The Mississippi State Bulldogs tip off tonight at 6pm on ESPN against TCU in the Big12/SEC Challenge. The Horned Frogs led by second year head coach Trent Johnson have quite a few similarities with the Bulldogs.
We caught up with Jamie Plunkett at the TCU SB Nation site to learn a bit more about the squad.
1) Last year, Mississippi State and TCU both stayed low in the RPI, but the Bulldogs are 5-1, and TCU has wins over Washington State and Tulsa. Are things turning around a bit for the Horned Frogs?
Things are turning around a bit, thanks to a top 40 recruiting class in 2013. However, injuries have been a huge issue, with two centers, Devonta Abron and Aaron Durley, both suffering season ending injuries before the season began.
There's definitely more buzz around the program than there has been in a long time, but with a young team and key guys hurt, it looks to be another long season.
2) TCU has three players averaging double digit points a game: Jarvis Ray, Kyan Anderson and Amric Fields. What can you tell us about those guys?
Amric Fields is the best player on the team, without question. TCU lost him to an ACL tear early last year, and unfortunately, he broke his hand against Harvard last Saturday and is out for 2-6 weeks. TCU is a totally different team when he's on the floor, better on the boards, better defensively, and more in sync on offense.
Kyan Anderson is the workhorse. He was the leading scorer and assist man in 2012 with Fields out, and he's the best point guard on the team by far. He has the ability to create for himself, but he also tends to get a little out of control at times.
Jarvis Ray is the lone scholarship senior on the team, and he was also injured in the loss to Harvard on Saturday. His injury isn't nearly as serious as Fields' is though, and he may still play against MSU. One thing to watch is Ray's leaping ability. The kid can straight up jump out of the gym.
3) Who else should Bulldog fans watch in a TCU jersey Thursday?
Look for true freshman Karviar Shepherd, the staring center. He's been improving immensely as the season has come along, in large part to the return of Fields helping him out on the boards. Shepherd is the gem of Trent Johnson's first recruiting class, coming out of Prime Prep in Dallas. He was a 4-star recruit, rated the 7th best center in the country.
Also look out for Brandon Parrish, another true freshman. He's a great outside shooter who's starting to get a feel for the college game.
4) TCU has not made the NCAA tournament since 1998. What has been the biggest roadblock keeping the team from the big dance?
Ever since the move from the SWC to being a nomad, TCU hasn't really been able to recruit very well. The program has long relied on JUCO guys and high schoolers that had been passed over by most other Texas schools. That's changing now in the Big 12, and Trent Johnston has this team heading in the right direction.
5) Trent Johnson is in his second year in Dallas. What are your thoughts on the job he has done so far?
Everyone in Fort Worth is really applauding Trent after his first season as HC. Sure, the team went 2-14 in conference play, but those two wins were against Kansas and Oklahoma, two tournament teams. He also managed to bring in a top 40 recruiting class, something unheard of around here. He's also said numerous times that TCU is the place he wants to be for a while, and he seems very adament that he can make TCU a winning program. In a lot of ways he reminds people of Gary Patterson, that being one of them.