TCU strives continually to be a major sports university. Naturally, the engine of almost every prolific sports program is football. The gridiron collects the most revenue and national attention and is arguably the only sport that is still specifically and exclusively dominated by the United States. The perfect complement to a great football program is a nationally relevant basketball squad, which is something TCU has never enjoyed concurrently. Granted, as our collective expectations have increased, so, for all intents and purposes, has the play of purple dribblers. That said, Coach Jamie Dixon’s team, despite being as competitive as they have ever been, are basically an afterthought amid an embarrassingly stacked basketball conference.
Currently, the Big 12 has five teams ranked in our country’s Top 25: Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, and Texas Tech, in that order. The Bears, who are the defending national champions, have regained their top ranking after knocking off No. 1 Villanova last weekend. Don’t expect TCU to make a run at a conference or national championship this season. That simply isn’t realistic, but the early indications are that Dixon’s collection of transfers and home-grown talent might be well positioned to land near the middle of the conference, which would be a tremendous feat.
Nonconference slates, at least for the Frogs, are difficult to dissect and gain a feeling for the season. Since Dixon returned to his alma mater five seasons ago, TCU has never lost more than three tips before arriving at their conference slate. The Horned Frogs don’t generally schedule ranked competitors because the expectations in Funkytown are a bit different. An invite to the NCAA tournament — which Dixon accomplished with a .500 conference record in his second season — is an incredibly successful season. This year’s squad is currently 8-1 and enjoyed wins last week over Utah in Fort Worth and a neutral-site victory over Texas A&M. Both games represent the most notable opponents for the Frogs so far this season.
TCU’s hardwood hopes were dashed last year because of missing forward play. If you’re going to compete in one of the best conferences in a big man’s game, you’re going to need some big men. Dixon has been working the transfer portal to try and address his team’s deficiency. Emanuel Miller (#2) was an important acquisition for the Frogs front court. The 6-foot-7 junior transferred from the Aggies this year. I’m sure it felt especially validating for Miller to score the most Frog points against his former team during their win on Saturday. The wild card player to watch this year is Chuck O’Bannon Jr. (#5), the senior formerly of the USC Trojans is in his second season with TCU and final collegiate campaign. O’Bannon is a small forward with tremendous shooting potential similar to former Frog Kouat Noi (currently playing professional hoops in Australia). Dixon will need him to make the most of his minutes and hit spot-up opportunities down the line if the Frogs hope to compete.
The most exciting long-term big man for the Frogs is sophomore Eddie Lampkin Jr. (#4). At 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, he’s a hard man to miss, and — in the paint — he hasn’t been missing much this season. Lampkin is an encouraging replacement for Kevin Samuel, who is finishing his collegiate career at Florida Gulf Coast University this season. Lampkin, who saw limited action last season, dropped nearly 30 pounds over the offseason and retains his bullying frame while becoming more dynamic in the low post. His minutes have increased steadily as the season progresses, and he recorded his second-best scoring performance in the Frogs’ win against the Aggies to complement seven offensive and three defensive boards for the team’s only double-double. The young giant will need to continue this type of performance if the Frogs have chances at holding up down the line, when inevitable outside shooting droughts have spelled doom for TCU in the past.
Dixon and company’s only contest of note before 2022 begins is against Georgetown in the Big 12/Big East Battle this Saturday. New Year’s Day starts conference play, when the Frogs visit Kansas before hosting West Virginia midweek and then Baylor the following Saturday. We’ll check in after this slate finalizes, and it’s entirely likely we’ll be dissecting their playing trends after three losses. Right now, it’s more important to observe how this team rises to the challenge of better competition.
The purple dribblers are picked to finish anywhere from 7th to 9th in the conference, but some of those same lists predicted Iowa State would finish last, and they’re currently 11th-ranked and have won their first 10 games. No one is picking TCU to finish at the top, or even near the top, of the Big 12 and rightly so. But if Dixon can win seven conference games, he’ll be overachieving. A .500 record might even land these Frogs in the big dance, but — with the strength of their opponents — eight wins could land them there. Fans should be on upset alert all season and approach each game as an opportunity for the Froggies to be the spoilers, because they won’t often be the favorites.