The past few days haven’t been stellar for Frog basketball. Early NIT wins caused gullible optimists – including me – to overlook how awful men’s hoops had been away from home this season. Their top seed in the NIT allowed TCU’s swishing seven to enjoy home-court advantage through the first three rounds before boarding a plane to New York City to face the Texas Longhorns. Coach Jamie Dixon was 5-1 against Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart since arriving in Fort Worth and swept the burnt orange in conference contests this season. The semifinal match-up at Madison Square Garden started with the Frogs laboring into the lane through senior point guard Alex Robinson and freshman center Kevin Samuel. Poor offensive rebounding from TCU stagnated scoring through the first minutes of the game. Junior Frogger Desmond Bane buoyed his comrades by burying a pair of jumpers. Texas’ senior guard Kerwin Roach, reinstated after his third career team suspension, checked in and scored seven consecutive points off the bench. TCU’s momentum became stuck in a glue trap when Roach scurried to the court. The good guys couldn’t score and suffered their worst offensive output in a half this season. The Funky Frogs managed 17 pathetic points and trailed their in-state foe by 14 headed into the locker room.
Bane brawled in the second half and nearly awakened his teammates from their scoring stupor, flashing through the stout UT defense for circus lay-ins. The 14-point deficit shrunk to five before the rim demons of the first half reappeared to swat and shank shots from the Frogs. Both teams scored 27 points in the second half, and Dixon’s disciples fell from their purple perch in unwatchable offensive obsolescence. The abhorrent combo of shoddy shooting and nonexistent offensive rebounding compounded by overly cautious possessions (a hallmark of Dixon’s style is to make extra passes to find the best shot) prevented the Frogs from overcoming their abysmal first half. Robinson and Bane led scoring with 12 and 11, respectively. Kouat Noi scored seven. RJ Nembhard and Kenrick Davis contributed five points each off the bench. Senior JD Miller stepped on the court in a Frog jersey for a record 140th time, but, sadly, he and Samuel drained only one bucket each. The struggling seven weren’t in an empire state of mind in the Garden and shot a paltry 28.3 field-goal percentage, 19 percent from long-range, and visited the free-throw line only eight times. Texas went on to win the NIT championship, so I guess that’s some consolation from the consolation.
Jamie, you got to let me know / Will you stay or will you go?
Not the original lyrics to the smash hit by The Clash from their 1982 album Combat Rock but most likely the same question Dixon asked himself when the album was released. Then a high school senior, Dixon decided that his hardwood talents were best received at Texas Christian University. Division I programs close to his home in California weren’t beating down his door. The situation is different now. Cali wants Dixon back, and the rumor mill has been spinnin’. The UCLA Bruins are essentially the Dallas Cowboys of college basketball: loads of history and winning but irrelevant since Bill Clinton was in office. Connections between Dixon and the Bruins are undeniable. He matured watching UCLA dominate the hardwood. His mentor, Ben Howland (now head coach of Mississippi State), coached the Bruins for a decade. Numerous West Coast outlets as well as local journalists reported that Dixon and UCLA were negotiating a deal in which TCU would decrease Dixon’s $8 million buyout to something more amenable for the California university. That didn’t happen. The prodigal son will stay in Funkytown. Dixon wasn’t the Bruins’ first choice but is a known commodity for flipping struggling programs into winners. Frog faithful shouldn’t harbor harsh feelings if the coach was aspiring to blow the big whistle at a blueblood program. It’s entirely possible the negotiations served as a smokescreen to increase Dixon’s cache and cash value on the heels of a largely disappointing season riddled with injuries, road woes, and transfers. TCU certainly isn’t a basketball destination school for coaches yet. I’m hopeful Coach D will stick around and continue to craft a program in which he sets the legacy by which all other coaches are measured.
Sun’s Up, Guns Up
March Madness culminated in an absolute scooter burner of a national championship game on Monday night. Congratulations and condolences are due our rival Red Raiders, who represented Texas and the Big 12 as well as any team in the last 53 years. Sharp shooting Virginia required overtime and gasp-inducing long-range shots to claim their first national title in school history against Texas Tech. Fans of the Frog can take solace from the whipping their team took this season from a group that dribbled within seconds of claiming the championship. Tech player and native Fort Worthian Norense Odiase buried two pressurized free-throws in the final minute to secure a three-point lead for the Raiders before UVA buried an unlikely three-pointer to send the game to overtime and ultimately a Cavaliers victory. It’s unbelievable that no Texas-based college has won the NCAA tournament since Texas Western (now UTEP) cut down the nets in 1966. Coach Chris Beard was awarded the NCAA basketball coach of the year award, and his Techies helped bring national attention to often overlooked Big 12 basketball.