Samuel is making the most of it, and continues to be one of the bright spots for the program this season. He has developed into a reliable post presence on both ends of the floor, and is playing his best down the stretch.
Samuel has scored double-digit points in three consecutive games for the first time in his young career, including an 11-point, six-rebound performance in TCU’s victory over Sam Houston State in the first round on Wednesday night.
“I’ve noticed that. That’s something coach emphasized in practice,” Samuel said. “He knows I have the ability to make plays and pass out of the post.”
Samuel has shot a respectable 68 percent from the field this season, but has been even better of late by making better than 70 percent of his shots the past five games. He scored a season-high 17 points against Kansas State on March 4, then had eight points in the regular-season finale at Texas.
He has turned it up in tournament play.
Against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament he scored 14 points and then scored 11 points the following day against K-State. The latest came with his NIT performance against Sam Houston State.
In all, Samuel has been pleased with his progress. At 6-foot-11, 250 pounds, he’s poised to become an even greater inside force for TCU in the coming years.
Asked if he expected this type of season, Samuel said: “To be honest, probably a little bit, but not this great. It’s been a great learning experience. Last year being a redshirt and having the opportunity to watch Vlad [Brodziansky] and [Ahmed] Hamdy out there, I’m able to walk in their footsteps.”
Samuel ranks among the top players to watch for TCU going into next season. So does freshmen guards Kendric Davis and R.J. Nembhard, plus guard Desmond Bane has another year of eligibility left.
“We do have a good core going forward,” Samuel said. “I think next year is going to be a great year.”
For TCU, though, having a reliable post presence such as Samuel is necessary to contend in the Big 12. The hope is that Samuel improves more as a free-throw shooter and endurance-wise in the off-season.
“We’ve obviously missed Vlad from last year,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “We knew we weren’t going to be that same inside scoring threat, but it’s developing and it’s getting better.
“[Samuel] is getting more comfortable. He’s making free throws at a higher rate, so that’s another growth. There’s times where we play him too many minutes, where it cuts down on some of his defensive activity, so we’ve got to get him used to playing longer minutes and efficient minutes.”
Big Ten motivation?
Dixon used playing for the “Big 12” as motivation in the Big 12/ SEC Challenge earlier this season, and his team responded with an impressive victory over Florida.
At the time, Dixon said if the Big 12 wanted to be the self-proclaimed best conference in the country, it had to back it up.
TCU can make a similar statement against Nebraska. The Big Ten had the most NCAA Tournament bids of any Power Five conference with eight, and TCU still feels jilted by the selection committee.
But Dixon doesn’t think using conference affiliation as a source for motivation is necessary this time around.
“I don’t think that’ll come up,” Dixon said. “I think people are excited about playing Nebraska. I don’t think we need additional motivation in that regard.”
Dixon has mentioned multiple times in the past week about the season-ending injuries and transfers that TCU dealt with during the season. It’s left the Frogs with a seven-man rotation for the stretch run, and Dixon is proud of the way his team has handled everything.
Said Dixon: “They’ve accomplished a lot given the situation. They really played themselves into the NCAA Tournament, but were left out for reasons still unknown. But it’s certainly something I want to recognize what these guys have done.”