Christian didn’t waver when Frogs hit rock bottom

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    March Madness is at its pinnacle 8212; eighth-seeded Butler and No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth represent half of the remaining teams in the NCAA tournament. TCU's basketball season ended 19 days ago 8212; at least one day longer than many expected.

    For anyone who sat through the Frogs' 13-game losing streak, which started Jan. 15 and without the Frogs' third-leading scorer Sammy Yeager, it was evident by the fourth loss in a row the streak could be lengthy after the indefinite suspension of TCU leading scorer Ronnie Moss.

    TCU basketball effectively hit rock-bottom.

    TCU was 9-8 before Yeager's dismissal and 10-12 with Moss suited up. The Frogs found themselves at 10-21 and 1-15 in conference play before they opened up the Mountain West Conference Championship with a 70-61 victory over Wyoming 8212; their first win since Jan. 12.

    The next day TCU entered the second half of their quarterfinal match against No. 8 BYU with a 34-33 lead and were down by two points with under a minute remaining in the contest. The Frogs kept the game within two possessions for nearly the entire second half.

    There was no question who the better team was; there was no question who had the best player on the hardwood; there was no question which team played with more heart and hustle. Two of three answers go to BYU, but bubble in TCU for the latter.

    Credit head coach Jim Christian for giving his team a real shot at what would have been the biggest upset in conference tournament play.

    It wasn't 40 minutes of basketball in the MWC quarterfinal that swayed Athletics Director Chris Del Conte to announce Christian would return next season 8212; it was the removal of two of the Frogs' three leading scorers, a 13-game losing streak and a coach that refused to quit on his team.

    Hustle, heart and competitiveness were never issues for this team.

    Without Moss, the Frogs suffered a narrow 66-65 overtime loss to Air Force on Jan. 29, a two-point loss to Utah on Feb. 22 and a seven-point loss at then-No. 6 San Diego State before a five-point loss at Air Force to end the regular season.

    TCU proved it could keep it close with two Sweet 16 teams in BYU and SDSU throughout the season.

    Show me a coach who could have done any better under the circumstances, and show me a coach more willing to prove he can take this team to an NCAA tournament when he has the assets he needs in place and the support from TCU Athletics 8212; because it is coming.

    It took "addition by subtraction" for this program to buy into Jim Christian Basketball even if it didn't show in the win column. It's the same philosophy that led Kent State to the NCAA tournament in 2006 and 2008.

    Maybe another coach finds a way to keep Yeager and Moss on the floor for the remainder of the season and the Frogs finish around .500. Would that same team have played down to the wire with BYU in the quarterfinal out of sheer tenacity and heart? Unlikely.

    TCU will do just fine without Yeager, a junior college transfer, but without Moss next season, TCU won't be a difference maker in the MWC.

    If Christian wasn't convinced Moss bought into Jim Christian Basketball while riding the bench in street clothes, Moss wouldn't still be listed on the roster.

    Next season, Moss will lead an undersized team with a lack of top-tier athletes and little big game experience; a team that will never quit on its coach because he didn't quit on his players when they hit rock-bottom on the hardwood.

    Moss will, however, be a go-to scorer for a Frogs' team that displayed throughout the stretch it was willing to play tough defense. Point guard Hank Thorns ranked No. 4 in the NCAA in assists this season and forward Garlon Green averaged 11.2 points per game and should only improve in his junior season. True freshman Amric Fields showed flashes of his length and athleticism and should make a significant jump next season as well.

    There's a ceiling to how well the Frogs can do next season, but there will be improvement.

    Regardless of the construction of the current roster, TCU's move to the Big East will bring better talent. TCU Athletics, contrary to popular misconception, is finally committed to TCU basketball. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum is on the shortlist to get a face lift along with nearly other nook and cranny of this campus in the next few years.

    Del Conte laid out a five-year plan to turn TCU basketball around. Chances are that in that time frame TCU will land a program-changing player who couldn't resist the temptation of playing in the best basketball conference in the nation without having to leave his Texas backyard.

    Christian earned another shot to coach TCU basketball next season the old fashioned way. Let's see what Christian can do with Moss and Co. in TCU's final season in the MWC. Then let the debate begin on whether Christian should join the rest of athletics in the move to the Big East. TCU basketball may still be far from becoming the next Butler or VCU, but at least it has a coach who knows how to get to the Big Dance.

    Sports editor Ryne Sulier is a senior news-editorial journalism and political science double major from Plano.