The Big 12 debut seasons for TCU (9-9, 0-5) and West Virginia (8-9, 1-3) have been a washout so far, but at least one team will find some relief during Wednesday night’s misery-loves-company matchup. Here’s a primer on the game in Morgantown:
1. Can WVU recover from the Purdue debacle?
The margin of defeat against Gonzaga was wider, but Saturday’s 79-52 loss to a pedestrian Purdue squad was more embarrassing. From such a low point, will West Virginia regenerate intensity against a TCU team that’s winless in the Big 12?
Said WVU coach Bob Huggins: “All I can tell you is, (Monday) we had one of the best practices we’ve had in a while, for whatever that’s worth.”
Sophomore forward Kevin Noreen, the only big man to start at Purdue as WVU shifted to a four-guard lineup, sensed an unusual turn in Huggins’ demeanor during the 72 hours since the Mountaineers’ poor showing in West Lafayette.
“(Huggins) really wasn’t in our faces yelling; he was just really ashamed of how we played and embarrassed,” Noreen said. “I feel sorry for him, and I can’t blame him. We’ve got to play better.
“That’s just not the way we’re accustomed to playing. That’s not Coach Huggins’ style and that’s not our style. What you saw was not indicative of anything we want to do, and we need to change things fast.”
2. Back at full-strength
With Terry Henderson (lower back) once more participating fully in practice, Huggins suggested the freshman guard will return after a two-game absence. Gary Browne (ankle) also should be back to full-throttle after a gimpy outing at Purdue.
Huggins said Tuesday he expects to return to more motion offense, though the four-out, one-in lineup will be utilized when matchups dictate that WVU go small.
The motion attack, a staple of Huggins’ philosophy through the years, typically uses two big men and seemingly would mean more minutes from Aaric Murray (presuming he can avoid foul trouble). The junior center hasn’t met expectations that followed his transfer from LaSalle, but in a purely statistical sense, he has been WVU’s most productive influence. Through 17 games, here are the plus-minus team scoring totals for each player in the rotation:
Aaric Murray plus 47
Keaton Miles plus 34
Matt Humphrey plus 23
Eron Harris plus 21
Terry Henderson plus 21
Gary Browne plus 11
Dominique Rutledge plus 10
Jabarie Hinds plus 6
Kevin Noreen minus 23
Deniz Kilicli minus 47
Juwan Staten minus 43
3. TCU brings good effort, bad record
First-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t offer any pie-in-the-sky projections upon coming to TCU from LSU last spring. He emphasized that the Horned Frogs needed to upgrade their talent level to compete in the Big 12 and, in a more localized view, that the basketball program needed to start carrying its weight among TCU’s more successful athletics teams.
Though the Frogs are winless in five league games so far, and figure to be an underdog in the remaining 13, Johnson hasn’t been disappointed with his players’ effort.
“Every team I’ve ever had — good, bad or indifferent — is always going to play hard, is always going to compete,” he said. “The one thing we’ve done a decent job of establishing is how we’re going to play on the defensive end. We’re going to do the best within our talent to make you earn your keep.
“On the other end, offensively, that’s going to be dictated on how much more talent we get and how much deeper we get.”
4. Fields of bad dreams
Amric Fields, the junior forward expected to be TCU’s top scorer this season, tore knee ligaments in the second game. The 6-foot-9 Fields was the Mountain West Conference’s sixth man of the year last season, when he averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 rebounds.
He went down only weeks after a preseason no-contact knee injury sidelined freshman center Aaron Durley.
“Don’t feel sorry for us, don’t feel sorry for TCU, don’t feel sorry for me,” Johnson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We’re going to come out and go to work. That’s all part of this game. For me, I tend to feel for the player. It’s just unfortunate we have two guys who would have really helped this basketball team we can’t have this year, but somebody else has to step up and play.”
Guard Kyan Anderson (11.4 points) and small forward Garlon Green (10.9 points) are the only Frogs averaging in double figures.
5. Keeping things respectable
Outside of a 63-45 loss at Oklahoma State, TCU hasn’t been blown out of any Big 12 game — with losses coming to Texas Tech (62-53), at Baylor (51-40), to K-State (67-54) and Iowa State (63-50).
“I was impressed down at TCU the way they stayed in the game,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg after Saturday’s matchup in Fort Worth. “The way they’re playing right now, they’re going to be in most games.
“They’re very physical and they do a great job on the offensive glass, and they play a low-possession game which is going to keep them in it.”
Not that Johnson is patting his team on the back for any moral victories. “Somewhere along the line,” Johnson said, “we’ve got to start making some shots at crucial times.”
TCU ranks 337th nationally (out of 345 Division I teams) in possessions per game at 61.4. It’s also among the lowest-ranked teams in points per possession (326th), points per game (344th), assists per game (323rd) and assist-to-turnover ratio (303rd).
The defensive metrics are much more favorable for the Horned Frogs: 145th in field-goal defense (41.4 percent), 77th in 3-point defense (31 percent) and 12th in points allowed (56.4).
“What they’re trying to do is make you score in the half-court,” Huggins said. “I think we all understand it’s easier to score in transition, so they want to make you do score in half-court, trying to make sure that they get back and are playing five-on-five.”