The Big Mac Blog

SMU got the return on its basketball coach while TCU waits

SMU basketball coach Larry Brown (left) and TCU’s Trent Johnson share a moment before a game on Nov. 15, 2012 in Fort Worth. Since their respective arrivals at their respective schools, SMU has become a nationally ranked program while TCU has struggled in the Big 12.
SMU basketball coach Larry Brown (left) and TCU’s Trent Johnson share a moment before a game on Nov. 15, 2012 in Fort Worth. Since their respective arrivals at their respective schools, SMU has become a nationally ranked program while TCU has struggled in the Big 12. Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

SMU’s basketball season continues while TCU justifiably elected to not to continue.

The two programs separated by roughly 30 miles have gone the way as expected when SMU hired Larry Brown to coach its basketball team and TCU went with Trent Johnson. This is not a rip on TCU or Johnson, but rather an acknowledgment of the obvious. Much like the football programs at the respective private schools, the basketball teams are close only in terms of proximity.

On April 19, 2012, I wrote that in terms of landing men’s basketball coaches, SMU “thumped” TCU. It’s pretty much gone that way, too.

Since Brown arrived at SMU, he has landed players and he can coach.

Since Johnson arrived at TCU, he can coach but he has not landed players.

In Brown’s three seasons at SMU, the Ponies are 69-33 and are now in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993. The Ponies won the American Athletic Conference, and will play 11th-seeded UCLA on Thursday in the tournament. SMU reached the NIT finals last season. There have been high profile recruits (Keith Frazier, Emmanuel Mudiay), some NCAA issues, some academic issues (Keith Frazier) but mostly what this team has done is win. This is what happens when you hire Larry Brown.

Conversely, in the same three-year time TCU is 38-58 under Johnson. It just completed its first winning season under Johnson, but did not make the NIT and elected not to pursue the CBI Tournament. Johnson told Carlos Mendez of the Star-Telegram his team was spent. The CBI Tournament is a scam; schools usually lose money on this venture and the players themselves often have no interest in participating. No one should blame TCU, or any team, that does not want to play in this made-for-degenerate gamblers tourney.

The circumstances behind TCU and SMU are completely different but the results are the results. SMU dumped a bunch of money into men’s basketball, rehabbed Moody Coliseum, and hired one of the greatest coaches who ever lived. It deserves credit for gambling big on the nomadic coach who has delivered typical Larry Brown results.

TCU’s evaluation process of Johnson begins now. When he left LSU, TCU was preparing for its first season in the Big 12 with but maybe one or two Big 12 caliber players (Kyan Anderson, Amric Fields). TCU was always a hard basketball job, but when Johnson walked in he was coming to arguably the single most difficult spot in a Power Five conference. The facility was the worst in the conference. The tradition was one of losing with minimal support from students and fans. And it remains a football school run by the football coach.

Because men’s basketball is one of two college sports that can actually make money (sorry, baseball), TCU director of athletics Chris Del Conte has raised the funds in hopes of result$.

TCU’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum is currently being renovated, and should be complete by the time the 2015-’16 begins. TCU did improve this season, and the investment of approximately $750,000 for its non-conference schedule paid dividends. Fourteen of TCU’s 18 wins were in non-conference. Johnson can coach, the question is whether he can recruit effectively enough to win in the brutal Big 12.

Coaching can only get you so far in big-time college basketball, and the rest is talent.

Johnson’s best player, Kyan Anderson, in each of his first three years was a signee from the previous coach, Jim Christian. Johnson’s highest profile recruits, Brandon Parrish and Karviar Shepherd, appear to be developing into nice college players but not dominant ones. Johnson’s players defend, hustle and try but there is clearly a lack of basketball talent from his rosters that needs to be improved if this team is going to make a run at the NCAA tournament.

Johnson is no different than any other coach in high major college basketball - he needs players.

SMU is rolling right now because it has the coach, the facility and the players.

TCU will shortly have two of the three. The only way it can catch SMU, or any Big 12 program, is if it has all three.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof

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