Back in October, long before the TCU men’s basketball team posted its 11-1 start under new coach Jamie Dixon, the Horned Frogs expressed confidence that life would be different for them in the Big 12 this season.
TCU players, along with their new coach, shrugged off a preseason vote of league coaches that projected the Frogs to finish last in the league. Guard Brandon Parrish, a senior from Arlington Seguin, was the most outspoken Frog when discussing plans to improve on last year’s 12-21 record and distance the program from its combined mark of 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four seasons.
“The world is thinking of us as a last-place team … but we definitely know that we’re not,” Parrish said in October. “We know that we’re going to be an NCAA Tournament team this season.”
How well the Horned Frogs build on their fast start under Dixon, starting with Friday’s 8 p.m. Big 12 opener against No. 3 Kansas (11-1) in Schollmaier Arena, will determine whether TCU returns to the Big Dance for the first time since the 1997-98 season. But preseason confidence has only been deepened by the team’s fast start, Parrish stressed after Wednesday’s practice.
“Our confidence is through the roof right now,” Parrish said. “We’re 12 games into the season and we’ve all bought into the system and bought into what we want to do and how we want to play for each other and with each other. As long as we continue to do that, we’ll be successful.”
TCU’s 11-1 mark matches the 1930-31 squad for second-best start to any season in program history, a feat topped only by a 13-0 start in 2014-15. But that team from two years ago finished 18-15, including a 4-14 record against Big 12 opponents, and did not play in a postseason tournament.
Our confidence is through the roof right now. We’ve all bought into the system ... As long as we continue to do that, we’ll be successful.
TCU guard Brandon Parrish
TCU, ranked No. 25 in Wednesday’s RPI rankings, seeks to return to the postseason for the first time since a first-round loss to Oregon State in the 2012 College Basketball Invitational. To make that happen, the Frogs must embrace or continue building on these five storylines:
Wear them down with depth: TCU probably does not have a starter who will contend for first-team All-Big 12 honors. But multiple Frogs could be candidates for second-team acclaim or top newcomer honors. TCU has nine players averaging at least 12.3 minutes per game. Eight of them are scoring at least 6.1 points per contest, with four in double-digits: guards Alex Robinson (10.8), Jaylen Fisher (10.5) and Kenrich Williams (10.4), plus forward Vladimir Brodziansky (10.4).
Lean on the fresh faces: Four of the Frogs’ primary contributors did not take the floor for TCU last season. That list includes two freshman guards, Fisher and Desmond Bane (9.2 points per game), plus Robinson, a transfer from Texas A&M and a Mansfield Timberview graduate. It also includes Williams, who missed last season because of knee surgery but has returned as a double-double machine (10.4 points, 10.0 rebounds).
Supplement with senior leadership: Parrish, who started 33 games last season, has embraced his role as a sixth man and ranks fifth on the team in minutes played (20.5) while ranking as the most consistent scoring threat from 3-point range (42.9 percent). Fellow seniors Karviar Shepherd (6.1 points, 3.8 rebounds), Chris Washburn (3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds) and Michael Williams (2.7 points) remain locker-room leaders and key contributors.
Win the close ones: TCU is 3-0 in games decided by single digits, including a 63-59 victory at UNLV and an 80-71 triumph over Illinois State (8-4), the No. 67 team in the updated RPI. TCU also has victories over two other teams with strong RPI rankings: Arkansas State (No. 44) and Texas Southern (No. 51). They’ll face several more in Big 12 play, where no league team has a losing record and eight of 10 have at least eight wins. Although Kansas is the favorite, Baylor coach Scott Drew said “the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 is the closest I’ve seen it” during his 14 seasons in Waco. To reach the postseason, TCU must find ways to win its share of tight contests against Big 12 teams.
Find some road victories: TCU’s greatest failing under former coach Trent Johnson was its 1-35 road record over four seasons against Big 12 opponents. The lone victory came at Texas Tech on Jan. 17, 2015. TCU is 1-1 in road venues under Dixon, with a 63-59 victory at UNLV (Nov. 25) and a 74-59 loss at SMU (Dec. 7). The Frogs also scored a neutral-site victory over Washington, 93-80, in Las Vegas (Nov. 26). The Frogs’ first road trip during conference play comes Jan. 7 at West Virginia (11-1).
TCU men vs. Kansas
8 p.m. Friday, ESPN2