TCU Slowly Making a Case For Legitimacy

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 30th, 2016

Few pegged TCU as an NCAA Tournament team coming into this season, but after starting 6-0 for only the second time since joining the Big 12 four years ago, Jamie Dixon’s rebuilding process appears to be moving more quickly than expected. The Horned Frogs took a big step forward in last weekend’s Global Sports Classic, dispatching UNLV by four points on its home court and following it up with a 13-point win against Washington to claim the title. In a weird scheduling quirk, TCU will host Washington again tonight in Fort Worth. If the second game goes anything like the first — where the Frogs jumped out to a quick 24-8 lead and never looked back — Dixon’s group should be well on its way to a 7-0 start.

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs?. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Considering his track record, it’s not a huge surprise that Jamie Dixon has TCU playing better than pundit expectations. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

TCU lost its top scorer from a season ago, Chauncey Collins, but has replaced him with standout freshman Jaylen Fisher. Although Fisher has endured some early growing pains — turning the ball over at a higher rate than anyone else on the team (2.7 miscues per game) — he’s also exhibiting an ability to find open teammates, leading the Horned Frogs with 5.3 assists per game and a nationally-ranked 34.6 percent assist rate. Fisher isn’t the only newcomer making an early impact, as Desmond Bane is averaging 10.3 points per game on 56.1 shooting from the field. During the UNLV game, Bane contributed 15 points and six rebounds, while Fisher gave 10 points and five assists against Washington. Fisher is likely to be the more consistent player this season, but both have already made their marks on a TCU team needing to replace Collins’ production. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

One Burning Question: What’s In Store For Jamie Dixon’s First Season at TCU?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2016

TCU was woefully unprepared to compete in the Big 12 when the school jumped over from the Mountain West in 2012. Schollmaier Arena wasn’t in any kind of condition to attract the talent necessary to compete, and the hiring of Trent Johnson instead of a hungrier coach on the rise always seemed like a suspect move. TCU subsequently learned the hard way — in the form of an 8-64 league record over Johnson’s four seasons — that it needed to make serious investments in order to compete. After a $72 million renovation of its facility and the foresight to sense that Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh were growing tired of each other, those investments have now been made. The upcoming season won’t define Dixon’s tenure at TCU, but with seven of last year’s nine rotation players returning, a top-50 recruiting class, and a promising transfer eligible in December, a solid foundation exists in Fort Worth for TCU to climb out of the Big 12 cellar.

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs?. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

