One of the things that makes the Big 12 season so tough is that there are very few easy games. But in recent years there has always been one; when the TCU Horned Frogs came to town it was usually an easy win.
But I have some bad news for you, Texas Longhorns fans — playing TCU in your home venue no longer is a certain victory. Through their entire four-year history in the Big 12, the Horned Frogs won a total of just eight games, and finished in last place in all but one season (when they finished second to last).
But this season, the men from Fort Worth seem likely to finish at least a little higher in the conference standings, and have a shot to win as many games this season as they had combined in their previous four.
So what led to this remarkable turnaround for a previously terrible program? Well, it hired a new coach. Jamie Dixon decided to return to his alma mater after 13 outstanding seasons coaching Pittsburgh. And he has immediately transformed the Frogs into a team that do many of the same things for which his Pitt squads were known.
But first let’s get sidetracked for a moment. When I think of Jamie Dixon, the first thing that comes to mind has nothing to do with basketball. It is hair product. I cannot for the life of me figure out what he is up to. Is Dixon personally using enough hairspray to delay the closing of the hole in the ozone layer? Is it mousse that is fortifying his bio-helmet? Or does Dixon have four 55-gallon drums of Dapper Dan pomade sitting on a wooden pallet in his backyard shed? Thanks to Smart Texas Basketball, I spent a decent amount of the summer writing mediocre Dixon hair grooming jokes, and I still have many left. So I guess we are all winners.
Before I move on, I have to point out that I can’t be the only person mesmerized by whatever it is that sits atop Dixon’s head. To test my theory, I just spent the last several minutes showing pictures of Dixon to my wife, who after giving me an (understandable) WTF look is now trying to puzzle over this great mystery as well.
So anyway, back to basketball. One characteristic of all of Dixon’s teams that the Frogs have quickly embraced is being tough on the glass. Dixon’s offenses are typically very good, and this is in part because they generally beat opponents into a fine dust on the offensive boards.
This trait probably came naturally for a team with so much size on the front line. In particular, 6’11 Vladimir Brodziansky and 6’7 Kenrich Williams are just pounding people on the boards. Brodziansky was one of the better Frogs last season, while Williams missed all of the 2015-2016 season with a knee injury, but has come back strong this year. These two forwards are two of the more important scoring threats in what is a fairly balanced Frog offense (like all Dixon teams, TCU shares the ball well). Both score around the basket and Williams can also step out and hit a three. Familiar names like Karviar Shepherd, JD Miller, Chris Washburn, and Brandon Parrish will also rotate through the front court. Of particular note is Parrish, who has always had a good three-point stroke and is shooting the ball well this season.
In the backcourt, Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson and freshman Jaylen Fisher both start, share ball-handling duties, and play heavy minutes. The pair form a considerable upgrade to TCU’s awful guard play a season ago. Both players can pass the ball and shoot from the perimeter. Robinson has been a bit more steady, while Fisher struggles with the kind of turnover problems that are a common issue for freshmen guards.
Freshman guard Desmond Bane is also having a strong first campaign in college basketball, and has been coming off the bench over the last few weeks. Bane is at his best in transition where he is a strong finisher at the hoop, and is also a comfortable perimeter shooter. Beyond Bane, Dixon has limited backcourt depth, but senior Michael Williams comes off the bench, and has seen his minutes increase since last season’s starting point guard Malique Trent elected to leave the program at the start of the new year.
TCU is a solid defensive squad, with Brodziansky doing a fine job protecting the basket. The Frogs force some turnovers, and generally don’t make things easy.
The Longhorns are going to have their hands full. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT, and airs on the Longhorn Network.