NCAA tournament hopes up in air as men’s basketball head to Big 12 tournament

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Guard Desmond Bane (1) crosses up Baylor’s Freddie Gillespie and drains a three in a moment that would go on to lift TCU over the No. 2 Bears. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

TCU men’s basketball has had their fair share of highs and lows this season.

The highest of which came when the Frogs knocked off No. 2 Baylor 75-72 on Feb. 29, but players like guard Desmond Bane weren’t surprised by how the team had just shocked the nation.

“We’ve always known we could do things like this,” Bane said. “It’s just about putting together a great 40 minutes.”

The win came just one week after TCU defeated No. 17 West Virginia 67-60 in overtime. During the 2019-20 campaign, the Frogs defeated three ranked opponents (No. 18 Texas Tech, No. 17 West Virginia and No. 2 Baylor), a program record.

In addition, TCU gave No. 1 Kansas a run for their money twice, the most recent of which saw the Frogs leading until under the 15-minute mark of the second half.

Some of the lows for the Frogs included falling twice to Texas, a 15-point loss at Oklahoma State and an 88-42 collapse in Lubbock.

The Frogs earned a 7-11 conference record this season, giving them the No. 7 seed in the 2020 Big 12 Tournament.

Kenpom.com gives the Frogs just a 0.4% chance of leaving Kansas City with the championship trophy, but they will need to in order to earn their second NCAA Tournament berth in the 2000s.

Despite the slim chance, TCU’s performances against high-level opponents as of late give the Frogs confidence they can play with anyone.

“We’re a team that has, I think, gotten better,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’re playing about as good as we’ve played all year long.”

With that in mind, here are three things TCU will have to do to make it to the Big Dance this season.

TCU’s Desmond Bane drives for a layup over two defenders against Oklahoma on March 7, 2020. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

1.) Lean on Desmond Bane.

It’s no secret TCU rises and falls with Desmond Bane. Among players in the Big 12, the senior finished second in scoring (16.37 ppg.), tenth in rebounds (6.33 rpg.) and seventh in assists (3.83 apg.).

The guard’s efforts made him the first Horned Frog ever to be named to the All-Big 12 First Team.

In TCU’s biggest wins this season, Bane has made his presence known. After dropping a season-high for conference play 27 points against No. 18 Texas Tech, the Richmond, Indiana, native dished out a career-high 10 assists in the win over No. 17 West Virginia.

Then, Bane had a career-defining moment against No. 2 Baylor. His eight-straight points late in the second half helped give the Frogs a lead they would never lose over the Bears and put a national buzz around the name “Bane.”

2.) Share the basketball.

While Bane needs to see the majority of the touches, TCU will have to share the basketball to beat the best the Big 12 can offer.

Not only does TCU rank second in the Big 12 in assists per game with 14.53, but they have two of the top ten individual assist leaders in the conference in Bane (3.83) and guard R.J. Nembhard (3.37).

R.J. Nembhard, when healthy, has started at point guard for TCU as of late. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto.

In games where the Frogs total 20-plus assists this season, TCU is 5-1, with the one loss coming Saturday in a 20-point collapse to Oklahoma behind a 41-point performance by Austin Reaves.

TCU’s 46-point loss to Texas Tech saw the Frogs totaling just four assists. Meanwhile, their 11-point victory over Kansas State five days later was quite the opposite as TCU collected 19 assists.

3.) Stay hungry.

“It’s always important to be locked in, focused on the things that you need to do to get a win at any given moment, especially right now,” guard Jaire Grayer said after TCU knocked off Baylor. “I just feel like, right now, we’re on a roll and just need to keep it going.”

For TCU to pull off the seemingly impossible, the Frogs will need to possess the hunger that had previously propelled them over ranked opponents for four-straight days.

The Frogs have been proving experts wrong all season — they were picked to finish last in the Big 12 conference standings before the season began.

“That’s something that carries with the name ‘TCU,'” Bane said. “We kind of have that underdog mentality.”

TCU’s first test will come Wednesday as they take on Kansas State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.