Moving on: TCU focused on NIT title, not NCAA snub

The TCU men’s basketball team felt they should have been part of the NCAA Tournament. They’ve made that clear.

The players weren’t happy being left out. Coach Jamie Dixon questioned the reasons the selection committee stated for the Frogs snub.

And it showed early in the NIT opener against Sam Houston State on Wednesday. The Frogs played like a team disappointed, rather than a team determined to “prove the committee wrong.”

But TCU turned to the latter sentiment in the second half, and is now a program eying a trip to Madison Square Garden for the second time in three seasons.

TCU faces Nebraska in a second-round NIT matchup at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Schollmaier Arena. Reserved seats are $15 and can be purchased through TCU’s athletics website, or by calling the ticket office at 817-257-7967.

“I don’t know how long you want us to be disappointed for, but we’re going to get ready and go play,” Dixon said after the Frogs’ win on Wednesday.

“We’re going to play in a packed house against a Big Ten team. What a great opportunity. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to relish it. We’re not going to let another’s decision affect that.”

Dixon was pleased with the home crowd that showed up Wednesday, more than 3,000 announced. He hopes to see more fan support on Sunday.

Sure, missing the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season is a step back for a program trying to establish itself as a basketball power, but the NIT has its perks.

TCU is still playing in front of a national TV audience, and the perk of playing in one of the most prestigious stadiums in the country, MSG, is a fitting reward.

That’s what Dixon and the team remembered when watching the tribute video of TCU’s 2017 NIT-championship winning team.

“It’s still a championship, regardless,” freshman guard Kendric Davis said. “We also get to show the committee that we should’ve been in the tournament two years in a row, so it’s just a lot of motivation to go out there and play our hardest.”

Nebraska enters as the Big Ten’s version of TCU. The Huskers (19-16) were thought to be an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, but injuries and suspension have left them with essentially a seven-man rotation.

A seven-man rotation is what TCU is down to, too, after seeing four players leave from its opening-day roster with either season-ending injuries and/ or the transfer portal.

The Huskers’ star player is guard James Palmer Jr., who is averaging 25.5 points a game in the last six games. He scored 23 points in Nebraska’s victory over Butler on Wednesday night.

TCU, meanwhile, saw its post players shine in the victory over Sam Houston State. JD Miller and Kevin Samuel each finished with double-digit points, and have been playing well down the stretch.

“They had a lot of energy,” senior point guard Alex Robinson said. “They were battling. We had the size advantage and they did their job and took advantage of it. JD had a great game and Kevin had a great game. We’re going to need them for this next game as well.”

The Frogs have won three of their last four games, and are saying the right things as far as the NIT. It’ll always be viewed as a consolation prize, but might as well win it.

“This is very important. This is big,” Robinson said. “We want to prove that we should’ve been in the tournament, so our goal is to win this whole thing.”

Said Dixon: “We’ve got things to play for.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram