Through the first 16 games of his initial season at TCU, men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon has noticed a trend in games where the Horned Frogs have struggled.
“We’ve got three losses and each team had senior guards or very experienced junior guards on that team,” Dixon said. “And we’ve got a freshman and a sophomore that we’re counting on as our point guards. They have got to play like seniors. That’s what we’re requiring of them.”
Dixon acknowledged that a point-guard mix of newcomers to the program is “not usually a winning formula.” But he believes TCU (13-3, 2-2 in Big 12) has a unique situation with the presence of Jaylen Fisher, a freshman who is the highest-ranked recruit in program history, and sophomore Alex Robinson, a transfer from Texas A&M who is a Mansfield Timberview graduate.
Typically, one of the Frogs’ primary point guards is on the floor at all times. Frequently, Dixon uses them in tandem to enhance ball-handling options and create more offensive variety. Both have been in the starting lineup for the past seven games and that is the plan Saturday when TCU meets Iowa State (11-4, 3-1) at 4:30 p.m. in Schollmaier Arena.
We’ve got a freshman and a sophomore that we’re counting on as our point guards. They have got to play like seniors. That’s what we’re requiring of them.
TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon
Both players join forward Vladimir Brodziansky (11.9 points per game) among TCU’s double-digit scorers in their first seasons as Horned Frogs.
Robinson, at 11.3 points per game, leads the team in assists (5.3) and averages 29.5 minutes per contest. Fisher, with a 10.0 scoring average, shares the team lead in starts (15) with forward J.D. Miller and averages 4.3 assists and 27.2 minutes per game.
The area where both players seek to improve is turnovers. They have combined to average 5.8 per game while competing in a league dominated by veteran backcourt players. Iowa State features arguably the best of that bunch in senior Monte Morris, the Big 12’s preseason player of the year in balloting by league coaches.
Morris is the only player in the nation averaging at least 15 points (15.3), five rebounds (5.1) and five assists (5.7) while committing less than two turnovers per game (1.1).
“He’s really good. He’s got change of pace, speed, confidence and he’s unselfish, all at the same time,” Dixon said. “Those are things that really stood out for me. As a freshman, he had some ridiculous assists-to-turnover ratio and he’s had it throughout his career.”
In 120 games at Iowa State, that mark is 5.3 assists against 1.2 turnovers per game. Morris also averaged 1.6 steals per contest.
Robinson understands the matchup challenge that awaits a TCU team that has averaged 16.5 turnovers per game during Big 12 play, well above its season average (13.3) and Dixon’s goal of less than 10 per contest.
“Me and Jaylen know where we need to improve,” Robinson said. “It’s just a learning experience, really, for both of us. First time being in the Big 12 and teams are scouting us for the first time.
“We know where we’ve faltered when we’ve lost,” he said. “I think the next time around, it’ll be a whole lot different once we’ve gotten to experience those guards and those teams.”
Both newcomers were instrumental during Wednesday’s 64-61 victory over Texas that gave the Frogs their first victory in Austin in 30 years and improved their road record to 2-36 in five seasons as a Big 12 member.
Robinson contributed a team-high seven assists and five rebounds. Fisher added 16 points, including a 4-of-8 performance from beyond the arc and two pressure-packed free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining.
We know where we’ve faltered when we’ve lost. I think the next time around, it’ll be a whole lot different once we’ve gotten to experience those guards and those teams.
TCU point guard Alex Robinson, a transfer from Texas A&M, on the rigors of facing the experienced backcourts prevalent in the Big 12
The key to building on that momentum, Fisher said, is to “just play how we play, swing the ball and let it flow. Just do what we usually do and practice how we play.”
The challenge Saturday will be doing that against one of the nation’s most experienced backcourts. In addition to Morris, Iowa State’s guard rotation includes three other seniors.
Dixon said he is confident that his freshman/sophomore duo can build on lessons learned while facing the pressure brought by veteran guards from No. 2 Kansas and No. 10 West Virginia the past two weeks.
Against Texas, Dixon said Fisher stepped up with “his best defense of the year” and Robinson shined in spots as well.
“It’s a process. We’re making progress,” Dixon said. “Those guys are obviously key for us. We’re putting them in spots to win games for us and make decisions for us. We did some good things down the stretch at Texas.
7 Consecutive games that TCU’s Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson, the team’s primary point guards, have started together in the same lineup.
“Hopefully, this is growth. This is young guys getting better, going through trials and tribulations and learning. This is about the future and these guys.
“We need to change things and change history and move on to the future. And that’s what we’re doing.”
TCU men vs. Iowa State
4:30 p.m. Saturday, FSSW