TCU missed a chance to play the biggest name on its non-conference schedule last weekend when Maryland lost in the semifinals of a tournament in Florida.
Instead, the Frogs faced St. Bonaventure in the final of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla, on Saturday night.
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Still, the Horned Frogs, who debuted at No. 23 in the AP poll this week, were likely looking forward to a matchup against the traditional power Terrapins to break up a standard early-season schedule of low- and mid-majors.
“You probably think Maryland will be the opponent if you win, but we knew how good St. Bonaventure was,” Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon said. “They’ll be a top 40 or so RPI team out of 351 [teams].”
In the big picture, that’s what any schedule is about — building an NCAA Tournament resume — and Dixon is optimistic about how TCU will end up. The Frogs have defeated ULM (3-3), Tennessee Tech (6-1), Summit League preseason favorite South Dakota (6-2), Omaha (0-7) and New Mexico (2-4) in addition to the Bonnies (3-2), who were missing their best player but are picked second in the A-10.
“It’s challenging who you get and how good you want them to be,” Dixon said of the annual scheduling of non-conference games. “But my feeling going into this year was we were good enough to take on the best we could get as far as mid-majors. Belmont is that, South Dakota was that, Yale is that — all teams picked to win their league or be second. Those are dangerous.”
After Ohio Valley Conference favorite Belmont (4-3), the Frogs play Ivy League second-place preseason pick Yale (4-4), AAC second-place pick SMU (6-2), Mountain West favorite Nevada (6-0), SWAC favorite Texas Southern (0-6) and William & Mary (3-2) before the start of the Big 12 schedule on Dec. 30 at home against Oklahoma.
In January, TCU will visit Vanderbilt (3-4) as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, a TV event where the matchups are made by the leagues. Coincidentally, one of Vanderbilt’s losses is to the same Belmont team that visits Schollmaier Arena on Wednesday. Belmont was 23-7 a year ago and 15-1 in the OVC.
“These guys are used to playing guys in AAU,” Dixon said. “With even scholarships, facilities are similar, the mid-majors beat high majors when they get their opportunities, especially if they can get them at home. But certainly in neutral-court situations as well.”
TCU will play only one of the remaining non-conference games away from Schollmaier Arena. The Frogs meet Nevada on Dec. 8 in the last game of a tripleheader as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Tip time is scheduled for midnight Central.
The Frogs changed the time of one contest. The Yale game on Saturday was moved from 4 to 7 p.m., in part to accommodate a crowd that may come over from the Big 12 championship football game.
Dixon predicts that TCU will finish with a better strength of schedule rating than last season, which fell just shy of the NCAA Tournament but resulted in an NIT championship.
“This year’s non-conference is much stronger as far as the numbers,” he said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in position to get a good RPI if we take care of business.”