In 21 matchups, Dixon has defeated the Syracuse Orange 15 times, with the last five victories coming from his time coaching at Pittsburgh. Dixon said over the years he’s developed great respect for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and even credits him for valuable coaching tips and opportunities.
“The thing I remember most is how he reached out to us and reached out to me,” Dixon said. “I often joked with him that I spent my offseason listening to Jim speak at different events. He invited me in and pointed me in the right way, I think.”
Boeheim said that respect is mutual, even though he may have kept Dixon a little too close over the years.
“We were together a lot of years in the Big East and then the ACC,” Boeheim said. “I gave him too many hints that were good because he beat us a lot. I thought he did an unbelievable coaching job at Pittsburgh. He’s a really, really good basketball coach, and I just have a lot of respect.”
As Dixon leads TCU back to March Madness for the first time since 1998, it will mark his 12th NCAA Tournament appearance in his 15th season as a head coach.
This trip has a key difference from its 11 predecessors: His team will be playing the winner of one of the First Four matchups. The Orange had to rally from a seven-point deficit with 7:05 left to defeat Arizona State 60-56 in Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday night.
This creates a tight situation for the Horned Frogs as Dixon and his staff won’t have the typical four to five days to plan for a specific opponent before they face off Friday night. Dixon said this was the first time dealing with such a “quick turnaround.”
Despite the lack of preparation time, TCU guard Alex Robinson said he’s looking to treat this game as any other.
“We will prepare like we prepare for our other games and come in full of energy,” Robinson said.
Energy from players like sophomore guard Desmond Bane, who leads the Big 12 in three-point shooting percentage at 47 percent will be crucial against the zone defense of the Orange.
This and improvements to his overall game have proven to be X-factors for the Horned Frogs all season.
“Desmond is a great player for our team,” Dixon said. “He’s becoming a better defender, a better guy off the dribble, rebounding better. I think he became a better shooter to the point where he’s basically a 50 percent 3-point shooter. We took a chance on him, and he’s made us look good.”
The usual way to attack the Syracuse’s calling card zone defense is three-point shooting, but Dixon said the 2-3 keeps his team on its toes.
“I remember one game where they changed what they were doing, and we were hurting,” Dixon said. “So we had to change what we were doing halfway through, which took us a little while. I know everybody thinks the 2-3 just shows up, but there’s adjustments to be made.”
Boeheim said Dixon’s switch to a more offensive team since his time coaching in Pennsylvania could present Syracuse with new challenges in a matchup that dates back to the Big East Conference.
“I think this is a much better offensive team than most of the other teams he had at Pittsburgh,” Boeheim said. “They were more defense. We didn’t really have much offense success against his better teams, but this team is a really, really good offensive team.”
The Horned Frogs tip off their NCAA Tournament first round contest with the Orange at 8:40 p.m. Friday in Detroit, Michigan.