Mac Engel

TCU’s process of improving is both hopeful and painful

TCU guard Kyan Anderson (5) tries to draw a foul from Kansas guard Frank Mason III.
TCU guard Kyan Anderson (5) tries to draw a foul from Kansas guard Frank Mason III. Special to the Star-Telegram

When it comes to betting sports, the smartest decision is always to walk away. Vegas is not built on winners.

Then there are some lines that are so deliciously tempting it makes you want to call your buddy’s friend’s uncle’s brother’s barber who knows a guy who has a dad that is a bookie. TCU was only a 4.5-point underdog against No. 9 Kansas.

There is a reason why Vegas had the line that close — TCU can play. The Horned Frogs are not Big 12 good, but they are not a Big 12 joke. They are decently big, they hustle and they defend, but what they can’t do is make free throws — or win.

No. 9 Kansas defeated TCU 64-61 Wednesday night in Fort Worth, but this is yet another Big 12 game that the Frogs could have had. This is the type of game that gives hope, but is also depressing in the same breath.

TCU’s Charles Hill missed a potential game-tying 30-footer at the buzzer against a team that is one of the best in the nation. It was a good look, and the ball bounced off the back of the rim. That miss hurt, but the 14 missed free throws hurt more. So did the Frogs’ inability to convert a staggering 26 offensive rebounds into more points.

“It’s still a team that is learning how to win in situations like that,” TCU senior guard Kyan Anderson said. “I believe we’ll get there.”

It’s too bad Anderson, who is such a nice player not nearly enough people know, will not be here to enjoy it when that does happen, because it will. Getting there is just a major pain.

For the second time since TCU became a member of the Big 12 — primarily because of its football team — the little basketball team had mighty Kansas scared to death in Fort Worth.

Unlike that stunner in 2013, which is regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the modern era of college basketball, there was no storming of the court. For one, there weren’t that many students actually in attendance at TCU’s temporary home gym — Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center — and TCU could not close it out. And Kansas was slightly better this time than that historic upset.

This team that lost Wednesday to Kansas is markedly better than the one that beat Kansas in 2013.

“They played harder and they were quicker to balls; they got every 50-50 ball,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We were fortunate they shot a low percentage and missed some free throws. I think they outplayed us. Trent [Johnson] has done a great job.”

Despite the final score, and TCU’s losing ways in the Big 12, the many fans that actually care about this program should feel good about the progress this team continues to make under coach Trent Johnson. TCU is making progress toward becoming a winning team.

The Frogs’ 1-6 Big 12 record honks, but at least this season TCU actually took advantage of the junk nonconference schedule it spent about $750,000 to put together; money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy a lot of nonconference wins against SWAC teams.

At least this time, TCU beat the garbage teams, and in its third season of the Big 12, it looks like a Big 12 team. It has Big 12 size and some Big 12 athleticism, but it desperately needs a few scorers.

“We have pieces that can score the ball,” Anderson said.

Not enough.

There’s a reason that TCU continually is coming close against West Virginia, Texas, Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas. Defense is not a problem, and neither is hustle and effort.

The Frogs can’t score consistently, and they have not figured out how to win. They are well coached, and they guard as well as any team could, but they need a couple of scorers.

Johnson’s “name” recruits from last year — Karviar Shepherd and Brandon Parrish — are not yet developing at the pace needed for this team to have a winning record in the league.

“These kids, and me, and our staff — we don’t feel good. There is a frustration level,” Johnson said. “We do a few things, and maybe we win the game. We’re not into moral victories. We need to get this thing changed and changed now.”

They are and they will. It just won’t come without some pain, but there is a reason Vegas had TCU so close to Kansas.

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

Mac Engel, 817-390-7797

Twitter: @macengelprof

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