TCU brought their man home. Is Big 12 relevance next for the Horned Frogs? (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Backcourt: This is a group that has some potential, but it’s tough to see how the pieces fit together. Malique Trent is the team’s leading returning scorer at 11.6 points per game, but those points came on a paltry 38.9 percent shooting, including 25.2 percent from distance. Freshman Jaylen Fisher, who the Horned Frogs pried away from UNLV, is the prize of TCU’s recruiting class. He’s a play-making point guard rather than an attacker, but with a lack of high-level weapons around him, it may take some time before the team can fully capitalize on his skill set. The Horned Frogs should also get a boost from point guard Alex Robinson, who transferred over from Texas A&M when Trent Johnson was still coach and maintained his commitment through the transition. He won’t be eligible to play until after the fall semester ends, but he’ll be able to help Fisher shoulder the workload and give defenses a different look as a lefty.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big 12 Morning Five: 05.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 6th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. The coaching carousel is essentially finished for the offseason, but it may not be long before we see movement of a bigger variety with expansion “likely” coming to the Big 12, per ESPN’s Matt Rittenberg. While the potential move would be football-driven — like most realignment shake-ups — it obviously would impact basketball as well, no matter who the Big 12 plucks. There are a handful of reasonable candidates for expansion (well, reasonable as far as realignment goes), but Cincinnati is particularly appealing and realistic for a few reasons, all of which make sense: Most importantly, they would instantly bring (what would be) the second-biggest TV market in the conference. The Bearcats also offer an underrated football program and, as we all know, a consistently strong hoops team. Lower on the list, their inclusion would provide a less taxing travel partner for West Virginia, which is 850 miles away from its closest Big 12 opponent, Iowa State. Cincinnati’s administration has been lobbying the Big 12 for inclusion over the past two years, and while that may not make them automatic, that familiarity certainly can’t hurt from either side. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments, but after a few years of rumblings, this summer could be the one where the talk finally leads to action.
  2. While there was never any reason to think that Josh Jackson would back out of his commitment to Kansas, the blue-chipper officially inked with the Jayhawks earlier this week, which means that Bill Self was allowed to talk publicly about him for the first time, and those first comments were pretty interesting. Among Self’s praises for the wing was the remark that “his (Jackson’s) impact on our program next year will be as much as any freshman will have on any college program.” While it’s traditional for coaches to talk up their newcomers, that particular comment sure sets a high bar when you consider how strong and deep the 2016 class is purported to be. Self went on to praise Jackson’s competitive nature, which is also worth pointing out in this space. One of themes of Kansas’ recent teams has been the lack of a vocal leader capable of igniting something within his more stoic teammates, so the degree to which that part of Jackson’s game translates in a much tougher environment will definitely be worth monitoring as the coming season wears on.
  3. Jamie Dixon‘s key challenge at TCU is finding prospects who are willing to spurn better programs in favor of one that has struggled mightily to achieve any semblance of success or build more than a passing following, but his first commitment in Fort Worth signifies that he’s up to the task. On Wednesday, the Horned Frogs secured the commitment of 2016 point guard prospect Jaylen Fisher, a former UNLV commit. The Running Rebels’ coaching shake-up led Fisher to reopen his recruitment, and he stayed loyal to his lead recruiter, former UNLV assistant Ryan Miller, who left Vegas to join Dixon’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, though, Fisher is a consensus top-75 recruit, which makes him TCU’s highest-ranking prospect in ages, crazy as that may sound. While the Horned Frogs will return most of their roster from last season, it’s also a roster that went 12-21, so Fisher will have a chance to make an impact from the get-go. It’s clear that Dixon is wasting no time in adding the level of talent that can change TCU’s fortunes in arguably the nation’s best conference.
  4. While there are still some players to be had through both the 2016 high school class and through transfer, the biggest Big 12 prospect still on the board is Jarrett Allen. The Longhorns are currently counting on rising senior Shaquille Cleare and freshman James Banks to fill the void left by the departures of Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, which isn’t a great starting point. Cleare scored just 3.6 PPG last season as he struggled with conditioning and foul trouble, and while Banks may pan out eventually, he’s no guarantee to make an immediate impact. A commitment from Allen wouldn’t make Texas a top-ten team, but it would give Shaka Smart a little less to worry about as he looks to replace the Longhorns’ top three scorers, top three rebounders and top two shot blockers.
  5. Staying with the Longhorns, plans are reportedly being made for a December 17 match-up in Houston pitting Texas against Arkansas as part of a neutral court doubleheader. The Longhorns may be in rebuilding mode next year, but the Razorbacks will be a work in progress as well. Mike Anderson’s team is coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign that saw them go 16-16 and finish in a tie for eighth place in the SEC before losing its top freshman, Jimmy Whitt, to transfer. It won’t be the most intriguing match-up on paper regardless of what happens between now and then, but it’s early May; We’ll take whatever we can get.
Share this story

Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 11th, 2016

In sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four, the Big 12 put together a solid NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to put to rest its reputation as a group of postseason underperformers. The 2015-16 campaign wasn’t without its highlights, though. The story of the season nationally was the prevalence of experienced veterans over one-and-done interlopers, and the Big 12 played a key role in that narrative with seniors Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Georges Niang leading their teams deep into March. With those three studs (among others) moving on, though, it’s time to examine the burning question that each Big 12 team faces this offseason. Today we review Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.

Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6)

Oklahoma faces a tough rebuild as it loses Big 12 all-time leading scorer and National Player Of The Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Oklahoma faces a rebuild as it loses Big 12 scoring king and National Player of the Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

What will the identity of post-Hield Oklahoma become? Between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Dinjyl Walker, Oklahoma is losing 64 percent of the scoring from last season’s lethal offensive unit. That’s a lot. Though we trust that head coach Lon Kruger will find a way eventually, in the meantime, the Sooners will face a tough road in the wake of heavy roster turnover. Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are expected back and there are some intriguing newcomers arriving in Kameron McGusty, Christian Doolittle and former Ohio State commitment Austin Grandstaff. But it’s tough to suffer the level of production Oklahoma is losing and still be expected to perform at a level comparable to last season’s Final Four squad. Very few programs in college basketball can reload that quickly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
Share this story

