TCU has never been known for hoops. Modern athletics, at least, have always revolved around football, with a hyper-competitive baseball squad complementing the gridiron during the spring. When Frog alumnus and coach Jamie Dixon secured a bid to the NCAA tournament in 2018, it raised collective expectations that haven’t since been met. That might change this season.
Aided by a collection of fresh recruits and transfers, the Frogs are making noise amid a tumultuous and stacked conference. After having their first two Big 12 tips against Kansas and West Virginia rescheduled for the end of the season because of COVID, these hardwood Horned Frogs are rocking and rolling through their early conference slate. Their tip-off game against Baylor was competitive through the first half until star point guard Mike Miles (#1) injured his shooting wrist. Then first-ranked Baylor heated up from the floor and won handily thanks to a dominant-shooting second half. Since their loss against the Bears, TCU has won three of four, including two on the road (which is generally considered more difficult). Most recently, Dixon’s dribblers traveled to the Midwestern tundra known as Ames, Iowa, and held the 15th-ranked Cyclones to their lowest scoring total ever — like in the history of home-court games — at 44 points. Led by Damion Baugh (#10), a junior guard who transferred from Memphis who scored 23 points to complement seven steals, the purple and white expanded on their 11-point halftime lead to a runaway 15-point victory.
We were reminded by the Cyclone game commentators that coach Dixon grew up a child actor, doing commercials for the likes of Budweiser and Volvo. Maybe Dyson vacuums could contact Dixon’s current agent, because his squad sucks on a regular basis — but in a good way. The Frogs are winning games by draining the life from opposing offenses. The best rebounders in the conference are stymying their opponents to fewer than 60 points per game (except Baylor) and overcoming their scoring impairment with continual second-chance points on the offensive glass.
Leading up to this weekend’s domination, the three previous contests were palm sweaters that culminated in two victories and one loss, all one-possession affairs. It began with the Frogs sinking a late three in Manhattan to down what are now a red-hot Wildcat squad, followed by a weekend meeting with the Sooners, who are always problematic for Dixon. Leading by two with only seconds remaining, a defensive implosion allowed the land stealers to inbound directly under the hoop for an uncontested layup to force overtime. The ensuing period went back and forth before the Frogs broke down again to allow the Sooners a quality possession in the closing seconds. Luckily, OU couldn’t convert, and TCU escaped with a home victory for their second conference win. The purple crowd’s raucousness was inspiring in a building that hasn’t garnered much home court advantage in the past. The Sooners experienced easily one of the most fervent and plentiful collections of hollering hoop heads I’ve ever seen descend on Schollmaier Arena.
The Frogs’ trip to Stillwater last Wednesday turned from elation into a frustrating affair as TCU allowed a seven-point lead to evaporate during the final 90 seconds, culminating with two made foul shots that sealed a one-point Cowboy victory. This kind of loss, especially on the road, was one that will hopefully haunt this squad in a positive way. A low-scoring affair, 56-57 at the final buzzer, the Frogs were careless with the rock and committed a staggering 22 turnovers, twice the rate of their opponent. The giveaways improved versus ISU but are still concerning at four more than the Cyclones.
The most surprising facet of these Frogs are that they’re winning without impressive stats from Miles — who is still the fourth most prolific scorer in the conference — who has struggled as of late. Miles scored 19 to lead the team against Kansas State, but in the last three games, he has averaged only six points and been marginal from the field. His discombobulation has opened the door for teammates to shine, partially because Miles is regularly double-teamed. Dixon has experimented with Baugh at point guard, and the transfer looked imposing on Saturday. As good as the Memphis transfer was, the Frogs will need Miles to regain swagger to keep the team multidimensional on offense. Still, it’s encouraging to see TCU succeed without their star player, an indication that the roster has been restocked with a superior level of talent compared with the last three seasons.
The back half of conference play has been where the Frogs have really struggled, at least in years past, and there are no gimme games on the schedule. The Big 12 is cannibalizing itself more and more weekly. Kansas — who the Frogs will play home-and-away during the last week of the season — is leading the pack with only one loss. Everyone else has fallen twice or more. TCU is currently sitting fourth ahead of the Longhorns, whom they’re hosting on tonight (Tuesday). Dixon and company are receiving ranking votes but are essentially 37th in the Associated Press poll right now, with games this week against Texas, who just dropped from the rankings, and LSU, who is 19th-ranked. Baylor and Kansas are sitting fourth and fifth, nationally, with Texas Tech in 13th and Iowa State dropping to 23rd after the Frogs’ victory.
While the Oklahoma State loss was a stinger, early feelings from the hardwood are overwhelmingly positive. If Miles can recover his mojo, it would be a major boost to a squad who plays fantastic defense but is offensively challenged. If nothing else, Jamie Dixon has assembled a team worth showing up for, because they’ll be a legitimate challenge for anyone they face, which is better than anyone was expecting heading into this season.