TCU begins its final run through the Mountain West Conference tonight.
To say that the Horned Frogs have struggled in the league would be kind. The Frogs are 23-73 in the MWC since leaving Conference USA after the 2004-05 season.
That was the Frogs' last winning campaign.
TCU finished 21-14 and 8-8 for eighth place in C-USA, earned a National Invitational Tournament bid and reached the third round under coach Neil Dougherty. The postseason has remained elusive ever since. The program was 12-36 in the MWC under Dougherty, whose teams went 1-3 in the MWC tournament.
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TCU basketball, which was by all accounts at ground zero when Jim Christian was hired from Kent State in March 2008, has struggled to find its footing in the MWC. The league has been a tough one, although not widely recognized until last March when three teams (BYU, San Diego State and UNLV) were nationally ranked. The league is strong again this year with No. 12 UNLV, No. 22 San Diego State and New Mexico (receiving votes) all playing at a top-tier level.
Every MWC team has won at least 10 games entering today's conference schedule, including Colorado State, which hosts TCU at 8 tonight at Moby Arena in Fort Collins. TCU and Boise State have the least impressive records at 10-5, which is the Frogs' best start since 2000-01. The Rams (11-4) are riding a six-game win streak. Their only losses are to Duke, Northern Iowa, Stanford and Southern Miss.
"It's going to be an unbelievably competitive league," Christian said. "Our league, from top to bottom, is as good as it's been since I've been in it. Every game is important; every half is important."
TCU hopes this is the year it finally has a team prepared to do business in the league, especially with next year's move to the Big 12 looming. The Frogs have had decent nonconference records before under Christian, including 9-6 last season and 9-5 in 2008-09. That hasn't translated into league play, though, as the Frogs have gone 11-37 under Christian, including 1-15 last season.
But this year appears different.
"Everyone is on board," said freshman Kyan Anderson, who attended North Crowley High School. "The seniors preach to us every day that there's a new attitude, this is a new team, and remind us every day what it takes. There's a couple players here who know how to win. We're all just trying to be on the same page."
That's what Christian is counting on through these last 15 games of the regular season.
"The guys have bought in and are following what we think we need to do to win games," he said. "They play hard and whenever we've had some tough times they've bounced back, which, in the past we haven't done. There will be more tough times ahead, nobody's perfect. We just have to stay focused. It's a marathon, especially when teams are this evenly matched."
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760