Mac Engel

TCU’s path to NCAAs considerably tougher after loss

TCU has made steady progress under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, but the Frogs still have holes to fill as they pursue a possible NCAA tournament berth.
TCU has made steady progress under first-year coach Jamie Dixon, but the Frogs still have holes to fill as they pursue a possible NCAA tournament berth. Special to the Star-Telegram

TCU is one of the great stories of this college basketball season and on Wednesday night it hosted one of its biggest games to date and was greeted by too many empty seats to count.

We’re not talking about continuing that fraud sellout streak at American Airlines Center for a bad Dallas Mavericks team; TCU plays in a posh 6,700-seat arena where there is literally not one bad seat. And this is a good team.

A good team that on Wednesday played Oklahoma State in a game that will have significant meaning on a potential NCAA bid for both teams. The place should have been packed for what was a highly entertaining game.

Spare me the “It started at 8 p.m.” excuse.

The TCU band only sent what appeared to be approximately 10 members to perform. C’mon people; this isn’t a garbage team in an NAIA league over winter break. It’s a good team in the Big 12. If you’re going to be big-time, play the part.

As much impressive progress as this program has made in head coach Jamie Dixon’s first season in Fort Worth, Wednesday was a clear indication of the strides that need to be made on the floor, and in the stands, which is something the coach is doggedly determined to improve for his second season.

In order for TCU to feel good about its chances to make the NCAA tournament in his first season, and for the first time since 1998, defeating T. Boone State at home was at the top of the to-do list.

So much for that.

TCU’s 71-68 loss against first-year coach Brad Underwood’s Cowboys is an outcome that’s going to make it much easier for President Trump to leave TCU out of his NCAA tourney bracket next month. Of course, unlike President Obama, who routinely filled out a bracket for ESPN, Trump is eschewing that young tradition so his field of 68 won’t matter.

Nonetheless, this was not the game TCU could afford to lose. It could have major implications as far as TCU receiving an invite to the National Intramural Tournament (NIT) bracket. Of course, the NIT should be cause for celebration, as well. TCU hasn’t been in the NIT since 2005.

Considering how the season has progressed, if the Frogs don’t make the NCAA tournament it is going to sting. They have come too far and put themselves in the NCAA discussion, which is this program’s biggest achievement in a decade. Any team that gets close and misses is hurting on Selection Sunday.

Wednesday’s game was fun, but illustrated how close to the edge TCU has been playing all season. The Frogs are good but have major holes.

TCU was not the better team on Wednesday but this is a game it should have won. After Kenrich Williams’ garbage layup with no time left on the shot clock, they led 66-63 with three minutes remaining.

Their only points the rest of the way came from a tip-in by reserve forward Chris Washburn with 1:39 remaining for another three-point lead that they again blew.

Oklahoma State is the better team and the Cowboys became the second Big 12 team to sweep TCU this season. Before this season, sweeping TCU barely registered a yawn.

TCU is 6-7 in the Big 12 with five games remaining, three of which are on the road, including at No. 3 Kansas.

If the Frogs can put up a good show against No. 9 West Virginia on Feb. 25 in Fort Worth, that will help tremendously to sway the NCAA selection committee for a tourney berth.

The game that should scare TCU is the regular season finale at Oklahoma, which has been horrible all season. That will be Senior Day in Norman — don’t rule out an OU win.

These things can happen. In the 2012-13 season, the Sooners came to Fort Worth for the regular season finale and gave TCU its second conference win of the year.

The goal for TCU has to be 20 wins and to finish no worse than one game under .500 in the Big 12. A win on Wednesday and those goals were nearly a foregone conclusion. Both are still attainable but tougher.

It’s all still there for TCU to earn, and hopefully for the sake of an improving program more people take notice and show up.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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