By Melissa Triebwasser
Frogs Today staff writer
SAN DIEGO — The TCU Horned Frogs are in unfamiliar territory in the NCAA Tournament, preparing for South Region No. 1 seed Arizona in the Round of 32.
But despite being in a position that the program hasn’t been in since 1987, the Frogs appear calm and confident, if not excited for the opportunity to face off with one of the country’s best teams and one of college basketball’s most exciting players.
“We’re looking to make more history tomorrow,” Mike Miles Jr. said during Saturday’s press conference. “It’s not going to be easy — Arizona’s a great team — but we prepared the right way. If we play defense like we did yesterday, we’re going to have a great shot.”
The Wildcats (32-3) are an explosive offensive unit, averaging just a shade under 85 points per game, the third-highest mark in the country and the best amongst Power 5 programs. That should make for an interesting dichotomy against the stingy Horned Frogs, who are a top-40 program defensively.
Names to know
The Wildcats are led by Bennedict Mathurin, a 6-foot-7 sophomore guard who was a second-team All-American this season. Mathurin, a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, averages 17.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, and is the clear leader of a talented roster.
Mathurin is one of four players to average double-digit scoring for the Wildcats, joined by Azuolas Tubelis (14.5 points/6.3 rebounds), Christian Koloko (12.2/7.3), and Kerr Kriisa (10.1 points). Kriisa will be familiar to TCU as a George Mason transfer who played against the Frogs a couple of years ago.
Four other players scored seven-plus points per game, forming a lethal and balanced scoring attack. As a team, the Wildcats have 698 assists, the top mark in the country, and are more than happy to keep the ball moving.
Point guard Dalen Terry is in the top 15 nationally in assist-to-turnover ration at 2.85, and as a whole the Wildcats are 16th with nearly 1.5 assists for every turnover.
Mathurin led his team in scoring against Wright State in the first round, dropping 18 points as one of five players in double-digits in the 17 point win. Arizona shot over 50% on 3-pointers and dominated the glass 46-25.
The Raiders shot just 35% from the field but only turned it over six times while forcing 10 steals. It will be interesting to see what kind of pressure the Wildcats can put on a TCU team that has had difficulty limiting turnovers.
At 32-3 overall, there are plenty of wins to choose from. Arizona beat then-No. 4 Michigan and swept the only two other ranked opponents in the Pac 12, UCLA and USC.
A somewhat shocking defeat to the Buffaloes in Colorado stands out as the most inexplicable of the Cats’ three defeats, and the only time they dropped a contest to an unranked foe.
Facts and figures
- TCU leads the all-time series 2-0. The first meeting was Dec. 29, 1939, a 37-32 in the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. The last meeting was Dec. 30, 1952, a 63-48 win in the Southwest Conference Holiday Tournament in Dallas. So, suffice it to say, it’s been a while.
- It will be Jamie Dixon’s first time facing Arizona. Dixon and Miles faced two Arizona players while at the 2022 FIBA U19 World Cup —Oumar Ballo (Mali) had nine points and five rebounds in his game against Team USA, and Mathurin (Canada) scored 19 points and had five rebounds.
- TCU’s adjusted defense efficiency rating of 91.8 ranks 16th nationally and is the second-best by a Horned Frogs team and the best since the 1997-98 season (94.2).
- The Frogs are 19-7 when outrebounding their opponent. The Frogs average nearly 39 rebounds per game while the Wildcats pull down an average of 41.5, the fourth-most in the country. Arizona is the best rebounding team TCU has faced this season.
- TCU will have played 2022 NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds six times this season: three against Kansas, two against Baylor and one against Arizona. The moment shouldn’t feel too big for them Sunday night.