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Tennessee vs TCU Q&A

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We check in with SB Nation's TCU blog on the eve of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

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One of the best named blogs on the network is TCU's Frogs O' War, and Andrew Felts was good enough to trade questions and answers with us before Saturday's SEC/Big 12 match-up between the Vols and Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.

1. TCU has started 1-7 in Big 12 play and lost five straight, the last two by a combined 30 points.  Has there been a particular reason for the slide, or is it simply, "We play in the best conference in America?"  What will it take to break this losing streak against Tennessee?

There is a laundry list of things wrong with this team right now, and most of them stem from the fact that TCU is competing in the "best basketball conference in America" on a nightly basis. Trent Johnson lost three key scorers from last year's team to graduation, and another to a season-ending knee injury. Without those pieces in place, TCU has really struggled to put points on the board. The Frogs enter tomorrow's contest 286th in the nation in scoring with 68.3 points per game. The team is dead last in the Big 12 in offensive output, scoring just 61.6 points per league game.

To put it bluntly, TCU just doesn't have the athletic talent to compete in the Big 12. The Frogs were a perennial bottom-dweller in the Mountain West, then got thrown into the Big 12 during a span in which the conference is as talented as it has ever been. TCU faces a competitive disadvantage in nearly every facet of every league game, which has resulted in these lopsided losses. With five such defeats in a row, the team is facing a serious confidence issue. The Frogs look lost on both ends of the floor. Right now, TCU is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle where every problem compounds another problem.

To get out of this rut, the Frogs really need to find start finding success on the offensive end. I think that if the team can put together a cohesive scoring attack, they will see a boost in confidence and things will begin to correct themselves. A lot of the scoring issues have to do with playing against vastly superior talent, so the contest with a more evenly-matched Tennessee team is a nice break from the dogfight that is Big 12 play.

2. Anything noteworthy from TCU's previous encounters with Rick Barnes?

The Frogs are 0-8 all-time against Rick Barnes-coached teams, with each loss coming while Barnes was at Texas. The most staggering statistic that I can come up with is that in those eight contests, the Frogs averaged only 51.1 points per game. The most TCU has ever scored against a Barnes-coached team is 59, which has happened twice before. Barnes' Texas teams usually featured pretty solid defensive units, but they looked super-human against the Frogs. I can't speak to how Barnes' defensive gameplan has translated at Tennessee, but if his recent successes are any indication, TCU will face a pretty good challenge on Saturday.

3. This week Rick Barnes mentioned he didn't particularly care for the Big 12/SEC Challenge when he was at Texas because he felt like the league didn't need it, but now that he's in the SEC he's in favor of it.  What are your thoughts on the SEC/Big 12 challenge overall?

As a fan of college basketball, I really like the event. ESPN usually does a pretty solid job pairing the teams, and I think that moving the date into the middle of conference play will highlight some of those matchups even more. Without this event, we wouldn't get a Kansas-Kentucky or a Buddy Hield-Ben Simmons matchup at this point in the season, so from that standpoint, I'm all for it.

I think that Barnes' reasoning from when he was at Texas is mostly accurate, but for a team like TCU, getting to play Tennessee is a nice change of pace from the daily grind of Big 12 play. The Frogs are 2-0 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, knocking off both Mississippi and Mississippi State on the road over the last two seasons. With eight conference games under their belt this year, the Frogs should at least have the experience to go toe-to-toe with Tennessee tomorrow.

4. TCU has given up the most three pointers attempted and the third most makes in Big 12 play.  With the Vols taking 20+ threes per game in SEC play, can you share anything specific about the way TCU has struggled to defend the three?

The Frogs' problems on the offensive end have spilled over into the defensive side of things during league play. With the aforementioned scoring issues as the most pressing concern, Trent Johnson has no choice but to play the guys that have the best chance of putting points on the board. Usually, that means two guards on the floor at all times, which results in a mismatch on the defensive end. None of TCU's three point guards really excel on the defensive end, especially along the perimeter, so the holes in the defense are often exposed rather easily. As a unit, the defense always seems to be one step behind the offense. Sometimes something as simple as a ball screen confuses the defenders inside, leaving shooters wide open along the perimeter. Playing against teams that thrive on the long-ball (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, etc.) have skewed the numbers a bit, but there's no question that perimeter defense is a major issue for TCU this season.

5. The Vols are one of the shortest teams in college basketball.  How has TCU utilized 6'10" posts Vladimir Brodziansky and Karviar Shepherd?  How often are they on the floor together?

Brodziansky and Shepherd are actually on the floor together quite a bit. The duo have started 14 of TCU's 20 games this season. It's interesting to see them work in the lane, because Trent Johnson relies on them for their offense just as much as for their defense. Brodziansky lit up the scoreboard during the non-conference portion of the season, and still leads the Frogs in scoring with 11.3 points per game. After he was moved to the bench when Chris Washburn returned from a broken pinky finger in late December, his production dropped a bit, but was still rather impressive. Just on Tuesday, Brodziansky was substituted into the starting lineup for Shepherd, who had been struggling on both ends of the floor in league play. Brodziansky celebrated his return to status as a starter by scoring no points and grabbing just two rebounds while committing four fouls against Texas. So, I really have no idea who starts on Saturday. As I mentioned before, this team is in a bit of turmoil right now, with nothing really working on either side of the floor. If Tennessee is able to maneuver the ball inside and draw any kind of contact against Brodziansky and Shepherd, it will likely be a long day for the Frogs.