Item by item, the TCU men’s basketball team has checked off a lengthy list of compelling achievements during its turnaround season under new coach Jamie Dixon.
The Horned Frogs (14-4, 3-3 in Big 12), with 13 games remaining in the regular season, already have topped last year’s totals for victories (12) and conference wins (2). TCU has posted its first victory in 20 years against Iowa State and its first road triumph in 30 years at Texas.
But there are lots of boxes that remain unchecked on this team’s to-do list, starting with Saturday’s matchup in Schollmaier Arena against No. 6 Baylor (17-1, 5-1). TCU has yet to knock off a Top 25 opponent this season, and the Bears offer the latest measuring stick for a team seeking to make its mark as a Big 12 contender after posting a combined record of 8-64 in league play the past four seasons.
“If we want to be at the top of the league, and that’s our goal, you’ve got to win your home games and at least split on the road,” said Dixon, whose team is 11-1 in Fort Worth, with the lone loss coming against then-No. 3 Kansas, 86-80, on Dec. 30. “Our seniors, they came here to set the turnaround in TCU basketball. It may have taken a little longer, but they feel like they’ve done it now.”
The unanswered question for that senior group (Brandon Parrish, Karviar Shepherd, Chris Washburn, Michael Williams) is how high it will set the bar for the players who follow. TCU’s remaining games will provide the answer, and Parrish, a guard who averages 7.0 points and 3.4 rebounds as the team’s sixth man, remains confident that the best is yet to come.
“I’m finally getting to see come to pass the things I had hoped for when I first came in. It’s a great feeling,” said Parrish, an Arlington Seguin graduate who has logged just one of his 80 career starts this season because of his new role. “The other seasons, they were fun in parts. But I like the consistency of my fun this season. Even in our low moments, I still feel happy this season.”
The Frogs’ turnaround has been triggered by the emergence of 6-foot-11 forward Vladimir Brodziansky (13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds), the team’s leading scorer, and the contributions of four players who were not on last season’s roster: freshman guards Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane, Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson and guard/forward Kenrich Williams, who missed last season after undergoing microfracture knee surgery.
Those four fresh faces have combined to average 38.9 points and 13.1 assists per game while adapting quickly to Dixon’s system. Even in Wednesday’s 75-69 loss at Texas Tech, Dixon found reasons to be encouraged by his team’s grit while rallying from a 14-point, first-half deficit to get the contest tied, 64-64, before missing six consecutive shots in crunch time that helped Tech seal the win.
“Character’s big in building teams, building camaraderie, building chemistry. They have that,” Dixon said. “I really feel good about them. I think our guys are ready to make a statement in the conference.”
Saturday’s top-10 opponent and sellout crowd would provide an ideal backdrop for such a statement. TCU has dropped its last 17 matchups against Top 25 opponents, dating to a 70-55 victory over No. 21 Oklahoma State on Feb. 14, 2015. The Frogs have not defeated a top-10 opponent since knocking off No. 5 Kansas, 62-55, on Feb. 6, 2013, in Fort Worth.
Since joining the Big 12 for the 2012-13 season, TCU has a 2-38 record against Top 25 opponents. But that includes just an 0-1 mark under Dixon, a former TCU player who led Pittsburgh to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 seasons before taking over the Frogs’ program in March.
Although Baylor achieved the No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history before last week’s 89-68 loss at West Virginia, the Frogs are optimistic they can contend with the Bears’ frontcourt tandem of 7-foot Jo Lual-Acuil and 6-10 Johnathan Motley, as well as point guard Manu Lecomte (11.9 points, 4.4 assists), a transfer from Miami who is a Big 12 newcomer of the year candidate. Motley, a junior, scored 32 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in Tuesday’s 74-64 victory over Texas.
Among TCU’s eight players who average at least 13.2 minutes per contest, none tops the Big 12 in any statistical category. But a Horned Frog ranks second among league leaders in shooting percentage (Brodziansky, 62.4 pct.), rebounding (Kenrich Williams, 9.6), assists (Robinson, 5.6) and blocked shots (Brodziansky, 2.4). TCU has outrebounded 14 of its 18 opponents, posting a 13-1 record in those contests.
“I like how we have so many dimensions to our team,” Parrish said. “We can beat you in a lot of ways. We have a lot of depth.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew, who has known Dixon for most of two decades, has not been surprised by the Frogs’ fast start under their new coach.
“When it comes to X’s and O’s, everyone respects him. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be successful in the Big 12,” Drew said. “Physically, his guys really play hard. They’re known for their tough play.”
After Saturday, Dixon hopes they’re also known for their first victory over a Top 25 opponent during his inaugural season at his alma mater.
TCU men vs. No. 6 Baylor
7 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU