NCAA men’s hoops are finishing their early-season tournaments, and the national landscape is taking shape in a predictable fashion. Did you know that Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas are good at basketball? While you may know that, you may not know that the Horned Frogs of the hardwood haven’t lost a game since March of last season.
TCU men are the defending National Invitation Tournament (NIT) champions. Court snobs may say they finished the season as the 65th best team in the country last year or the first team left out of the NCAA championship tournament. However, the optimists and the realists know that the Frogs fared better through five rounds of the tourney than the litany of teams who got in but played a whopping 40 post-season minutes before packing it in for the year. Despite the positives, the Frogs will be locked in on making an NCAA championship tournament appearance this year. They haven’t been invited to the big dance since 1998, when the current leaders of this year’s team were 2 years old.
Coach Jamie Dixon and his International House of Ballers (five international players on the roster) are maintaining their momentum from their NIT championship, starting the season 6-0 and winning the Emerald Coast Classic tournament this past Saturday. While guiding his team day in and day out, Dixon is also incrementally building a program. The Big 12 conference is stacked in basketball, and TCU struggled in the back half of their 2017 conference slate. It would be a big stretch to pick these Frogs to win the conference, but watch for them to compete with every opponent and work to win half their conference games, which would be a marked improvement over winning just a third last season.
Hoop enthusiasts who followed TCU last season will recognize most of this team. Senior forward Vladimir Brodziansky of Slovakia will be the focal point in the half-court offense. His smooth post moves in the paint, consistent mid-range shots, and reliable free throw-shooting make him the steady performer near the basket. Brodziansky is no slouch on the defensive side either, and he could be TCU’s all-time leader in blocked shots by the time the buzzer sounds on the season. Look for him to be on the top of the Big 12 statistics for field-goal and free-throw percentages as the season progresses. Brodziansky’s size and versatility also make him the likely scoring leader for this team.
Senior guard Kenrich Williams is the explosive complement to Brodziansky’s size and fluidity. Williams was named Most Outstanding Player of the NIT last year, had the most double-doubles in the conference, and was close to averaging a double-double last season.
Dixon will need junior forward JD Miller to play an expanded role this season as the experienced big man opposite Brodziansky. A pair of freshmen Australian forwards has been recruited in Kouat Noi and Lat Mayen, but they will need time to rise to the level of their older teammates. Miller’s scoring during conference play will indicate how much success this team will have. He could be a powerful complement to the seniors should he become a regular scoring threat.
TCU won’t graduate any guards except Williams this year, which is good because sophomore Desmond Bane was a terror for opponents from 3-point-range last year. He was also clutch in pressure situations, hitting free throws to seal a win against then-No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament and again against Iowa in TCU’s overtime win to continue their run to the NIT crown. Sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher will share time with junior point guard Alex Robinson running the offense. These players both have great court vision and are dynamic ball-handlers who can drive the lane or run the baseline to make plays. Robinson is currently dealing with a foot injury, and until he’s healthy Fisher will be the go-to playmaker and court general.
It is difficult to know this early in the season exactly what to expect of this group. They return leaders who know what it is to be gritty and win as well as lose. The Frogs are already receiving votes in the Associated Press poll and are currently ranked No. 23. The TCU men have the talent, mindset, and coaching to go from surprise team to consistent contender this year and secure a spot in the NCAA championship tournament, which would definitely be an accomplishment for the team. Dixon has bigger designs than just making the tournament. He’s creating a program that seems to be in the mold of other well-known TCU coaches such as Gary Patterson (17 years on the job) and Jim Schlossnagle (15 years on the job). Dixon knows that TCU is his destination school, and he can make it the same for recruits. Years down the road, making the tournament will be a given for TCU basketball, but this season it’s a solid yet attainable goal.