TCU Fires Trent Johnson: Now What?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 14th, 2016

Late on Selection Sunday, CBS Sports‘ Jon Rothstein broke news that TCU head coach Trent Johnson had been fired by the school, a report that was confirmed on Monday morning in a statement issued by the program’s director of intercollegiate athletics, Chris Del Conte. The statement, posted on the athletic department’s website, twice mentions the Horned Frogs’ new $72 million arena, and suggests that the school has the tools in place to establish a successful program in Fort Worth. The primary concern is that Johnson failed to deliver the necessary results. “We simply did not have the success we envisioned,” Del Conte said.

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

The peak of Johnson’s success in his four seasons at TCU came last year when the Horned Frogs entered Big 12 play undefeated and ranked in the AP Top 25 for this first time since 1999. However, TCU finished just 4-14 in the Big 12 to close out the regular season before making a quick exit in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. For Johnson, success against weak non-conference slates was the norm. The Horned Frogs went 39-11 in non-conference games under his direction, but their strength of schedule outside Big 12 play was never any better than 331st nationally, according to KenPom. Ultimately, though, Johnson’s inability to turn TCU into a respectable Big 12 program during his tenure appeared to mark the breaking point. The Horned Frogs won a mere eight league games over four seasons. “Your record is your record,” as Del Conte said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas took another step toward its 12th consecutive Big 12 title last night with a gutty 66-60 win at Baylor. The Jayhawks overcame one of its worst performances on the defensive glass in recent memory thanks to yet another hot shooting night and some big plays from junior Wayne Selden. Kansas’ defense also put the clamps down on Baylor over the last 13:48 of the second half, allowing just 13 points from the Bears over that span. With a two-game lead over West Virginia and just one road game remaining, it would take an unforeseeable disaster for Kansas to even share this year’s Big 12 title.
  2. The Jayhawks also displayed their long range firepower in last night’s victory, burying eight of their 19 attempts from deep. As detailed by fivethirtyeight.com‘s Matt GilesBill Self appears to have at long last shown a willingness to tailor his team’s attack to the strengths of its personnel — in this year’s case, to its three-point marksmanship. Kansas has posted three-point attempt rates above 35 percent in six of its last seven games and is shooting a white-hot 40.5 percent from distance since its late January loss at Iowa State. That accuracy has been one of the key drivers of Kansas’ current eight-game winning streak. The long-distance game only makes things easier for the likes of Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas inside, so a continued embrace of that skill is vital to a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  3. Texas Tech put what could be the final touches on an at-large bid with an 83-79 win over TCU last night in Lubbock. Led by a combined 48 points from Zach Smith and Aaron Ross, the Red Raiders knocked off their fifth straight league opponent, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since the all-time great 1996 squad pulled it off en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Tech’s final three regular season games are at Kansas, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas State, which means that even if Tubby Smith’s team were to lose out, it would be nearly impossible for its resume to diminish enough to send them back to the bubble.
  4. Kansas State on Monday night fell to 4-11 in Big 12 play after a loss to Texas, leading Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star to weigh in on Bruce Weber‘s struggles during his fourth season in Manhattan. Just like at Illinois, Weber has failed to duplicate the success he had with his predecessor’s recruits, and Kansas State’s conference record has dipped every year since it shared the conference title with Kansas in 2013. While missing the NCAA Tournament is a near-certainty for the Wildcats this year, next season could present an opportunity to make some noise. The young trio of Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will have a year of experience under its belt, while current veteran teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor are set to undergo significant personnel changes over the summer. Expecting Kansas State to contend for the Big 12 crown in 2017 might be a step too far, but a run at a top-half finish should be in the cards if they show improvement.
  5. Oklahoma State, losers of seven of its last eight Big 12 games amid myriad injuries, will look to pull a huge upset tonight when it travels to Norman. The Cowboys nearly did the unthinkable last month in a narrow loss to Oklahoma, but a last-second missed shot by Jeffrey Carroll instead sent Oklahoma State to another of its eight losses to come by five points or fewer. The Pokes are the only team nationally to close out the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, but that’s unlikely to garner any sympathy for Travis Ford from a fan base whose patience with him has already worn thin.
Share this story