The Horned Frogs will enter Wednesday’s contest with a less-than-impressive 1-4 record in Big 12 action. The record does not show the Frogs cannot compete in the league; however, a top-heavy conference slate proved costly.
TCU’s first five Big 12 contests have featured some of the best talents in the nation.
Trae Young, arguably the nation’s best player, is in the rear-view mirror now that the Horned Frogs have faced the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners twice. The Sooner point guard is averaging an NCAA-best 30 points and 10 assists per game as a freshman and totaled 43 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists in his final match up with the Horned Frogs.
TCU also faced the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks, the Texas Longhorns in Austin and the Baylor Bears, who fell to the Horned Frogs for TCU’s lone conference win of the young season.
“We played well against a really good team at their place,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said in response to TCU’s loss at Oklahoma. “It wasn’t like they didn’t play bad, we played at a high level. We came up short and that’s happened in four of our five games. That’s the way the league is.”
Throughout the four conference losses, Dixon and TCU guard Desmond Bane know the team must finish better for their dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament to become a reality.
“Every game except the one we won, we were ahead with four minutes left, and the one we were down was the one we won,” Dixon said.
Essentially, there’s no real trend to pinpoint when trying to diagnose the symptom of TCU’s conference woes.
“Even the game we won was a close game in overtime,” Bane said. “In this league, the games are decided by a few points, whether its an offensive rebound we allow early in the game or not getting back on transition defense. We just need to be locked-in the whole game.”
Frogs continue to receive national respect
While losing, Dixon’s squad have fallen in a winning effort. In TCU’s 1-4 start to conference play, all four losses have come by a combined 11 points, with two losses coming by the hands of the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners and one to the No. 10 Jayhawks.
With three consecutive losses, the AP committee continues to see glimpses of potential in TCU’s future as the Horned Frogs were ranked in the AP Poll for the eighth-consecutive week, dropping from No. 16 to No. 24 this week.
“There are 351 teams and a lot of them would like to be where we’re at,” Dixon said.
Bane said being ranked shows that the nation continues to respect the Horned Frogs for their previous successes.
“We beat Baylor on the road in overtime,” Bane said. “We played a good non-conference schedule and we beat some good teams in Nevada and SMU. It speaks highly of what we’ve done. I think everyone knows how good we are and how good we can be.”
Best conference in the nation?
Dixon has experience coaching in some of the best leagues in the country. As head coach at Pittsburgh, Dixon coached in the Big East during its prime and the ACC, perennially at the top of the nation.
In 2011, 11 out of 16 teams in the Big East qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the first time in the history of the sport that it has ever been accomplished. Three squads earned No. 1 seeds and Dixon continues to compare this year’s Big 12 to the Big East’s dominance.
“There’s no doubt,” Dixon said. “It’s looking like this year’s league is even better from top to bottom.”
Horned Frogs remain positive during skid
Despite the losses, Dixon remains confident in his team’s ability to compete in the conference.
“I feel good about the team we are,” Dixon said. “There are no doubts in my mind about our team.”
A loss in basketball is not the end of the world, unlike football. Dixon and the Frogs understand that and look to improve from the few bumps in the road they have encountered.
“People lose, but it’s more about how you respond to that loss,” Dixon said. “How you handle losses is a big part of it. I was impressed with how we responded and how we played, but we know what we have to get better at at the same time.”
If the Horned Frogs continue to improve at the rate they’ve been on, there’s a belief that the results will come.
“I feel good going forward,” Dixon said. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
His players echoed his mindset.
“It’s frustrating,” Bane said. “We are a close group, so we are sticking to what we do, listening to coach’s plan and trusting in him. We believe we’re going to get it done.”
Health concerns force lineup changes
Dixon flipped the starting lineups before TCU’s matchup against Oklahoma. The Frogs had ridden with a consistent starting lineup of Jaylen Fisher, Bane, Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky and J.D. Miller, but faced the Sooners with a new look.
Kouat Noi started in place of Miller and Alex Robinson started in Bane’s place.
Dixon said that health was a factor in the lineup changes as he said he played Desmond Bane too many minutes (27), while the guard was dealing with a leg injury, but that the power forward switch between Noi and Miller simply boiled down to an attempt to start faster.
“One gives us a little better defense while the other gives us better shooting,” Dixon said. “Three games in a row we have gotten off to a really slow start, so this was a way to address that.”
The Horned Frogs will face another explosive freshman guard during Wednesday’s matchup against Iowa State.
Lindell Wiggington, the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Week, is entering Fort Worth coming off a career-high 30-point effort against the Baylor Bears and a 27-point outing against Kansas, so there’s no doubt the freshman will test the Frogs’ vulnerable defense that allows the second-most points in the Big 12, 78.1 points per game. Wiggington averages a team-best 16.5 points per game.
Dixon compares the Cyclones to the Sooners.
“They’re very similar,” Dixon said. “Both have good guards, not as big of an interior that we have faced, but they’re a team coming off a win and a team that can really score the basketball.”
While Iowa State is currently ranked last in the conference, Dixon said he respects the depth of the conference and refuses to overlook the Cyclones.
Bane said looks for his teammates to play as a unit down to close out victories.
“We just need to play together and play for each other,” Bane said. “We need to continue to play tough. There are no nights off in this league. Every night you’re in a battle, so we need to bring it every night and be ready to finish games down the stretch.”
Tipoff against the Cyclones is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday night.