It’s arguably the most anticipated basketball season in TCU history.
The Horned Frogs, picked third in the Big 12, are coming off their first postseason tournament championship and return their top six scorers.
When the season opens at 8 p.m. Friday at Schollmaier Arena against ULM, the Frogs will make their entrance looking like NCAA Tournament material.
Eager fans, restless since a celebratory NIT quarterfinal victory that sent the Frogs off to New York City in March, have gobbled up season tickets.
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This is not business as usual at TCU.
But it is for Jamie Dixon.
“I feel normal,” the Frogs’ second-year head coach said. “I hate to sound like the old guy that’s been through it, but I put myself in that category. I feel like I’m coaching and preparing to win a league championship, and I think our guys feel that way. So I feel comfortable. I feel like I’ve been here before.”
He has. Dixon won two regular season Big East titles and a Big East tournament championship at Pitt, where he took the Panthers to 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2004 to 2016.
At TCU, it’s all different.
The Frogs have not been to the NCAAs since 1998, and they have not finished higher than fourth in any league since winning the WAC’s Pacific Division that year.
The Frogs have won five NCAA Tournament games in 65 years. Dixon’s Pitt teams won 12 in 13 years.
All-time, TCU has a .462 winning percentage. Dixon, .718.
Last season’s 24 victories in Dixon’s inaugural season were the second-most in TCU history but only the ninth-best year in Dixon’s career.
He is used to this.
“I feel our guys have the same belief, the same mission that I’ve had before and I have now — that we’re here to win a conference championship while playing in the best conference in the country,” Dixon said. “I’ve done that in the Big East. We’re preparing and thinking that way. Now we’ve just got to do it.”
For the players, it can’t start too soon.
“I’m just anxious more than anything,” guard Kenrich Williams said in October at the league’s media day in Kansas City, Mo. “I’m ready to play. Just ready to play.”
The Frogs don’t sound nervous, despite being picked third by the Big 12 head coaches and labeled a team to beat.
“There’s no pressure at all,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to come out and play. We know we can play.”
And Dixon can coach. He has the fifth-most career wins among the coaches in the Big 12, a league where five coaches have been to the Final Four. Dixon makes TCU competitive in the coaching box like it rarely has been.
“We expect to compete for a conference championship,” he said. “That’s what we expected last year. I know people look at me like I’m crazy, but we won 24 games — second-most in school history — and I thought we should have won more.”
Expectations accelerated quickly with Dixon’s arrival on campus and the NIT championship. He hasn’t tapped the brakes yet.
“I want people to have high expectations here,” he said. “I’m fine with that, I promote that, and I encourage that. I expect our players to live up to that standard and strive to. I’ve always been like that.”
Business as usual.
TCU men vs. ULM
8 p.m. Friday, FCS Central