Key Returners: Jaylen Fisher, Alex Robinson, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, JD Miller
Key Losses: Vladimir Brodziansky, Kenrich Williams
Key Newcomers: Yuat Alok (JUCO), Kaden Archie, Kendric Davis, Russell Barlow
Outlook: When I sit down to watch a Jamie Dixon coached team on T.V., I know I'm about to witness the following: 1) Precise offensive execution with a contagious culture of sharing the rock and 2) five guys on the floor perpetually playing hard and playing for one another. So, with a sample size of two full seasons in hand, it turns out replacing Trent Johnson with Dixon was a 'Supersize-esque' upgrade in the coaching department (WOAH, who could've seen that coming?!?!). Now entering his 3rd year as the Horned Frogs' head honcho, Dixon is armed with what could be the deepest and most talented roster he's had since making the move to Fort Worth in 2016.
The straw(s) that stir the drink for TCU are a pair of dynamic point guards in Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson. Collectively, Fisher and Robinson share the responsibility of orchestrating Dixon's pass-and-screen heavy offense in the half-court and igniting the fastbreak out in the open floor. We here at 3MW are on record as being large advocates of the dual point guard system, which is exactly what Dixon installed when he first arrived at TCU two years ago. Per hooplens.com, Dixon played Fisher and Robinson together roughly 1 out of every 2 possessions during the 2016-17 season. Sharing the floor so frequently allowed the 1-2 point guard punch to develop a rare, but valuable, on-floor chemistry as 'offensive co-pilots'. This backcourt bond continued to strengthen over the course of the 2016-17 campaign and well into last season...
But it all came to an abrupt halt in mid-January when Fisher suffered a devastating knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. This untimely trauma forced Dixon to give sole possession of the offensive keys to Robinson, who took over as full-time point guard for the final 15 games of the season. Unfazed by the challenge, Robinson rose to call of duty as he led TCU to a respectable 9-9 Big-12 record and 6-seed in the NCAA tournament all while Fisher watched from the sidelines.
Now, seven months removed from his 2nd knee injury in two seasons, Fisher is expected to be back and fully healthy for the start of the 2018-19 campaign. The question is will Dixon revert back to that dual point guard lineup and prioritize playing Fisher and Robinson together? Or will he prefer to 'platoon' the two and have them alternate time on the floor? The final answer will likely be a mix of both, but bear in mind that Dixon has an abundance of other offensive assets he must find minutes for as well.
Rising juniors Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi were both human flamethrowers last year and may just be scratching the surface of their potential as they continue to round out their offensive repertoires. Hyper-athletic JD Miller impacts the game in a variety of ways and draws frequent mismatches as a hybrid wing / forward. So, when you throw in two more top-150 ranked freshmen (Kaden Archie & Kendric Davis), the top-ranked Aussie prospect in 2017 (Lat Mayen), and another 4-star recruit coming off a redshirt (RJ Nembhard), it quickly becomes clear just how rich the Frogs' talent pool will be this year. And with all of those promising pieces now jockeying for meaningful minutes, playing Fisher and Robinson together will directly reduce opportunities for others.
Dixon will have some tough decisions to make in how he juggles the rotations, but when comparing the two point guards here's the brutal truth: Fisher is the superior player, plain and simple. Both the advanced individual and advanced team statistics tell us that Fisher is a more secure ball handler and decision-maker, as well as a more consistent finisher and 3-point shooter - not to mention the 20% advantage he has over Robinson at the charity stripe.
Just look at Fisher's individual advanced stat line from his condensed season last year, specifically his performance against elite competition (Tier A & Tier A + B competition), per kenpom.com - he was well on his way to a special sophomore campaign:
And when Fisher was on the floor as the primary point guard with Robinson on the bench, TCU's offense was near-unstoppable as the Horned Frogs scored at an astronomical rate of 1.33 points per possession.
As aforementioned, arriving at the ultimate lineup combination solution may require some early season experimentation for Dixon to properly compare his old two-headed point guard approach with a new approach of only playing one at a time and alternating (in other words, with one being a true starter and the other assuming a backup role).
Before going any further, it's important to pause and acknowledge just how awesome Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky were last season. Williams was a mismatch nightmare with his offensive versatility at 6'7 and Brodziansky was quite literally the Big 12's most efficient player throughout conference play. But what really made this forward tandem valuable was their activity on the glass as catalysts for TCU's 3rd-ranked offensive rebounding rate and top-ranked defensive rebounding rate in the Big 12.
Joining the incumbent Miller in a revamped frontcourt will be a handful of fresh faces - collectively, this group must replace the rebounding production of their predecessors and secure the boards on a nightly basis. Dixon welcomes one of the top ranked JUCO prospects in the country, 6'11 Yuat Alok, and redshirt freshman / former 4-star prospect Kevin Samuel to the rotation. Alok is oozing with upside as a skilled shot-maker and passer, but also comes to Fort Worth with a reputation as a supreme shot-swatter on the defensive end. Samuel, on the other hand, will serve as the 'Thunder' to Alok's 'Lightning' given he's a much more bruising force at 6'10 265 pounds, an element of physicality TCU severely lacked up front last season.
Bottom Line: The achilles heel of last year's team was defense, but I firmly believe that poor luck played a part in TCU's defensive woes. Despite surrendering the fewest 3-point attempts in the conference - a statistically valid indicator of how well a team defends the 3-point line - Big 12 opponents shot a ridiculous 42% from downtown against the Horned Frogs. For context, the best 3-point shooting team in America last year shot 42.2% (William & Mary).
While there are certainly some defensive improvements needed that are within Dixon's control, a regression to the mean in the form of opponents simply cooling off this year will naturally improve TCU's overall defensive efficiency. Combine this with what should be a top-20, or potentially repeat top-10, ranked offense and it's easy to buy into the Horned Frogs as a dark horse contender in a loaded Big 12.