It’s inarguable that this iteration of the TCU Horned Frogs is the the best basketball team that the university has produced in 20 years. But could it be even better than that?
In 1998 the program seemed to hit its apex under head coach Billy Tubbs, when it only lost one regular season game after the first of the year, hitting an up-until-that-point program peak in the AP poll of No. 13, and drawing a five-seed in the NCAA tournament.
It was a dream season, but that dream would turn into some Freddie Krueger shit awfully quick when TCU lost by nine points in its first round tournament game to a Florida State team that wasn't very good. But for whatever reason, FSU couldn't miss that day and TCU could, and that cruel tournament math caught up to the Frogs, popping them out of their first NCAA trip in a decade.
It had been a long wait since the school's previous NCAA tournament trip in 1987, when the Horned Frog squad included a point guard who was probably unaware of his amazing future as a basketball coach and hair product enthusiast. That team won one game before bouncing out in a one-point loss to Notre Dame just two days later. The '87 squad had climbed the AP poll all the way up to the No. 15 slot, and had made TCU's first NCAA tournament since 1970, winning its first NCAA tournament game since 1968.
This historical context is important. It has been a hard couple of decades for TCU hoops; two hard decades contained in a mostly difficult century.
It’s entirely possible that the team we see this year is the greatest basketball team in the history of Texas Christian University. It’s entirely possible that the former point guard — who has returned to his school with a moving van full of pomade — will bring new glory to the place. It’s entirely possible — hell it’s certain — that we will never ever tire of increasingly lifeless but ultimately harmless jokes about Jamie Dixon's hairstyle.
The Horned Frogs are good at basketball. It takes some getting used to writing this, but it’s true. I have been getting used to writing it since the summer, when while researching the Big 12 for Smart Texas Basketball 2017, I was moved to send a text message to my coauthor that TCU would win the 2018 Big 12 championship. I have since walked this prediction back; I blame it on the sense of euphoria that one experiences while consuming bottom-shelf whiskey.
This TCU squad is an exceptionally balanced group led by upperclassmen in the front court, two sophomores in the back court, and plenty of depth everywhere. The Frogs aren't an exceptional defensive squad, but they can really score. Everyone on the floor is capable of getting in on the action, and most everyone can shoot, pass, and attack opponents in a variety of ways.
Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky are two seniors in the front court who are major problems for opponents. Both are joyfully reckless on the offensive glass, both can score around the hoop (Brodziansky in particular doesn't fool around when he gets the ball on the low block), and both have converted over 40 percent of their threes this season. JD Miller is another live rebounder. Kouat Noi — the first of many future Horned Frogs from Australia (you should have bought our book) — is long, versatile, athletic, and dangerous from anywhere on the floor. Dixon is also getting decent minutes from 6'10 VCU grad transfer Ahmed Hamdy.
Outside of Kyan Anderson, most of TCU's guards prior to Dixon's arrival in Fort Worth really haven't been up to par for a league like the Big 12. That isn't the case any longer. Two of Dixon's first recruits are now in their sophomore seasons, and they are mowing people down. Sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher still turns the ball over a little more than you would like, but he is athletic and can score and run a team. Meanwhile, sophomore Desmond Bane, a player from Richmond, Indiana who was underrecruited (and that understates things) out of high school is just destroying everyone this season. On the year he is hitting 50 percent of his threes, 64 percent of his twos, and he is now jacked to the point where he looks like a character in an Avengers film. Alex Robinson gives TCU a solid third guard off the bench.
Goodness. What the hell happened to the TCU that we all knew, loved, and regularly got to beat? When did they get replaced by all of these big dudes who can shoot?
But for Texas there is hope. As good as TCU has been on offense, the Frog defense has really been letting it down. Coach Dixon's team is 1-2 in Big 12 play as a result, and has only held a single opponent to under one point per possession since Black Friday — that opponent was Yale. (Relevant context — only four Texas opponents have scored over one point per possession all season. Two of those opponents were Duke and Kansas.)
With the game in Austin, the Longhorns have a decent chance to pick up a quality win. The game tips at 8 p.m. CT, and airs on ESPNU.