Throughout its turnaround season, TCU has deftly played the underdog card before most of its biggest men’s basketball games. The Horned Frogs (22-15), who posted only 12 wins last year, have responded with a postseason run to next week’s NIT semifinals in New York.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to Madison Square Garden. TCU, the No. 4 seed in its eight-team NIT quadrant, will arrive in the Big Apple with as lofty of a tournament seed as any remaining semifinalist (Central Florida also received a No. 4 seed). The Frogs’ RPI ranking (No. 67) is the best among the four schools still competing for an NIT title.
Does that mean TCU, the perpetual underdog this season, suddenly looms as the favorite to cut down the nets in New York City?
“I hope we’re favorites to win. I haven’t really thought about it,” guard Alex Robinson said before Thursday’s practice. “We’re playing so hard as a team and playing together. As long as we keep that up, I feel like we’d have a good shot to win it all.”
TCU meets UCF (24-11), which has an RPI ranking of No. 69, in Tuesday’s semifinals (8:30 p.m., ESPN). The earlier game matches Georgia Tech (20-15), ranked No. 106 in RPI, against Cal State-Bakersfield (25-9), the No. 75 team in RPI but a No. 8 seed to begin NIT play.
Lots of evidence suggests TCU, which has a 5-1 record in its last six games, could be the team to beat in New York. Robinson said the Frogs have not been surprised by their postseason success under first-year coach Jamie Dixon.
“Not really. When coach Dixon first got here, one of his main things was about not rebuilding. He wanted us to win now and change our attitudes,” Robinson said. “Ever since then, we’ve always expected to win. I kind of think we expected this.”
Guard Brandon Parrish said: “Right now, we see the light. We feel like we’re playing our best basketball.”
But the Frogs, said Parrish, plan to keep their underdog mindset in place in New York even if others view them in the favorite’s role.
“We had one of the highest RPIs in the NIT field and we were ranked as a No. 4 seed,” Parrish said. “They put us as the underdog and it’s a sign of disrespect. So we’re going to go out there with a chip on our shoulder. We’re not going to go in thinking about being a higher seed.”