Still short-handed, TCU men losing board games badly

01/10/2014 11:08 AM

11/12/2014 3:39 PM

TCU’s rebounding struggles have been a glaring issue through the Horned Frogs’ first two Big 12 Conference games. But it’s not exactly a shocking development.

And you don’t have to be a college basketball analyst to figure out why this part of the game has helped derail TCU’s chances of pulling out victories at home against West Virginia and Kansas State.

The task gets even tougher for TCU against No. 7 Baylor at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Bears (12-2, 0-1 in the Big 12) have one of the best front lines in the country and are third in the Big 12 with 40.1 rebounds a game. The Frogs are last in the league in rebounding at 33.6 a game.

As a reminder, TCU (9-5, 0-2) is without three important players whose primary jobs would be rebounding and providing a bruising body on defense.

Those players — Devonta Abron, Aaron Durley and Chris Washburn — won’t make it to the court to help alleviate the problem for the Frogs this season. Abron and Durley went down with season-ending injuries in the preseason and Washburn must sit out 2013-14 because of NCAA transfer rules. His request for a waiver was denied.

So coach Trent Johnson, like many coaches, has been pointing out the obvious since October: TCU must be fundamentally precise and vigilant on defense and rebounding to remain competitive against the stout teams of the Big 12.

It’s not a matter of effort, because rarely has the team shown a lack of hustle. It’s more about the players keeping their rebounding responsibilities at the forefront of their thoughts from possession to possession.

“It’s concentration,” Johnson said. “These guys care. When you have breakdowns, you have breakdowns. My goodness, it is what it is. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if Devonta was out there and Chris Washburn was eligible.”

In truth, even with TCU’s improvement with the return of Amric Fields and a talented freshman class, the Frogs can’t afford to have many breakdowns or they’ll see closely fought games turn into routs. That happened against Kansas State and to a lesser extent against West Virginia.

In both losses, TCU was forced to overcome a big rebounding disadvantage. And against K-State, the Frogs added a poor shooting night to the hurdles but only trailed by seven with under seven minutes remaining.

In fact, TCU didn’t exactly play very well in both Big 12 losses, Johnson said, but still hung around, which could be an encouraging sign for the future.

“Sometimes you have to tip your cap to who you’re playing,” Johnson said. “We didn’t rebound the ball well. This basketball team is fine. We just have to continue to grind it out.”

That’s also part of the problem. Although Washburn can practice with the team, Durley and Abron aren’t yet back on the court, leaving the team thin during practice. Johnson joked Monday that his assistant coaches Kwanza Johnson and Brent Scott can only go full steam for so long before they need a break. Johnson pointed out he was not entirely joking about the matter.

Abron and Durley, the two bulkiest guys on the team at 255 and 270 pounds, would be helping freshman post Karviar Shepherd get acclimated to the physical grind quicker. And Fields, who still can’t practice every day because of the tenderness of his still healing knee injury from a year ago, is still trying to get back in game shape.

Shepherd is still getting comfortable in the Big 12 and navigating the do’s and don’ts with regard to foul-calling. He has 6 points and 8 rebounds combined in the Frogs’ first two league games. The sooner it clicks for him, the better for TCU. Against Baylor, he’ll be head to head with former Arlington Grace Prep star Isaiah Austin, who is averaging 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

“It’s a test for everybody. We’re a team,” Johnson said. “Guards have to rebound. Defensively, rotations involve guards and wings; rebounding involves everybody. We need everybody to put their body in there and go run down loose balls. That’s what we have to do.”

After the loss to K-State in which the Frogs were outrebounded 37-21, Fields bluntly called the team, including himself, soft on the glass. Moments later Fields couched his comments by adding that the team has just struggled to show its toughness “when the lights are on.”

If there is an opponent to elicit the Frogs’ inner beast, Baylor fits the bill.

“They’re very talented; long, strong and athletic,” Johnson said. “Just like everybody else in this league. I think they’re, without question, one of the best teams in our league and one of the best teams in the country.”

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