style. Williams is a relentless rebounder and might be the best out-of-position rebounder in the country. The guy they call “Kenny Hustle” is going to have to earn TCU some extra possessions on Friday night if the Frogs want to pick up their first tournament win in 31 years.
Syracuse Orange (21-13, 8-10) – ACC at-large
Player to Watch: Frank Howard (15.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 1.9 SPG)
The ‘Cuse have the luxury of having a 6’5″ true point guard running the show and while Howard’s length has been huge for Syracuse on the defensive end all season long, it will be his offense that might be the difference in this game. Looking at Syracuse’s three-headed offensive attack of Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett, it is clearly Howard who will have the matchup advantage. No team in the country can compete with the Orange’s size at the point, and TCU’s point guard, Alex Robinson, is just 6’1″. Howard is a complete offensive player who has the potential to rise up and shooting over just about anyone guarding him. However, he scored just 12 points on 4-13 shooting in the First Four game against Arizona State on Wednesday night. For Syracuse to upset the Frogs, Frank Howard must score the basketball.
X-Factor: Syracuse cannot have offensive droughts
As per usual for an isolation offense, Syracuse has had moments throughout the season where they simply struggle to put the ball in the basket. If that happens in Friday’s game, the Orange are going to find themselves in a tough situation. TCU is 20th in the country in scoring, averaging 83 points per contest, and the Frogs come at you in waves. TCU has handled zone defenses well this year, sweeping in-state rival Baylor, and the Frogs can score in bunches. Syracuse is going to have to match TCU basket for basket, whether that be riding a hot hand or having Howard, Battle, and Brissett work together to score doesn’t matter. If Syracuse goes cold offensively, they could very well find themselves down double digits in an instant, and this is by no means an offense built to come from behind.
Matchup to Watch: Kenrich Williams vs. Oshae Brissett
These are two of the premier small forwards in their respective conferences, and whoever has a better game between these two could lead their team to an opening round victory. Williams is a stat sheet stuffer, averaging 13.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, and shoots 41% from the 3-point line. Expect Williams to be in the middle of that zone, trying to collapse the defense when he gets the ball and make plays from the free throw line. Williams’ movement on the offensive end could give that Syracuse zone fits. On the defensive end, Williams will likely be guarding Orange freshman Oshae Brissett. Brissett is coming off an outstanding performance against Arizona State, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Brissett single-handedly carried Syracuse offensively on Wednesday night and is arguably playing his best basketball of the season. These two forwards going at it should be fun to watch.
Key Stat: TCU’s assists totals and ability to shoot the 3 vs. Syracuse zone
The Horned Frogs shoot exactly 40% from the 3-point line as team and have four different players shooting over that mark. They can really spread a defense out with shooters all over the floor. Additionally, the Frogs rank second in the country in assists per game with nearly 19 assists per contest as a team. Those two statistics are crucial in attacking a 2-3 zone, as Syracuse’s opponents shoot around 33% from the beyond the arc. If the Frogs share the ball and make shots on the perimeter, they can cruise past the Orange.
Prediction: TCU 80 – 64 Syracuse
This game will be close early on as the Frogs try to figure out how to attack that Syracuse zone, but Coach Dixon and his players are too experienced and will make adjustments. The TCU players might not be familiar with the Syracuse zone, but Coach Dixon has seen numerous times when he was the head coach at Pittsburgh. The Frogs just have too many gifted offensive players that can make plays against the zone, and Syracuse has been offensively challenged all year long. Look for TCU to really try to push the pace at every opportunity and that’s when the Frogs can pull away.