If you look at preseason polls or Las Vegas odds, expectations aren’t high for the TCU men’s basketball team.
Most are predicting the Frogs to finish near or at the bottom of the Big 12. Coach Jamie Dixon isn’t too worried about that, though, believing his group is better than most outsiders believe.
“I think they hand out the thing with TCU at the bottom and then fill out Nos. 9 through 1 at the top,” Dixon said, smiling after practice No. 10 on Thursday.
“I understand we lost four guys and there’s such a fine line in this league now. If we had Kouat [Noi] back, we’d probably be picked four spots higher just by having another guy. Everybody has three or four guys coming back, so we have less than most. We’re going to be picked at the bottom of this thing. It’s just the way it is.
“But let’s stay healthy and have some depth and I think we can be as good as anybody.”
TCU will get a firsthand look of where it’s at with a “secret” scrimmage against Mississippi State on Saturday in New Orleans. The Frogs are also expected to have another “secret” scrimmage later this month against Washington in Fort Worth.
These scrimmages are played behind closed doors, but are designed for teams such as TCU to get good competition in without violating NCAA rules.
For the Frogs, it’ll be a measuring stick of how they stack up against two programs that reached the NCAA Tournament. TCU, of course, is trying to return to the NCAAs after being among the biggest snubs last season.
The Frogs finished 23-14, and reached the NIT semifinals in New York.
A return to March Madness will have to run through returners Desmond Bane, TCU’s leading scorer last season, and Kevin Samuel, the big man who recorded four double-doubles as a freshman.
As Dixon put it, “We’ve got to find ways to get Desmond more looks and more shots. We keep preaching it. He’s going to take good shots. He’s not going to force up shots.
“And Kevin’s passing much better, cutting down on the turnovers. But we didn’t get enough touches inside today. We’ve got to get more inside touches and we’ve got to get more shots for Desmond. That’s a definite.”
Bane and Samuel are the biggest contributors back from last year, which leaves plenty of holes to fill.
Noi, the Frogs’ second-leading scorer last season, opted to play professionally in Australia. Also gone is starting point guard Alex Robinson and starting forward JD Miller to graduation, and backup guard Kendric Davis transferred to SMU.
But TCU has plenty of promising newcomers to go along with Bane and Samuel.
Graduate transfers Edric Dennis Jr. (UT Arlington) and Jaire Grayer (George Mason) provide veteran experience in the backcourt, and incoming freshmen PJ Fuller, Diante Smith and Francisco Farabello appear ready to make immediate impacts.
That much becomes clear watching this group practice.
“We’re getting better each day,” Dixon said. “I thought we were a little more physical today. I thought the defense was more active. Our big thing has been cutting down on turnovers, which we’ve done a better job of that these last five, six practices.”