Mac Engel

For one night, TCU was a basketball school. But the Frogs still have a ways to go

Kansas head coach Bill Self: TCU is ‘on cusp of where it wants to be’

After No. 14 Kansas defeated TCU 82-77 in overtime, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self heaped praise on the Horned Frogs under coach Jamie Dixon.
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After No. 14 Kansas defeated TCU 82-77 in overtime, Jayhawks head coach Bill Self heaped praise on the Horned Frogs under coach Jamie Dixon.

For one night, TCU answered the Twitter challenge set by ESPN color analyst Fran Fraschilla, who Tweeted on Sunday, “Don’t care who wins but this is a big chance for @TCUBasketball to show on Big Monday that you are becoming a basketball school, too. You have a great coach, great arena, great league.”

All true. For one highly entertaining evening, TCU was a “basketball school.”

Seven years of genuine effort, and tens of millions of dollars invested, yielded what most casual, educated and rational observers never thought was possible on Monday night when TCU was favored by 3 points to defeat Kansas in basketball.

When TCU senior guard Alex Robinson buried a 3-pointer with 2:50 remaining to play to give the Horned Frogs the lead, a university re-built by football was a basketball school. The upscale, quaint arena boomed the way places do during these types of moments, with the type of noise that has feel.

The type of noise not felt since Billy Tubbs was the head coach here 20 years ago, in a place called Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, in a conference called the WAC.

Those moments. That sound. That feeling. That shot. That’s what TCU aspired to build and bring seven years ago.

Alas, TCU had trailed Kansas deep into the second half by 12 points, and it had the game only to blow it in regulation.

A win over No. 14 Kansas would have all but guaranteed TCU a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, but that will have to wait. Killing Kansas, even this Kansas, remains a five-letter word (no, not ‘tough’).

Kansas defeated TCU 82-77 in overtime.

TCU is making undeniable strides, but this game, this opponent, and this stage, were too big for this team on this Big Monday. Closing out this type of opponent is one of the hardest things on any team’s “To Do” list.

TCU had the opportunity to unofficially end Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles, but the Jayhawks’ chances of claiming a league title never seem to die.

BUILDING A BASKETBALL SCHOOL

To celebrate the event televised by ESPN on Big Monday, TCU handed out T-shirts to fans that read: “BIG. Basketball school.”

Dream big or go home.

For one night, the announced sellout was (finally) a legit sellout. The tip-off time of 8 p.m. was finally not an excuse to put all the butts in seats. Even former Dallas Cowboys great Jason Witten was in the house.

The game itself was Top 10 caliber quality. There were a handful of future pros on the floor (that doesn’t necessarily mean NBA). Guys made the type of individual shots that normal commoners don’t make.

It was a BIG game for Big Monday.

To be branded a “basketball school” should not, however, be the goal for TCU coach Jamie Dixon.

The priority for coach Dixon is rather to build a program that is a threat to reach the Sweet 16, and to create an environment that packs in the 7,000 seat (give or take) Schollmaier Arena.

Despite what TCU did on Monday night, this program is not there yet. They have not consistently created for home games what SMU did under Larry Brown, before he predictably left the program stuck on NCAA probation.

When SMU was rolling, albeit briefly, under the NCAA investigation committee’s favorite coach, the plan was to establish a genuine zoo, basketball atmosphere at Moody Coliseum.

TCU needs to follow SMU’s lead and put the students closer to the floor. All the time.

The kids create the atmosphere. The kids create the zoo.

Since TCU opened Schollmaeier Arena, but more when Dixon arrived in 2016, there have been a handful of times when the atmosphere and attention felt BIG.

To get the funding for Schollmaier Arena, former athletic director Chris Del Conte sold/gave extended season ticket in the best areas to those who donated dollars to make the building possible. Made sense.

The problem is those fans buy the seats, other than for Kansas, all too often are not using the seats. So TCU can announce a sellout, but the seats are not occupied.

Enough time has passed so TCU can begin the process of re-arranging the seating, and putting the students closer to the opposing bench, and the floor.

For Kansas on Monday night, TCU was a legit sellout, and the place was packed. It didn’t matter who sat where. Lots of teams are basketball schools when playing Kansas. Kentucky. North Carolina. Or Duke’s NBA team.

TCU’S TEXAS CHALLENGE

In Texas, there are no basketball schools. This is true for most teams in the south.

The state of Texas is too vulnerable to outside schools from raiding the state of its best players, which routinely happens.

The last time Texas had a Final Four team was UT, in 2003. Before that, it was Houston in ‘83 and ‘84. And before Phi Slama Jama, it was Texas Western winning it all in 1966.

We love football, and we like basketball. We might love baseball more than basketball.

TCU has done everything to be competitive in basketball, the NCAA’s other revenue sport.

Great coach. Great arena. Great league.

And on Big Monday, TCU was a basketball school.

It just needs to do a bit more.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.


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