We’re no fans of cliche here at the Weekly, but I can’t discard the events of last week as quickly as the state legislators will before I derive adequate pun mileage. So, what the heck is the problem with TCU men’s basketball this season? Answer: power. Not the natural-gas pipeline freezing, wonky wind turbine, coal crystalizing, power production problems endured by our friends, families, and neighbors last week. Gov. Greg Abbott will most likely spend the next year gazing backward to find a scapegoat to those hardships, but the problem for TCU — and Jamie Dixon in particular — is power forward.
Saturday should have proved a manageable contest against Kansas State, who were — and still are — scraping the bottom of the conference standings. The Wildcats had logged only one win against a Big 12 opponent, which was the Cyclones back in 2020. The clashing purples knotted themselves at 29 before breaking for intermission, and afterward, KSU accelerated while Dixon’s dribblers dropped into low gear in anticipation of black ice. Who’s to blame? Guards RJ Nembhard (#22) and Mike Miles (#1) combined for 27 points. Center Kevin Samuel (#21) jammed in nine, which wasn’t his best, but far from his worst. Other than the aforementioned three, no player wearing non-tacky purple scored more than five. The real problem is there isn’t one formidable, or even reliable, forward gracing TCU’s roster. In contrast, KSU starts two forwards and a center, and those three big men combined for 23 points. Add 28 Wildcat points from their two starting guards, and they needed only one bucket from the bench to eclipse TCU’s disappointing 54 points. As hard as it might be to believe, the Frogs are scoring a superior number of points per game than last season (albeit, the sample size is much smaller), but their scoring trend — or lack thereof — is alarming considering the first years of Dixon’s tenure. When Jamie Dixon returned to his alma mater to coach the Frogs in 2016, the squad managed approximately 75 points each game and steamrolled their way to an NIT championship. The next year, their scoring ballooned to better than 82 per meeting. Not surprisingly, the offensive explosion yielded a school-best 9-9 Big 12 record and the first NCAA tournament bid for TCU in 20 years. In 2018-19[,] the pace dropped below Dixon’s first year at just below 74 points per game before dropping last year to a tenure low at 65.4 points. What happened? Look forward, or rather, look at the forwards who were in Fort Worth and have since graduated. It’s unfair to reminisce, but in retrospect Dixon was gifted a talented front-court roster upon arrival. Vladimir Brodziansky — the Slovakian Serpent — was and might remain one of the best players to ever grace Berry Street and University Drive. Center-like size embodying silky post moves, outside shooting ability, and sniper free throws made Vlad a nearly unguardable force who was always in the mix for the top scorer in the conference. Assisting Brodzianky was Kenrich Williams, one of the only Frogs besides Desmond Bane to be drafted into the NBA in recent memory. Williams’ hustle, athleticism, and ability to fly into the paint and above the rim won’t soon be replicated. Those two equaled a dynamic duo of forward fury. We’d be remiss to forget JD Miller, who began his purple career as a role player before becoming the nitrous fuel that returned the Frogs to the NIT championship game the season after Brodzianky and Williams departed. These big men propelled TCU basketball, and Dixon, to the relevance that fans had craved since the start of the 21st century.
The depressing news is they haven’t been replaced, or even imitated, by anyone on the current roster. For those who have never evaluated basketball closely, allow me to metaphor in snowpocalypse terms. TCU’s guards are this state’s power grid. Most of the time, they appear solid and can deliver the goods and consumers won’t even notice. But add some inclement weather — or, in this case, a decent opponent — and what seemed like seamless electricity became rolling blackouts. If your neighborhood was anything like mine, there’s no coherent timeframe for when the lights might click on. Forwards are backup generators. They can propel your home, and team, along during bleak spells where you just need the essentials to stay alive and prevent the pipes from freezing. You might not rely on forwards all the time, especially when the weather is clear and temperate, but when you need them, they’re friggin’ really essential.
The Horned Frogs have suspended play numerous times this season and are currently 11-9 (4-7 in the Big 12) and need a herculean effort to complete a “winning,” season. Two games remain to complete the Frogs’ heavily modified regular season schedule. Their first spat is hosting the 13th-ranked Mountaineers on Tuesday night. By the time this piece goes to press or you’re reading online, TCU will be 11-10, unless for some reason that game isn’t played at all, which seems more plausible than this Frog squad pulling the upset. Their final tip is Saturday in Iowa — one of those states where the electricity is still running during negative temperatures — against a Cyclone squad that has been victorious only twice this season, with zero conference victories. A final game against languishing Iowa State seems as good an opportunity for victory as any, but our Frogs barely escaped with a one-possession victory when hosting ISU only three weeks ago. It’s still possible Dixon’s disciples will play in a postseason tournament, but we’ll have to NI-wait and see.