Big 12 Burning Questions: TCU Horned Frogs

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will TCU live up to its bullish expectations?

Expectations are funny things in that they can mean very different things to very different teams. Though the odds are inherently long, a small handful of teams like Duke and Kansas are generally expected to be in the conversation for a Final Four berth each and every year. For others, expectations can mean contending for a conference title and playing into the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Further down the pecking order, some schools will be satisfied with receiving at-large bids and still others simply aim to stay competitive against their best competition and let the chips fall where they may. The Horned Frogs accomplished the latter in Jamie Dixon‘s first season in the Metroplex, going 6-12 in Big 12 play with good wins over Iowa State and a Josh Jackson-less Jayhawks team in the Big 12 Tournament, but they also showed their mettle in close losses to that same Kansas team at full strength and defeats at the hands of West Virginia and Oklahoma State. With their top six scorers returning, the Horned Frogs are set to move up in the ranks with legitimate aspirations for an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in 20 years.

Led by experienced contributors like Alex Robinson and Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU has college basketball’s attention for the first time in a generation. (Ray Carlin/USA TODAY)

To quickly recap last season, Dixon’s arrival in Fort Worth instantly transformed TCU from a 2-16 team in league play to a group exhibiting many of the traits of the coach’s best Pittsburgh teams: a hunger for offensive rebounds; a methodical half-court approach centered around point guards setting up teammates for high-percentage looks; and defenders who know how to force bad shots without fouling. While the Frogs modestly improved to a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, they gathered themselves in time to go on an NIT championship run in March. This year’s rotation will have a familiar look. Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson will share point guard duties; Desmond Bane will hold down the off-guard spot; Kenrich Williams will man the wing; and JD Miller will patrol the paint alongside the underrated Vladimir Brodziansky.

The biggest difference between this season’s personnel and last will be additional depth down low. Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn were supposed to help Dixon keep Brodziansky fresh last season, but injuries seemed to follow the pair wherever they went. It wasn’t all bad, though, as Miller capitalized on his opportunity to become a key contributor by playing solid interior defense and stretching the floor (38% 3FG in Big 12 play), but he and Brodziansky often played together, which made the team vulnerable to depth issues. The Slovakian big man will still lead the charge in the paint, but he could use some help so that he doesn’t wear down over the course of the season. Fortunately for everyone associated with the rising program, that help is on the way. Miller will be pushed by Australian newcomers Kouat Noi and Lat Mayen, four-star freshman Kevin Samuel and VCU graduate transfer Ahmed Hamdy. How Dixon ultimately divvies up the 80 available minutes per game among his frontcourt options will be worth tracking as the season ramps up. There’s also some backcourt talent waiting in the wings in four-star guard RJ Nembhard, who hails from nearby Keller, Texas.

The Horned Frogs’ collective experience will be a key asset for Dixon this season, but simply being a year older won’t turn them into a Big 12 contender. This group won just two conference road games last season and had trouble finishing teams off down the stretch, two bad habits that played significant roles in TCU losing their final seven regular season games. With additional reinforcements now on the way, this year projects differently, but it’s no sure thing for a program still trying to regain its respectability.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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