Hitting the Road: K-State-TCU Preview

This guy (Amric Fields) has come back with a vengeance since breaking his hand in the last week of November. - Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State's seniors may need to lead the talented freshmen in their first true road game against the Big 12's worst team.

We all know how well Kansas State has played at Bramlage Coliseum the last two games, and just how amazing the freshmen Bruce Weber recruited have been. They even put together a strong second half on a neutral court in Brooklyn vs. Tulane, which helped us forget how awful they looked in Puerto Rico.

Then again, that was a very unique situation, playing in a huge, virtually empty stadium in a tropical paradise. It's disappointing the ‘Cats didn't play better, but I'm not sure it really tells us anything about how they'll play elsewhere.

Finally, though, this team will play a true road game Tuesday night when it goes to Fort Worth to take on TCU, slayer of Jayhawks. It's the latest Kansas State has played its first game in an opponent's gym since the Wildcats beat Oklahoma 84-82 on Jan. 12, 2008, in Frank Martin's debut season.

That was also a young team led by probably the best freshman class in my lifetime (26 years) if not ever, featuring Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen, Jamar Samuels, Dominique Sutton, Ron Anderson and Fred Brown. Of course, Samuels, Walker and Sutton joined halfway through the season and Walker didn't even make it to that Oklahoma game before tearing his ACL Samuels redshirted the second semester, but that's still an incredible class.

Those guys lost five straight road games at one point in Big 12 play and went 7-1 at home, which should help explain why I'm more than a little concerned about what we might see from this year's team in a hostile environment. You'd like to think they'll go into places with no fear, but it's still an atmosphere they've never experienced before, even if you're only talking about 5,000 people at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum instead of 16,300 at Allen Fieldhouse.

For the most part, Bruce Weber teams haven't been bad on the road, which is a good sign. In fact, let's take a quick look at how he's done as a head coach in conference play only, since nonconference road games are varied enough they really can't be used as good predictors of anything.

Year Home Away
KSU '12-13 8-1 6-3
Illinois '11-12 5-4 1-8
Illinois '10-11 7-2 2-7
Illinois '09-10 5-4 5-4
Illinois '08-09 7-2 4-5
Illinois '07-08 3-6 2-7
Illinois '06-07 4-5 5-4
Illinois '05-06 4-4 7-1
Illinois '04-05 8-0 7-1
Illinois '03-04 6-2 7-1
SIU '02-03 9-0 7-2
SIU '01-02 5-4 5-4
SIU '99-00 7-2 5-4
SIU '98-99 7-2 3-6

The last two years at Illinois stand out, as well as his very first year of coaching at SIU. It is worth noting the Illini had virtually no senior leadership in Weber's final year, but in 2010-11 their top two scorers, Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis, were both fourth-year seniors.

You'd like to think Shane Southwell and Will Spradling can step up their play and offer some help to the younger guys, along with junior Thomas Gipson. Jevon Thomas and Marcus Foster both seem fairly poised most of the time, though Foster looked awful in the first half against Tulane in an unfamiliar arena.

It's nice, at least, that K-State gets to start its road slate with TCU, probably the worst team in a loaded conference. No matter what happens tonight, though, I'm still going to be terrified of that game Saturday at KU.

As for the Horned Frogs, well, they're better than last year mostly because it would have been hard for them to be worse. After losing to SMU at the American Airlines Center and then suffering a really embarrassing loss to Longwood (who is much worse than Northern Colorado), TCU actually bounced back to beat everyone but a good Harvard team in its last 10 nonconference games.

That included wins at Washington St. and Mississippi St., who were picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 and SEC, respectively. Still, it's nice to know the worst of the Big 12 is better than the worst of other BCS conferences.

TCU relies mostly on its solid but not spectacular defense, which holds teams to about 40 percent shooting and forces 12.9 turnovers per game, both of which rank around the middle of the Big 12. Their adjusted defensive efficiency is only 100.9 points per 100 possessions (8th in the Big 12) compared to K-State's 92.3 (1st Big 12, 14th NCAA).

Junior point guard Kyan Anderson, who dropped 29 in Manhattan last year (16.2 ppg, 5.2 apg), remains their best offensive weapon, and West Virginia's ability to hold him to 12 points on only 7 field goal attempts was surely a big reason the Mountaineers won 74-69 at TCU on Saturday. I'd like to think that plays to K-State's strengths, since they obviously have an outstanding defensive guard in Thomas.

The Horned Frogs will also look to forward Amric Fields, who has averaged 19.5 points in two games since missing a month from a broken hand he suffered against Harvard. At 6-9, 220, he can play inside and step out and hit the 3, so it should be a good test of Southwell's versatility.

6-10 freshman Karviar Shepherd (7.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) gives TCU a decent duo inside, but there isn't much depth behind them so the Horned Frogs will sometimes have to go small. That may be a reason they're the worst rebounding team in the conference (26% OReb pct., -1.7 Reb. margin) and you'd like to think regardless of nerves, road jitters or discomfort, K-State can gain an advantage on the boards.

Brandon Parrish (10.9 ppg) leads the team in 3-pointers and can score inside as well but Jarvis Ray (11 ppg) is more of a slasher and gets to the free throw line better than anyone besides Anderson. They do have some guards capable of putting up points off the bench in Christian Gore or Charles Hill Jr., so it would be in K-State's best interests not to let them get open looks.

I'd be kind of surprised if this game was anything but extremely ugly with shooting percentages hovering around 40% and neither team scoring much more than 60. That's pretty much how it went last year until K-State got hot late in the first half and held on for a 67-54 win at TCU, something the ‘Cats should be more than happy to take tonight.

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