Long before the TCU men’s basketball team recorded the signature victory in program history with Thursday’s upset of top-ranked Kansas in the Sprint Center, the Horned Frogs announced their intentions during a previous trip to the venue.
While seated in the Sprint Center as participants during Big 12 basketball media day in October, the Frogs’ four seniors called a foul on league coaches for projecting them to finish last in the conference standings — once again — in their preseason poll.
“The world is thinking of us as a last-place team. But we definitely know that we’re not,” guard Brandon Parrish said at the time. “We know that we’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.”
Parrish was right about TCU (19-15) avoiding the league cellar. But it will take some unexpected twists and turns during Sunday’s deliberations by the NCAA selection committee for the Frogs to be part of March Madness this season.
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All signs point to TCU being part of the 32-team field for the NIT when bids are announced Sunday, with an excellent chance for a first-round game in Fort Worth on Tuesday or Wednesday based on tournament seeding. The NIT field will not be finalized until after the NCAA fills its 68-team bracket for March Madness.
TCU, a 12-21 team last season, has not played in the NIT since 2005. The Frogs last competed in any postseason tournament during the 2012 College Basketball Invitational.
As the Frogs departed Kansas City following Friday night’s loss to No. 23 Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, first-year coach Jamie Dixon acknowledged he was still clinging to faint hopes for the team’s first NCAA appearance since the 1998 season.
This has been a long time coming and this is a big step for us as a program. It’s huge progress. It’s more than one step.
TCU coach Jamie Dixon, on the team’s impending return to a postseason tournament
“We’ll be discussed,” Dixon said, noting that the team’s RPI ranking of No. 69 from a Power Five conference “generally puts you in the running” for an at-large bid to March Madness. But he acknowledged the team’s 6-12 record in league play, which included a seven-game losing streak heading into the Big 12 tournament, probably will be difficult to overcome. Even with Thursday’s 85-82 victory over Kansas (28-4) that marked TCU’s first victory over the nation’s No. 1 team in program history.
If the NCAA door closes on the Frogs, as expected, Dixon said: “We will be in the NIT and a high seed in the NIT. This has been a long time coming and this is a big step for us as a program. It’s huge progress. It’s more than one step.”
Dixon played on the Frogs’ last team to win an NCAA Tournament game in 1987. He preached the March Madness mantra all season but spent time after Friday’s contest making sure players appreciated the strides they made in positioning themselves for an NIT bid.
“It’s hard to make the NIT. There are no losing records,” Dixon said.
Parrish said he will embrace any postseason bid that gives him a chance to extend his college career beyond the 131-game mark, already a school record. As a freshman starter on TCU’s team that failed to win a Big 12 game during the 2013-14 season, he appreciates this opportunity.
I’m beyond proud of the effort they’ve made. Beyond proud. It’s something we’ve been wanting. And this is just the first step.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, on the men’s basketball team’s progress this season
“From my freshman year, with us going 0-18 in conference to now, when we are eligible for a quality postseason (berth), just goes to show how this program has evolved,” Parrish said. “Coach Dixon has brought a new type of energy to the program that we definitely needed. We definitely appreciate him for that.”
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said he considers this season’s progress under Dixon an “awesome” turn of events.
“I’m beyond proud of the effort they’ve made. Beyond proud,” Del Conte said. “It’s something we’ve been wanting. And this is just the first step.”
Guard Kenrich Williams, a junior, made it clear that he expects even grander steps next season when TCU returns to the Big 12 tournament with plans to be more than a No. 8 seed. Dixon and players acknowledged fatigue as an issue in Friday’s loss to Iowa State because the Frogs were playing their third game in three days while the Cyclones had a bye on the first day of the tournament.
“Next year, we won’t have to play so many games,” Williams said. “We’ll come in as a top seed, so we won’t have to play four games in a row.”
As for Sunday, expect whatever seed TCU receives to come from the NIT, not the NCAA.