It sucks falling short of your goal. It may suck substantially worse to be told you probably achieved your goal only to be snubbed in the end. Coach Jamie Dixon and his purple progenies seemed to be in position for an invitation back to the NCAA tournament after downing Texas in their last game of the regular season. Prospects to go dancing looked better in the locker room at halftime while up 16 points against Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. The Frogs scored an impressive 45 points in the first half, riding a wave of pinpoint shooting by juniors Kouat Noi and Desmond Bane. Computer projections assured horned homers that our boys would have an 80-percent chance to be included in the field of 68 teams if they won against the Cowboys. The second half provided little reassurance. Scripts flipped, and TCU couldn’t sell their endowment for a bucket. Dixon’s dribblers led by as many as 21 points in the second half but frittered away their lead to turnovers and terrible shooting down the stretch. Bane bailed out his brethren by burying a long-ball late, and the Frogs escaped with a 73-70 win after dominating for most of the contest. Who cares? Style points be damned, right? More on that later.
Less than 24 hours after surviving OSU, Fort Worth’s finest braved the top-seeded Kansas State Wildcats in the quarterfinal round. We haven’t been the better purple all season, and that trend continued against the deeper, taller, and fresher Cats. Sluggish passing meant frequent turnovers. Drives against that stout zone defense netted only circus layups that were swatted like flies at a barbecue joint. At least the first half inspired hope. The Frogs clung to a two-point lead at the break while KSU was still searching for rhythm. Second half, however, was all Wildcats. The final tally: 61-70 –– and the third loss of the season to the men from Manhattan. Positive notes included the best offensive output against the co-conference champs this season and the smallest point differential amongst the three losses. Dixon’s lean bench wasn’t expected to beat K-State. All that remained was waiting for the selection committee to place our boys among the other 67 teams to see what task lay ahead of them.
The Frogs, like every moderately successful team throughout the country, sat together on Selection Sunday with bated breath. They waited to be assured they had been chosen for the dance and to discover which squad they needed to prepare for. Instead, they felt their Frog legs sizzling while hearing perhaps the worst words in college ball: “First four out.” Horned basketball had slid off the bubble and become one of the last four frat bros standing in line at the club with no girls to help them maneuver past the bouncer. The maligned group of four rejects included UNC-Greensboro, Alabama, and Indiana as the cadre of first losers heading into March Madness. The maddening part is that almost every bracketologist (a pseudoscience akin to astrology or the Flat Earth Society) believed the Frogs were a lock after sweeping their season series with Big 12 tournament champions Iowa State and Texas.
The Net is not only a cinematic thriller starring Sandra Bullock but the newest analytical tool used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) replaced the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) this year. Committee members had relied on the RPI since 1981. Now, they use the NET to evaluate team performance more fairly while being as accurate as possible, according to the NCAA. TCU’s NET ranking is 52, the highest among the first four out but also higher than three of the last four teams that were selected. Belmont, Temple, Arizona State, and St. John’s are the four 11-seeds that finished bubbliest of the bubble squads. Only Belmont sports a better NET ranking than TCU. The last four in all have better records but play in unequivocally easier conferences than the Big 12, which is considered the toughest conference, according to NET and RPI. The human element is real. TCU failed the eye test. Losses to bottom feeders OK State and West Virginia didn’t help, nor did being swept by OU. More recently, the victory in the conference tournament was lackluster. Blowing a 21-point lead doesn’t indicate you’re peaking and ready to make national noise.
Metrics and the eye test aside, our boys were screwed. The committee shafted the entire Big 12 by allotting only six bids. But it’s not such a bad thing. The four 11-seeds have to play each other to get into the main bracket of 64 teams before facing a six-seed that will likely send them packing. Dixon’s diminished and dinged-up dunkers are better off playing more games to develop their young talent. Seniors Alex Robinson and JD Miller can avenge their shoddy senior-night performances with an encore on Wednesday evening against Sam Houston State in Schollmaier Arena. The Bearkats are equipped to score and dropped only two games en route to winning the Southland Conference regular season title. The NIT wasn’t the goal Dixon was striving for this season but settling for a one-seed in the second-best tournament is alley-oops and dunks ahead of where Horned Hoops stood when he came to town. Frog Faithful should still watch the NCAA tournament while being – understandably – extra mad.