A year ago, TCU and Texas Tech came to the Big 12 tournament in basically the same spot in the standings.
Last and next-to-last.
This year as the tournament begins, the two teams are still in the bottom half of the league. But Texas Tech is the higher seed and will be favored when it meets TCU in a first-round game at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
For the Red Raiders, the basement is merely a memory. But it’s a strong memory.
They know how TCU feels.
Injuries, that’s a big part of any sport. They can really sap a lot of the energy from your team.
Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith
“We didn’t have the injuries that we had last year,” Tech coach Tubby Smith said, asked what changed for his team this season that didn’t change for TCU. “We lost two players to injury last year, Justin Gray and Aaron Ross. And we had to dismiss a player in the middle of the season. … Injuries, that’s a big part of any sport. They can really sap a lot of the energy from your team.”
Doesn’t Trent Johnson know it?
TCU’s fourth-year coach has missed his best rebounder, Kenrich Williams, all season. Another starter, Chris Washburn, missed the first 11 games with a broken thumb. Starting guard Chauncey Collins missed a game with a leg injury. Another guard, Mike Williams, has missed the past three games with a hand injury. Post Devonta Abron has been out for four games. Malique Trent missed three conference games.
Big 12 tournament schedule
Only three players have played in every game. Only Brandon Parrish has started every game.
“Ideal world, you’d like to have 12 guys out there that are completely healthy and ready to go,” Johnson said. “But that’s not the way it is. A lot of people across the country in college basketball are banged up. But the guys that are out there should be fresh, should be ready to go.”
Smith can sympathize with his friend at TCU.
“I know what he’s going through,” Smith said.
TCU is 20-38 in conference tournament games: 10-20 in the SWC, 5-5 in the WAC, 2-3 in Conference USA, 2-7 in the Mountain West, 1-3 in the Big 12.
But Smith won’t let his team’s guard down for the Horned Frogs. Not when the two meetings this season were fights to the finish. Tech had to rally to win both, in Lubbock and Fort Worth.
It took a comeback from a 12-point halftime deficit against TCU on Feb. 23 for Tech to keep its NCAA hopes alive.
“They’re just a very athletic team. They’re quick,” Smith said. “Chauncey Collins is really coming on and playing extremely well; he’s given us problems every time we’ve played them. And they’ve got good depth when TCU is healthy. They have struggled to get everybody healthy on the same page. That’s one of the best things that happened to us this year. … We’ve been very fortunate and very blessed this year to stay healthy. We didn’t have those off-the-court issues.”
As much as injuries, TCU has also battled mind games. Johnson knows his team is short-handed. What he doesn’t want is for it also to be discouraged.
“This group has been up and down in terms of their consistency, in terms of how we play,” he said. “But their effort pretty much has been pretty good. There are some games in terms of losing some confidence and things of that nature, and I think it has a lot to do with the people we play.”
2Appearances in a conference tournament championship game for TCU: 1983 in the Southwest Conference against Houston and 1997 in the WAC against Utah.
But Johnson expects a renewed attitude and focus in Kansas City, where the Frogs as the No. 9 seed last season defeated Kansas State for their first conference tournament victory in the league.
“The Big 12 without question is the premier basketball conference in the country, and the Big 12 tournament is one of the nicest events going in terms of caliber of players and Kansas City and how they host it,” Johnson said. “The kids should be excited. This is something they should look forward to because not every player has the opportunity to be in this type of conference or have this experience.”
And maybe next season, the TCU experience will start from a different place in the standings.
TCU men vs. Texas Tech
8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPNU
Big 12 tournament seeds
1. Kansas (27-4) Won the nation’s toughest RPI league by two games
2. West Virginia (24-7) The conference’s toughest team to score on, 66.2 points a game
3. Oklahoma (24-6) Boasts the favorite for national player of the year, Buddy Hield
4. Texas (20-11) Despite injuries, won 20 games under new coach Shaka Smart
5. Baylor (21-10) The league’s top assist team, led by guard Lester Medford
6. Iowa State (21-10) Led the league in scoring, 82.0 points a game, and allowed the most, 74.8
7. Texas Tech (19-11) Last place in the league last season; this season’s best foul shooting team
8. Kansas State (16-15) Made the fewest 3-point shots in the league, 5.3 a game
9. Oklahoma State (12-19) The league’s lowest-scoring team, 66.4 points a game
10. TCU (11-20) Won first Big 12 Conference tournament game a year ago