Information and analysis on TCU players involves contributions from college basketball freelance writer and researcher Nathan Giese
There are three main stories to consider as Vanderbilt prepares to face TCU in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. They all contain seeds of hope for VU -- a little bit in the present but much more so in the future.
Let's start small: This season probably won't realize the Commodores' fullest aspirations or hopes, but it can still be better. The instructive point to realize in connection with this specific game is that a year ago, when Vanderbilt was sagging and flagging, the turning point which catapulted VU into a strong month of February and then the NCAA Tournament was the Big 12-SEC Challenge game. Stepping outside the SEC and being able to play a quality opponent seemed to refresh the Dores, who had struggled at home but then knocked off Iowa State (a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament). That revved up the team's engines and gave the players renewed faith in Bryce Drew's coaching. Vanderbilt became a better home team after that point, with its high-end victories -- especially over South Carolina and Florida -- making the difference between an NCAA bid and an NIT slot.
One year later, Vanderbilt gets a chance to refresh itself -- and its season.
Story No. 2: TCU is itself a sign of hope for Vanderbilt.
The Horned Frogs -- like VU -- have never made the Final Four. They play in a deep league (tougher than the SEC, yes, but not deeper). They play in the shadow of state universities with far more resources in Texas, much as Vanderbilt lives in the University of Tennessee's shadow. Yet, Jamie Dixon has come in and -- in little more than one season -- dramatically changed the culture, expectations and quality attached to the program. Given the way Bryce Drew is recruiting in his own right, this stepback season after last year's NCAA bid feels more like an interruption or growing pain than an indicator of what is to come. TCU and Dixon offer powerful affirmation of how improvements can occur relatively quickly with the right man in charge on the bench. TCU is an emblem of opportunity and change for Vanderbilt.
Story No. 3: Jamie Dixon is a man who indirectly might have enabled Vanderbilt to reach the next level.
Personal note: I live in Seattle. The folks up here in this part of the country are forever grateful that Steve Sarkisian left the University of Washington to coach at USC. Why? Chris Petersen was able to come to U-Dub and make the Huskies a powerhouse.
It could be similar with Dixon, whose decision to leave Pittsburgh after more than a decade in the Steel City gave Kevin Stallings the idea that it was time for a fresh start as well. The domino effect initiated by Dixon enabled VU to get a younger coach and -- by all appearances -- a superior recruiter relative to Stallings. Abundant optimism will greet the 2018-2019 Vanderbilt basketball season as long as returning players don't get injured between now and next November. If Drew is able to coach as well as he can recruit, Vanderbilt fans will be thanking Jamie Dixon for a very, very long time. That lends an element of good feeling to this game on Saturday, even though the 2017-2018 has been anything but a feel-good journey for VU.
Dixon's journey and evolution lend so much texture to this matchup and what it has the potential to represent for Vanderbilt, now and in the future.
Let's look at TCU's notable players.
Vladimir Brodziansky: At just under 7-feet tall, Brodzianski is a load of a player to deal with. He leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range. The latter number isn’t spectacular, and he’s taken just 44 attempts beyond the arc, but it’s enough to know that he’s a threat to step outside. TCU likes to use Brodziansky in pick-and-roll situations and he’s excellent finishing those attempts when given the opportunity. The only offensive downfall is that he’s not great at spot-up jumpers. He can rebound but averages only about five per game. Vlad has 36 blocks on the season but is giving up nearly a 50-percent success rate on opponents’ shot attempts.
Kenrich Williams: A versatile swing man for the Horned Frogs, Williams can get going offensively in a variety of ways. Unlike Vlad, Kenrich excels in spot-up jumpers and attacks the glass, leading the team at just under 10 boards per contest. He’s a 41 percent 3-point shooter and has 40 steals on the year. Williams isn’t much better than Vlad defensively, allowing over 41 percent shooting to opponents with him as the primary defender. He is, however, great at defending the pick-and-roll.
Desmond Bane: Bane is a lethal 3-point shooter, hovering around a 50-percent success rate on over four attempts per game beyond the arc. It’s rare that he’s used in anything other than transition and spot-up situations, but he’s been great all season with the ball in his hands. Bane is also one of TCU’s best defenders, holding opponents to 32 percent on shot attempts, most of which have been in the pick-and-roll and on spot-ups. He can handle himself in isolation as well.
Injuries: Jaylen Fisher, who had been the team’s starting point guard, is out for the season. R.J. Nembhard is back practicing with the team after missing the last month but is highly unlikely to play in this game. It is worth noting that without Fisher, the rest of this TCU roster was able to rally around the flag and knock off No. 7 West Virginia this past Monday. TCU lost a bunch of Big 12 games to some of the high-end teams in the conference (Oklahoma twice, Kansas once) by excruciatingly small margins and/or in overtime. The team's level of quality is better than its record indicates.
J.D. Miller: Miller is converting around 48 percent of his shot attempts but is just a 61-percent free throw shooter and 34-percent shooter from 3-point range. He’s an average jump shooter, at around 38 percent, and does most of his work in those situations. Opponents have willingly attacked Miller on jumpers and succeeded in doing so.
Alex Robinson: Robinson has been Fisher’s replacement as the team's point guard and is increasing his workload and production. Prior to Fisher’s injury, Robinson was averaging 7.4 points, 4.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds in over 26 minutes per game. In the last three games, though, those numbers have increased to 12.7, 10.7 and 4.3, respectively and he has sat a combined three minutes in this period of time. He is putting in work for TCU when the Frogs need him to.
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