Big 12 Preview: TCU’s Burning Question

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2015

Burning Question: Will inexperience and injuries wreck TCU’s season?

TCU is not your typical power five conference job. In fact, it only became such a job three years ago. When Jim Christian sensed his seat was starting to warm at TCU, he left for Ohio, a less stressful and more comfortable mid-major gig. In came Trent Johnson, a coach who has had a modicum of success at every place he’s been, but who, like Christian, had sensed the pitchforks coming toward the end of his four-year run at LSU.

Head coach Trent Johnson is trying to build some momentum for a TCU program that won 18 games in 2014-15. (Paul Abell/US Presswire)

Head coach Trent Johnson is trying to build some momentum for a TCU program that won 18 games in 2014-15. (Paul Abell/US Presswire)

Johnson’s first two years in Fort Worth were rough for a couple of reasons. First, the leftovers from Christian’s tenure had to adjust to the transition of both coaches and to a much more competitive basketball conference (from the Mountain West to the Big 12). The Horned Frogs under Christian certainly weren’t slayers out west (18-44 in his four years), but they did finish 7-7 in league play the year before Christian hit the road. Secondly, injuries bit them pretty good. In 2012-13, starting guard Jarvis Ray injured his left foot in late December and was lost for the year. Amric Fields, the 2011-12 Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year, suffered a season-ending injury to his knee 12 seconds into TCU’s game against SMU. Conference play hadn’t even begun and the Horned Frogs’ season was all but done.

After an 0-18 Big 12 cratering in 2013-14, last season was Johnson’s first step in the right direction. TCU returned plenty of experience in the backcourt, with two-time all-Big 12 Honorable Mention point guard Kyan Anderson wrapping up a career that finished first in career steals and among the school’s top 10 in nearly every offensive category. Trey Zeigler, a transfer from Pittsburgh, was second on the team in scoring behind Anderson. A 13-0 start was built largely on fluff but winning is winning, and the team did collect a true road win against an Ole Miss team that eventually made the Big Dance. In conference play, the Horned Frogs were also a minute away from beating Baylor at home and a mere 1.8 seconds away from upsetting West Virginia in Morgantown. True to Trent Johnson’s style, last year’s team hit the boards and played stingy defense — TCU finished second in the Big 12 in blocked shots, third in offensive rebounds and ranked 53rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defense rating, the program’s highest finish since in nearly a decade.

Most of the TCU’s big men will all be back for an encore performance this season. Devonta Abron is the lone senior on the roster while Chris Washburn will likely be the most consistent force down low. Junior Karviar Shepherd will attempt to shake off a disappointing sophomore campaign. The key questions for this team will lie in the backcourt and inexperience. As Johnson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at Big 12 Media Day, both cases have to be dealt with “by committee.” Three-star freshman Lyrik Shreiner, junior Michael Williams and sophomore Chauncey Collins will attempt to fill the void left by Anderson at point guard. To replace Zeigler, Johnson has brought in Malique Trent, a combo guard who was named a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American Honorable Mention last season. In addition to newcomers Shreiner and Trent, there is considerable hype surrounding wing JD Miller, a four-star recruit ranked as the 19th best small forward in the 2015 class, per ESPN.

Once the crown jewel of Trent Johnson's first full recruiting class at TCU, Karviar Shepherd (now wearing #32 for 2015-16) must overcome a disappointing 2014-15 and become a reliable force for the Horned Frogs. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Once the crown jewel of Trent Johnson’s first full recruiting class at TCU, Karviar Shepherd (pictured as #14 but now wearing #32 in 2015-16) must overcome a disappointing 2014-15 and become a reliable force for the Horned Frogs. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

TCU’s current roster is in transition. Since the end of last season, three players have graduated, three more have transferred elsewhere, and two other players left the program to focus on their studies. Last year’s team boasted 10 players who had played 26 games or more and averaged at least 7.5 minutes per game. This year’s team only has 11 scholarship players (of the 13 allotted), and the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, Kenrich Williams, suffered season-ending microfracture knee surgery in September. To accentuate TCU’s inexperience, the Star-Telegram found that a combination of forward Brandon Parrish, Shepherd, Washburn, Abron and Michael Williams have made 158 starts at the Division I level. Excluding the injured Williams, no other player on the roster has made a D-I start. The Horned Frogs have got 10 healthy scholarship players and a full season ahead of them. This is the hand the Johnson has been dealt.

Johnson’s job security is not secure by any means but you never know how quick the administration will be to pull the trigger. TCU appears to be serious about their basketball program’s success in a similar manner how the football program was built. The school is putting the finishing touches on a $75 million remodel of its basketball arena, set to open this December. As the stakes get higher, Johnson is aware that this season is an opportunity for his program to take another step forward. But if inexperience rears its ugly head in this brutal conference and the injuries mount up, Johnson’s future could be in doubt by the end of this season.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *