Dissecting a College Hoops Revival in the DFW MetroplexPosted by David Harten on November 6th, 2013
Say what you want about USC vs. UCLA on the west coast, but if you want to see a remarkable arms race between neighboring programs, look to the south. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, SMU began to show the rest of the college basketball world it is finally making a move when the school hired Larry Brown prior to last season. TCU did the same in a more subtle manner, moving to the Big 12 in 2012 and hiring Trent Johnson away from LSU. Quietly, two teams who have been mediocre at best in their respective hoops histories were beginning to make DFW hardwood relevant outside of the Mavericks.
Johnson’s first season in Fort Worth went as expected, as the Horned Frogs transitioned to a much more difficult conference. Outside of a home upset over Kansas (probably the biggest single upset of the 2012-13 season), TCU tacked on one more win in conference play and trudged to a 2-16 league record. But off the court, Johnson has steadily done his best to push the Horned Frogs toward the middle of the Big 12 pack, which seems like an impossible task for a program that has only been to seven NCAA Tournaments (none since 1998). It started with his first recruiting class, when Johnson landed journeyman guard Trey Zeigler, even if just for the one upcoming season. He also made a splash in recruiting circles by landing Dallas-area center Karviar Shepherd, who ranked as the 69th-best player in the class. To show future recruits their own commitment to building the program, the university has also announced a $45 million renovation to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
Down the road in Dallas, SMU started its road to relevancy by hiring legendary (albeit well-traveled) coach Larry Brown prior to last season. After controversially picking through his roster and cutting certain players, the 73-year old Brown landed his first solid recruiting class with point guard Sterling Brown (ranked no. 82 by Scout.com in the 2013 class), shooting guard Keith Frazier (ranked no. 33) and junior college power forward Yanick Moreira, a consensus top five JuCo prospect. Regardless of his age, Brown has an astute basketball mind that will help the Mustangs drive toward relevance in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. Couple all this with the fact that SMU also pledged a healthy chunk of change to update the basketball facilities – $47 million worth, to be exact – and you have the start of something brewing in Dallas. The Mustangs will need all of this and more to return to their first NCAA Tournament since 1993.
But which of the two schools is set up better for the future? In the short term, it appears to be the Mustangs. Brown’s name alone can help land top recruits and the Dallas area is rife with SMU alumni who are willing to throw the money at the program to make sure it happens (we’ve seen it before, right? Kidding!). Recruits are signing at a steady pace already and they’re also in a conference that, with Louisville leaving after this season, will be less of a challenge outside of the top few programs. However, Brown is in his 70s already and won’t be coaching all that much longer (although assistant Tim Jankovich appears to be his coach-in-waiting); Johnson, at 57, could be a longer-term answer for TCU. The Horned Frogs have also laid claim to being the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s college and are part of a major conference in the Big 12 that entices recruits. When addressing the subject of financial resources, right now, it’s a push; but the Big 12, with its ties to the BCS and monster programs at Texas, Oklahoma and so on, would appear to be in the stronger position.
The battle will come down to one thing: Who can get area recruits to commit to their program? SMU already got Frazier and Brown. TCU got Shepherd. But look forward to 2015. In that class, there are currently eight top 100 players in the Scout.com rankings from the state of Texas, and four are considering either SMU or TCU. In fact, two of those – Duncanville small forward Matt McQuaid (no. 73) and Plano West power forward D.J. Hogg (no. 42) – are considering both schools. That’s not to say they’ll pick either program, but it is significant progress from the days when both schools were afterthoughts in the recruiting game. Add in that fact that Rick Barnes (or whoever takes over for him, should he get the boot) and Texas are struggling, and Texas talent may appear to be up for grabs. And with the facilities improvements and at least two years to show those 2015 prospects the progress they’re making, that year could turn into a crucial period for both teams.
So, without too much national attention, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has upped its college hoops game. Maybe it was a case of keeping up with the Joneses or just a realization that after football season is over, basketball isn’t a bad spring pastime. But while SMU has the short-term hype with the big-name coach, the bigger recruiting stars and the schedule that sets up easier for wins, TCU is staring down a future that includes higher revenue streams and more recruiting exposure from a bigger conference, facilities that will improve, and a coach that, at least in terms of age and experience, won’t be gone within the next two recruiting classes. SMU, enjoy the now. But TCU, enjoy the future.