As the highest-visibility week of the college basketball season has unfolded, lots of talented teams have seen their seasons end since brackets were announced on Selection Sunday.
But TCU still can maximize its March experience and gets a chance to secure a final home game if the Horned Frogs (20-15) can knock off Iowa (19-14) in Sunday’s second-round NIT matchup in Iowa City, Iowa (4 p.m., ESPN2).
It’s an opportunity that TCU, as the No. 4 seed in its NIT quadrant, did not anticipate when the Frogs learned they would be returning to the postseason for the first time in five years. It’s also a chance that’s too good to pass up in the estimation of guard Brandon Parrish, a senior from Arlington Seguin.
“When we saw we got the No. 4 seed, we thought we’d only get one home game,” Parrish said. “But now that we’ve seen how the bracket’s played out, we see that we have another opportunity to play in front of our home crowd. And for our seniors to be able to go out in front of our home crowd in an NIT regional final, that would be huge for us.
“To have arguably the biggest game of our career on our home floor, for the right to go to Madison Square Garden, we’d love our chances at home.”
6Victories by TCU in games played outside of Fort Worth this season, including a 4-2 mark when facing teams that did not receive NCAA Tournament bids.
But to make that happen, TCU must win Sunday at Iowa. The TCU-Iowa winner will host Tuesday’s regional final against the winner of a Sunday night matchup between Richmond and Oakland. For the Frogs, the road has been a friendlier place in this turnaround season under first-year coach Jamie Dixon than at any time in the school’s five-year tenure as a Big 12 member.
TCU has won six games when playing away from Fort Worth this season after posting a combined 14-44 mark in road/neutral venues the past four seasons. Included is a 4-2 mark in road/neutral venues against teams that did not receive an NCAA Tournament bid.
He always tells us we’ve got to be 10 points better when we go on the road. And that starts on the defensive end.
TCU guard Kenrich Williams, on coach Jamie Dixon’s blueprint for success in road games
Iowa will be team No. 7 on that list. TCU has secured most of those victories with strong defensive efforts in hostile environments similar to the one the Frogs will face in Carver-Hawkeye Arena (capacity: 15,400).
“You’ve got to play defense on the road. You’ve got to limit second-chance opportunities,” Dixon said. “We’ve won a bunch away from home and that’s a good feeling going into Iowa. We’ll go in with a lot of confidence. We’re as prepared as anybody is to be in that environment.”
Guard Kenrich Williams, the Frogs’ leading rebounder (9.4 per game), said TCU players relish the us-against-the-world mindset of a road setting and embrace Dixon’s defense-first formula for success.
“He always tells us we’ve got to be 10 points better when we go on the road. And that starts on the defensive end,” Williams said. “I think we just like the environment. We’ve got guys that like playing in those situations and their game excels when we play away (games). It gets your adrenaline going and … I feel like it does sharpen us up mentally. You really want to silence the crowd. If we come in and play defense, the game will go our way.”
We’ve won a bunch away from home and that’s a good feeling going into Iowa. We’ll go in with a lot of confidence.
TCU coach Jamie Dixon
In its last game, TCU held Fresno State to a 42 percent shooting performance in a 66-59 victory in its NIT opener in Fort Worth. The Frogs outrebounded the Bulldogs 39-28 and allowed only four second-chance points in 40 minutes. Fresno finished with only six offensive rebounds.
TCU’s defensive awakening, in Williams’ estimation, began during an 82-63 rout of Oklahoma during the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. It has carried the team to three wins in its last four contests, including an 85-82 upset of top-ranked Kansas on March 9.
Parrish said the team’s defense during that four-game stretch has been “as good as we’ve been all year, in my opinion. Right now, I think we’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Williams, a junior, sees no reason it should not continue.
“The sky’s the limit for this team,” Williams said. “I think we can go all the way to New York and make some noise just because of our confidence.”
TCU men at Iowa
Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN2