Night Line: TCU Stuns Kansas in an Upset to RememberPosted by BHayes on February 7th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
On a Wednesday night chock-full of college basketball action, nobody could have expected the story of the night to come from Fort Worth, Texas. Pairing a TCU team seeking its first Big 12 win with a Kansas squad fresh off a home loss to Oklahoma State would seem to rank pretty high on the combustibility scale, but enter a twist: It was Kansas who went up in flames tonight. The Horned Frogs snatched a win to remember in the midst of an otherwise forgettable season, and college basketball fans bore witness to one of the biggest upsets of the last decade. Jerry Palm went so far as to mention that this was the biggest upset — in terms of RPI difference — in his 20 years of tracking numbers. The 62-55 win was as ugly as it was unexpected, but if you love a good upset (and what college basketball fan doesn’t love that), this was as beautiful as it gets.
Explaining the inexplicable is not a favorite pastime of mine, but I’ll take a shot here. As bad as TCU is, the bulk of their issues have come on one side of the ball. Trent Johnson’s offense, valued at #330 nationally in efficiency, has been a nightmare. The defensive effort has been slightly better, although the national ranking of #137 in defensive efficiency still couldn’t have worried Bill Self too much before tip-off. Afterward he was too consumed with his own team’s failings to marvel at the Horned Frog D, but the point is that this was the kind of game TCU had to create to have a shot to win. They weren’t going to beat Kansas playing deep into the 60s, let alone the 90s, and it took a truly anemic KU offensive effort to allow TCU this win.
Kansas fans will spend the coming days and weeks wondering if this one was just a blip on the radar or if it is actually a real reason for concern. On the surface, it looks the part of one of those strange, fluky nights on the road in conference play, and it may turn out to be that and only that. But if there is an apparent concern for this Jayhawks team, it has to be the glaring lack of play-makers on the offensive end. Even if 6-of-16 nights will be few and far between for freshman and leading scorer Ben McLemore, are there enough other scorers available who are capable of creating their own shot for the team to make another serious NCAA Tournament run? Players like Jeff Withey and Travis Releford are competent offensive options who play well within the KU system, but only Elijah Johnson qualifies as a true creator alongside McLemore, and he’s been struggling fiercely in recent weeks. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward, but I’ll also hazard a guess that Naadir Tharpe won’t be taking 15 shots again in a game this year, even if he is capable of making more than two of them.
For TCU, the analysis is far simpler. The Horned Frogs are not a good team. What they are is proof that old clichés often ring true – that anything can happen on any given night. They will lose many more games the rest of this year and likely win very few; in fact, only once more does KenPom provide them with a chance of winning a contest that exceeds 10%. Oh, and their odds of winning their rematch with Kansas on February 23 is a paltry one percent. But none of that matters tonight, and none of that will matter in 10 years, for this is an upset of epic proportions that won’t soon be forgotten.