Now at No. 20 in the AP Top 25, TCU stands to get its toughest tests as a ranked team with games this week against SMU and Nevada.
SMU sounds right — the Mustangs have been an NCAA tournament team two of the past three years, are coming off a school-record 30-win season and have won five straight against TCU.
Sure enough. The Mountain West favorite Wolfpack were 8-0 going into a Tuesday night game at Texas Tech and freshly ranked at No. 22. Rising NBA prospect Caleb Martin is scoring 19 points a game, and his twin Cody Martin is a 6-7 point guard averaging 14.1. Junior swingman Jordan Caroline is at nearly a double-double average with 18.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Throw in SMU guard Shake Milton (18.7 points per game), another NBA draft prospect, and the Horned Frogs figure to be facing the best players they have seen yet this season.
First up is SMU (7-2) at 8 p.m. Tuesday night at Schollmaier Arena, with TCU looking to extend the nation’s longest win streak to 14 games.
The Nevada game is Friday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the last game of a tripleheader in the Hall of Fame Basketball Classic, scheduled to tip at midnight Central.
Both SMU and Nevada were NCAA tournament teams a year ago.
“Every week’s interesting, every week’s an opportunity, a challenge, so I don’t know that I look at it any different than previous weeks,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “It’s just we recognize these are two good games, two good teams.”
SMU is coming off a home victory against then-No. 14 USC and also owns a win against then-No. 2 Arizona. The Mustangs’ loss have been against Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky at a tournament in the Bahamas.
Nevada (8-0) will be playing its fifth true road game Tuesday night in Lubbock and its 10th game in 29 days with the TCU matchup. The road wins have boosted the Wolfpack’s RPI to eighth in the country, but Texas Tech and TCU present an opportunity as their first Power 5 opponents.
“The Nevada game, we wanted to try to find the best team we could, strength-of-schedule-wise, RPI-wise,” Dixon said. “You put out feelers, you try to find the best team. They’ve lived up to what we thought. You need two to tango. There weren’t a lot of people calling us, and there weren’t a lot of people calling them. That’s how we ended up playing against each other.’
TCU, which aimed for a schedule of strong mid-majors, ranks 19th in RPI. SMU is 102nd.
At No. 20, TCU sports its highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since March 6, 1998, when the Frogs were No. 15. That was also the last time a ranked TCU team played a ranked opponent, falling to No. 20 New Mexico, 80-73.