There is no secret what was behind TCU's surge down the home stretch of the regular season.
Coach Jamie Dixon has talked about it to the media about as much as he's talked about it to his team.
It's not just a matter of effort, either. The Horned Frogs, who begin the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, are healthy.
The defense dragged at times when injuries limited them to a one or two-man bench for a stretch. It's also about understanding the concepts of when to help a teammate defensively. It only takes one player getting confused for the defense to break down, Dixon said.
"There’s technique, there’s habits, there’s team chemistry, there’s schemes," Dixon said. "There are adjustments that coaches make. You try to do it one way and it doesn’t work for this team, so you try to do it another way. I think it’s a work in progress. I think we have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do across the board."
TCU has the best-shooting offense in the Big 12. As Dixon has pointed out, most, if not all of the Frogs' eight scholarship players, have offense-first mentalities. They're shooters. They've had to learn over time, however, that in the cutthroat Big 12 where most games come down to the final few minutes, defense can win you a game as much, if not more, as your offense.
"We just needed to get stops," TCU senior Vladimir Brodziansky said. "Most of the games are one or two possession games so if we get one or two more stops we win those games. We realized it’s not all about our offense."
That became painfully clear early on conference play when the Frogs lost multiple games in the final seconds.
"Most of the games were really close," Brodziansky said. "So we needed more focus on the little things, helping. Talking more. That’s what coach was emphasizing the whole time, the little things that will help us a lot on defense."
TCU showed the ability to clamp down defensively throughout the season. But often it came in stretches and when the Frogs' bench was thin and as the minutes piled up, it put a dent in the defense. That isn't the case anymore. The eight-man rotation is healthy.
"The film room is where you get exposed and you don’t like that," TCU senior Kenrich Williams said. "It's a help defense. We’re not just leaving our guys on an island out there. We're helping one another. Cracking down on the baseline."
Look for helping out against Kansas State forward Dean Wade, who scored 24 points on 10 of 14 shooting against TCU in the Frogs' 66-59 win on Feb. 27. Wade had 20 points against TCU in the Wildcats' 73-68 win on Jan. 20. TCU will throw different bodies at him throughout the game Thursday.
"I know this team is a better than a team that just makes the [NCAA] tournament," Dixon said. "It’s good enough to win some games. I like that we’re playing our best basketball at this point. We know where we need to get better."
TCU vs. Kansas State
11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.