TCU basketball made headlines for the wrong reasons on Thursday.
Assistant coach Corey Barker has been linked to the FBI college basketball corruption case, and the university is in the midst of an “internal review.” Barker was placed on administrative leave Friday afternoon and will not be with the team for Saturday’s game at Texas.
That game seemed to be the biggest storyline for the Frogs, a team that is hovering on the NCAA Tournament bubble and needs to win its way in. But it’ll now play with the FBI cloud hanging over the program.
TCU coach Jamie Dixon met with reporters before the FBI news broke on Thursday, and spoke in straightforward manner of his team’s status for the Big Dance. March Madness starts now for the Frogs.
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“We know where we’re at,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to win a game. We know we’re on the ‘bubble,’ to use the phrase.
“The motivation is there. Plenty of incentive. We know we haven’t been to the tournament in consecutive years for 65 years.”
That’s true. TCU hasn’t been to consecutive tournaments since the 1950s, but that’s a tad generous.
As Dixon said, “Really never, because 65 years ago the NIT was a bigger event.”
TCU (18-12, 6-11 Big 12) doesn’t want to end up in the NIT, although that’s a possibility after losing six of its past seven games. CBS Sports’ latest projection had TCU in as an 11-seed, while ESPN had it in the “First Four Out” category.
The Frogs are sitting at No. 53 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Three straight losses, including consecutive home losses to Big 12 favorites Texas Tech and Kansas State, have put them in that precarious spot.
Turnovers were costly against Tech and K-State.
TCU has been outscored a combined 41-19 in points-off-turnovers the past two games. It’s just the second time this season consecutive opponents have scored at least 20 points off turnovers, as Kansas and Oklahoma did it in two straight games in mid-February.
“We put ourselves in this position,” Dixon said. “We need to get more wins. We need to get this win on Saturday.”
The good news for TCU is that it managed to practice live this week. Depth has been an issue, and Dixon has been hesitant to go five-on-five in practices after Kouat Noi rolled his ankle and missed two games last month.
But TCU has to find ways to be more physical and improve, and practicing fully is the best way to accomplish that. It helped that freshman center Russell Barlow has returned to practice.
Dixon hopes it translates onto the court Saturday.
“Encouraged by our effort and attitude and energy,” Dixon said. “It’s hard to fathom that you can get better at this time of year, but that has to be our attitude, our energy and our thoughts.”
Texas will be without senior point guard Kerwin Roach II against TCU. Roach has been suspended for violating team rules, and is not expected to return to game action until the Big 12 tournament next week in Kansas City, Missouri.
Roach led Texas with 15 points in the first meeting against TCU, which TCU won 65-61 in Fort Worth. For the season, Roach is averaging 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
With Roach sidelined for the last four games, the Longhorns have relied more on sophomore guard Jase Febres and junior Elijah Mitrou-Long.
Asked about Roach’s absence, Dixon said: “It just gives other guys opportunities. They have a number of guys, a number of options. They’re doing the same thing playing with a little bit different guys.”
Dixon coached in the Big East when that conference sent a record 11 programs to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. That marked 69 percent of the league’s teams (11 of 16).
This year, the Big 12 could have as many as eight teams in the Big Dance, which would be a record 80 percent of the league. Dixon feels the Big 12 deserves that many in the field, and said the conference is by far deeper than the Big East in 2011.
“The bottom teams? There’s no question,” Dixon said. “The separation between the 11 and the other five were clear [in the Big East]. The five at the bottom had very few wins against the 11 at the top. That’s not the case in this thing [with the Big 12].
“This thing is so unique.”
Dixon mentioned the conference scheduling with a home-and-home series for every program, and the fact that this week saw the two bottom teams, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, each knock off NCAA Tournament-bound teams on Wednesday night.
“It’s an amazing thing - what the numbers have shown and what we’ve done out of conference. Almost like nobody wants to admit it,” Dixon said. “We’ve clearly been the best conference in the country the last three years.”