I’ve slung disparaging arrows toward the Big 12 in recent weeks. Football season exposed our group of 10 as lacking on the gridiron compared with the rest of the country. We can flip that narrative as the indoor migration to the polished hardwoods of collegiate hoops begins. The conference of one true champion enjoys a deep stable of ranked benches who are likely to receive seeds in the NCAA tournament. Four squads are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 as of Monday. The always-respected Kansas Jayhawks fell from the third to sixth spot after a loss against Baylor in Lawrence on Saturday. The couch pyros from Morgantown are ranked 12th, and Texas Tech is struggling from lofty expectations-itis after a championship game appearance last season and are 1-2 in conference play but still ranked 23rd nationally. The Waco Wackos sit second in the land between Gonzaga and Duke. The Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin chopped down the Blue Devils in an early season front-page upset. Daunting bouncy ball depth is business as usual for the Big 12, but the Horned Frogs aren’t fazed at this juncture. Fourth-year head coach Jamie Dixon –– despite the rockiest offseason of his tenure –– continues to find success by integrating fresh faces to complement two steady returners and star senior guard Desmond Bane.
TCU shares first place in the Big 12 standings with second-ranked Baylor as of Monday. Both are undefeated through three conference tilts. This is the first time our Frogs have survived unscathed this long, undoubtedly a byproduct of their back-loaded schedule. The team is benefiting from facing the lower tier of Iowa State and Kansas State to start. The Frogs topped the Cyclones and Wildcats via two-point victories owed to clutch field-goal shooting in the final seconds. Slim victories still count in the left column, and Dixon’s dribblers’ latest match-up against Oklahoma State proved a defensive showcase as the hoop remained cleaner than John Wayne in a spaghetti western. Defensive hustle from TCU, combined with a sudden sponsorship of the Cowboys by ACME Brick, stifled the orange Okies for a mere 40 points scored. These Hoppin’ Frogs are fun to watch, defensively scrappy and excellent outside shooters. That said, quell your excitement. It doesn’t seem that they’re going to run many conference foes from the gym. Games will go as their outside shooting percentage does, for better or for worse. Center Kevin Samuel is the only notable inside threat, though he’s a huge presence. By the time you’re reading this, we will know a bit more about how good our Horned Hoopers can be and whether they return from their visit to test the 12th-ranked Mountaineers.
It’s strange to say, but Dixon and company have already exceeded expectations. Several talented former Frogs entered the transfer portal or international basketball ranks after last season, in addition to the graduation of court general Alex Robinson. Doubts surrounded Dixon himself after reports he was leaving for the vacant UCLA job. Bane’s decision to return for his senior season is unequivocally the reason these Frogs are sitting undefeated in conference rather than being winless. Preseason polls prognosticated Fort Worth’s finest would finish dead last among their cohort. Barring an injury to Bane or Samuel, Dixon’s roundballers could compete to finish sixth or seventh in the group, which would again deliver them to the bubble of an NCAA tourney bid. Find a method to tune in on Saturday afternoon when Bane and his backup dancers visit Norman to face unranked Oklahoma. The Sooners swept TCU in close fights last season, and Frog resolve against OU might signal an averagely talented Purple posse possessing exceptional mental resilience.