TCU men face long Big 12 odds as Texas Tech visits

TCU men's coach Trent Johnson took a break from watching Texas Tech film Wednesday night and made the short walk from his office to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

The largest crowd in the history of the building --7,394 -- was watching the TCU women play Baylor, the defending NCAA champ.

Johnson's Horned Frogs (9-4) begin their first Big 12 Conference season at 5 p.m. today against the Red Raiders (7-4).

Another large crowd is expected.

And more capacity crowds are likely to follow against Baylor, Kansas and Texas.

This is one of the many benefits TCU officials envisioned when moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 became a possibility in September 2011.

But the TCU basketball team is far from what Johnson expected he'd have when he took over the program in April.

Leading scorer Amric Fields is out for the year after a knee injury in the third game of the season. Starting forward Jarvis Ray is out until mid-February with a broken foot. Freshmen center Aaron Durley sustained a season-ending knee injury before the season began.

But Johnson is doing his best to keep the injuries out of the storyline during the Frogs' first run through the Big 12. He's more concerned with the players that are available, which includes three walk-ons. Christian Gore, who transferred from Brown, is eligible to play Jan. 14 when the spring semester begins.

"Forget the injuries," Johnson said. "You have guys out here who want to play. Guess what? Watch what you wish for now."

Despite the injuries, TCU (9-4) enters league play with a three-game winning streak, thanks in large part to a defense that leads the Big 12 and is seventh in the nation, allowing 54.5 points per game, 17.6 points less than last season. Even before the injuries, Johnson was telling his team nothing would come easily this season.

"I told them at the start of the year, we're going to be playing in close games," Johnson said. "Every step of the way it was going to get tougher."

Johnson has said several times through the first 13 games that his team is going to play well and lose some games. He can handle that, he has said. But he won't easily forget when his team's effort is not there, even in a victory, such as the Frogs' last outing when they escaped with a win against winless Mississippi Valley State.

"Because who are we to think we could just show up and play?" Johnson said. "This is how I'm wired and since this is my first year and we're building something that is going to be done right, and it's going to be special. I don't care if you're playing Timbuktu, it's competition. And if you're a good player and you're a competitor, you compete whoever it is."

Overall, the effort has been there, Johnson said, but now the Frogs' competition level goes up several notches in the Big 12, including against three teams in the Top 25.

"Let's show some courage now," Johnson said. "By that I mean your approach to the game. No one dictates my approach to how I go to work. I could be playing against Shaquille O'Neal. So what? You may not be able to physically block this guy out, but are you going to back away from that?"

Garlon Green is one player who so far has embraced his new challenge. Since moving to a shooting forward spot when Ray was injured early last month, he is averaging 20 points a game and has scored at least 15 points the past four games.

"We've already established an identity without them," Green said. "We're just trying to move forward and get ready for Big 12 play. It's always a work in progress, but every day we're learning [Johnson's] way of working and his way of thinking."

"We can play really, really well and we could get beat," Johnson added. "But be aggressive, defend, play as hard as you can, and let it fall where it may."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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