The case could readily be made that it is TCU’s misfortune to be lodged in the toughest college basketball league in the country.
But that wasn’t Tuesday night’s excuse.
The Kansas State Wildcats came into Schollmaier Arena with a 3-9 conference record and winners of only one road game all season, and yet barely six minutes into the game, the Horned Frogs were down by 10.
The Frogs’ chances mostly waned from there. By halftime they were shooting an arctic 25 percent (6 of 24) from the field. Midway in the second half, TCU had 16 turnovers and only 10 field goals.
By game’s end, the Frogs were dealing with a double-digit defeat, 63-49, to a team they probably should have been able to beat on their home court.
“We’re not playing good basketball right now,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “We’re not competing on a consistent basis.”
The Frogs dropped to 11-15 on the season and 2-11 in the merciless Big 12.
“This is a very unforgiving thing, this league,” Johnson said.
As usual, though, he didn’t dwell on the hand he’s been dealt.
“The responsibility is on me to get this thing to where they’re playing right,” Johnson said after the game.
He would repeat the same mea culpa several times as he talked to the media.
“The onus is on me to get this right, to get it corrected, to get them to understand all the things we talk about,” Johnson said.
It’s no consolation at TCU to be the last-place team in the best conference in the land.
The latest Associated Press and USA Today polls showed six Big 12 teams in the top 25, the most of any conference. Three conference teams boast RPIs in the nation’s top 11.
The Big 12’s overall RPI, .5990 before Tuesday, is the highest in the league’s 19-season history and the second-highest of any conference in the past 15 years.
In all, seven of the top 32 teams in RPI are from the Big 12.
Meanwhile, TCU’s RPI ranks 150th.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘frustrated’ as it pertains to me,” Johnson said. “I understand why we’re where we’re at.”
The answer won’t be found, it seems, shooting 6 of 24 in the first half against a 14-11 team, as TCU did. Johnson knows the solution can only come from good practice habits carrying over consistently into the games.
“We’re just going on different pages,” sophomore guard Chauncey Collins said.
“We’re all listening. We’re all buying in. But it seems we’re hardly ever on the same page.”
Collins didn’t want to use the Big 12’s prowess as an excuse, either.
“Everyone knows where we’re competing,” he said. “But by the same sense, we don’t believe we should be 2-11 and the last team in the conference, either.”
Johnson all but apologized to the media for dwelling on the same reasons for losing.
“This has been this team all year long against good players,” he said.
“Our fan base deserves better.”
With a brightly refurbished arena, TCU basketball has never been in better position to improve. That will be Johnson’s recruiting job in the off-season.
It shouldn’t be that tough. Fort Worth and the TCU campus are no Pullman, Wash., no Starkville, Miss., and for that matter, no Manhattan, Kan.
The league is tough.
But TCU needs to get tougher. That was the plain lesson Tuesday night.