The applied sports science of bracketology lacks the clean, consistent conclusions that come with studies of biology or geology.
But when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, conjecture and speculation are required elements in the equation until all the 32 recipients of automatic bids for conference champions are known on Selection Sunday.
From a TCU standpoint, the signals are mixed regarding the Horned Frogs (17-11, 6-9) and their March Madness status heading into the 1 p.m. game Saturday at Schollmaier Arena against No. 12 West Virginia.
Based on Friday’s projected brackets, the Frogs will be playing in a First Four contest in Dayton, Ohio, as a No. 11 seed, according to the prognostications of ESPN.com and CBSSports.com. The latest USA Today projection has TCU omitted from the 68-team field.
TCU coach Jamie Dixon understands the game against Mountaineers (22-6, 10-5) is huge for a team seeking to break a four-game losing streak that matches its longest of the season.
“We don’t need excuses. We need results,” said Dixon, who called the matchup the “biggest game of the year” during his postgame news conference after Wednesday’s 87-68 loss to third-ranked Kansas. “You can’t hide from it.”
54 TCU’s latest RPI ranking, which is sixth among Big 12 teams seeking at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament.
TCU, the No. 54 team in the latest RPI rankings, finds itself on the NCAA bubble because of four consecutive losses to Big 12 teams with a higher RPI: Kansas (1), Baylor (5), Oklahoma State (28) and Iowa State (41). All but the loss to Oklahoma State came in road games. All four losses came against teams with veteran backcourts, a trait West Virginia also possesses.
“In some ways, I think we’ve gotten better offensively during this stretch, even though they’re losses,” Dixon said. “We’ve done good things. But we’ve struggled against really good guards, which most teams do. That’s the thing that we have to find ways to get better at.”
TCU will be tested by West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense throughout the game. The approach has helped the Mountaineers lead the nation in forced turnovers (21.6 per game) and turnover margin (plus-9.1) this season. Players understand the challenge.
“It’s a little added pressure, but we’re built for it,” said guard Desmond Bane, who contributed six points, four rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot in 22 turnover-free minutes off the bench against Kansas.
“We’ll stick together and work this thing through,” said guard Alex Robinson, who leads the team in assists (5.5) and is the top scorer among TCU’s backcourt members (11.3).
How well TCU handles its final three regular-season games will impact the Frogs’ postseason destination. The Big 12 is projected to place six or seven teams in the NCAA field. TCU enters Saturday’s game tied for sixth place in the league standings with Kansas State (17-11, 6-9).
Also prominent in the mix for an at-large berth is Texas Tech (17-11, 5-10) among Big 12 teams with comparable résumés to TCU.
TCU’s RPI ranking, a key component in setting the NCAA field, remains ahead of K-State’s (60) and Tech’s (100) but changes daily. It will be impacted significantly by Saturday’s result, as well as the outcome of Wednesday’s TCU-Kansas State game in Fort Worth.
It’s a little added pressure, but we’re built for it.
TCU guard Desmond Bane
Dixon, who led Pittsburgh to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 seasons before taking over the TCU program in March, considers his team well-positioned to return to March Madness for the first time since 1998 if the Frogs maximize their home-court advantage in the next two games.
“We’re in, but we’ve got to win,” Dixon said. “We know we’ve got to play better.”
TCU men vs. No. 12 West Virginia
1 p.m. Saturday, ESPN