TCU, Gonzaga are set for a blockbuster battle in the Round of 16

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Will TCU be able to contain Gonzaga forward Drew Thiem during their NCAA Round of 16 game on Sunday?

AP

It’ll be hard to top TCU’s thrilling comeback win over Arizona State in terms of excitement, but the Round of 32 matchup with Gonzaga could be even more entertaining.

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It’ll feature the Horned Frogs’ top-ranked fast break offense vs. Gonzaga’s No. 1 overall scoring offense.

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It’ll feature Mike Miles Jr., one of the best guards in the country coming off a 26-point outing against Arizona State, versus Drew Timme, the top post player in the country.

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It’ll feature two teams that when operating their peak, have shown they can beat anybody in the country.

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“This team, TCU, I knew when the matchup popped up on the board I knew it was going to be tough,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I feel like when they’re at their highest end, it’s as high as anybody in this tournament when you look at some of the things they’ve done.

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“But when we’re at our highest end we can go on the road and beat Alabama basically in Birmingham, hopefully it’ll be a great game.”

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All signs indicate it should be a good one and while TCU will be the underdog, the Horned Frogs aren’t carrying that type of mentality into Sunday’s game.

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TCU is aware of the numbers, like the fact Gonzaga leads the country with 87.4 points or that as a team the Bulldogs shoot better than 52% from the field.

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“Stay disciplined, we know they do a great job with high-lows and their actions,” Emanuel Miller said. “We know their actions aren’t really concerning it’s how they execute. How we execute on defense is going to be a big priority throughout the game.”

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Gonzaga doesn’t run anything exotic offensively, they just run it very well due to the chemistry this nucleus has been able to form the last three seasons or so.

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Everything starts and ends with Timme though, Gonzaga’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game. He’s an imposing challenge, that will require the full focus of the TCU defense.

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“It’s team defense for us, we haven’t played a lot of teams where their offense resolves around their inside guys,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s a challenge, you want to stop him, but you don’t want to give other guys shots and that’s what makes them so good, they’re balanced.

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“But it’s going to rely on team defense, changing things up and adapting as we did last night (vs. Arizona State). We tried everything last night. We threw in some zone, we’ve got a lot of different things we can do and we’ll have to use all of them.”

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TCU’s Big 12 brethren Baylor and Texas may provide the blueprint for TCU to upset Gonzaga. Both programs defeated Gonzaga earlier in the season with stifling defense.

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Timme was held to just nine points against Baylor as he fouled out of the game. Timme scored 18 against Texas, but turned it over five times and was able to be exploited in ball screens.

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“The Big 12 has a different intensity on the defensive end that can bother Gonzaga,” Chuck O’Bannon said. “We’re going to try to pressure them all game, make them uncomfortable and hopefully come out with the win.”

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Gonzaga turned it over 18 times against Baylor and 20 against Texas, basically double their season average. Those games were earlier in the season, but it still shows how different Gonzaga is in the backcourt without a star like Jalen Suggs or Andrew Nembhard to operate the offense.

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That’s where Miles and Damion Baugh could be the difference for TCU. Miles is expected to be a full-go after briefly banging up his knee on amazing dunk in the first half against Arizona State.

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It’s plays like that dunk that has Few keenly aware of how dangerous Miles can be.

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“Really, really impressed with his explosiveness and his game,” Few said. “How he can take over a game at that position, the pace he plays with. We don’t often run into the teams that like to play as fast as we do and they certainly do.

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“He is the driving force behind that and his ability to get by guys and go downhill and finish with force is very impressive.”

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Both teams have mutual respect for each other with deeper relationships than one might expect. Dixon and Few have become good friends over their lengthy, prestigious coaching careers.

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Dixon recruited Timme out of high school, while a number of TCU players faced Timme at various points of their careers.

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Those bonds only make this game more compelling along with the historical milestone TCU is chasing as the Horned Frogs have another shot to make it to the second weekend of the tournament.

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With so much starpower, with so much at stake, this is the type of game TCU envisioned being in when the collection of talent decided to run it back.

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Buckle up, this game could be one for the ages.

This story was originally published March 18, 2023 4:25 p.m.

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