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Frog guard Mike Miles Jr. has been named to the John R. Wooden Late-Season Top 20 Watch List. Courtesy TCU Athletics

I speak only for myself, but between TCU football’s record-setting collapse in the national-title game and the Dallas Cowboys just Cowboy-ing, it’s time for a hiatus from the gridiron. Luckily, Fort Worth fans can seamlessly transition to hardwood hope in following what has already been a swish of a season for Horned Frog coach Jamie Dixon and his hoopers.

This past weekend wasn’t demonstrative of the impressive run men’s basketball is striding as they lost an overtime spat against unranked Mississippi State in the yearly Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday. The annual conference pairing that will end this year accentuates the midpoint of the season before the Big 12 slate is repeated, with the opposite team hosting the second tip. The loss aside, we should catch up on what TCU has accomplished so far.

Currently ranked 15th in the nation and appearing in the AP poll for a program-best ninth straight week, TCU is 16-5 on the season. For context, that ratio was unimaginable just five years ago. Two of their losses were against ranked opponents: Texas — a game in which the Frogs led by 18 but eventually lost by four in Austin — and Iowa State. The other three were the aforementioned overtime fall against MSU, a conference road loss against WVU (a venue where TCU is 0-11 all time), and an early-season one-point head scratcher against Northwestern State, a game where the Frogs’ most important guards — Mike Miles (#1) and Damion Baugh (#10) — did not play. In total, those five losses are by a combined 23 points.

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On the winning side, Dixon’s dribblers have downed four ranked opponents in Iowa, Kansas State, Baylor, and most recently No. 2-ranked Kansas. The Bears and the Jayhawks were both upsets in enemy territory, and the Wildcats were ranked 11th at the time. TCU’s last conference game was a 27-point run-over against Oklahoma, a team Dixon has classically struggled with. Despite an effervescent first half of the conference slate, there’s still plenty of ball to play, and the Big 12 — like usual — is one of the deepest hoop groups in the nation. The conference standings show a clear separation at the midline where TCU sits. Kansas State, Texas, and Iowa State are all deadlocked in a menage a trois at the top with two losses each. The Frogs, Bears, and Jayhawks are partying in their own weird way, all deadlocked with three losses. Oklahoma State is still within striking distance with five losses, Oklahoma and West Virginia are tied with six, and the Red Raiders’ roundball prowess has been swept away in a West Texas dust storm and have yet to win a conference game this season — they played for a national championship just four years ago.

Over the last four years, Dixon’s boys have slumped slightly after midseason. It’s not an indictment or difficult to comprehend. The purple and white are not a “classic” hoops school. The Frog roster is not as deep as some of the more tenured programs with which they contend within the Big 12. Therefore, the wear and tear of a long season affects TCU more than some, which was displayed in their overtime loss against the Bulldogs last weekend. Star point guard Mike Miles left the game with a knee injury (his prognosis is good moving forward), and TCU’s notable big man and crowd favorite Eddie Lampkin (#4) didn’t play at all. The absence of those two left a sizable scoring and rebounding hole which TCU almost escaped from, but the overtime period left them lacking the firepower needed to secure the road victory.

Over the last four years, Dixon’s disciples have dropped a minimum of seven conference games after the season’s midpoint. It’s unlikely this high-octane group follows that trend, but it’s essential that TCU is able to secure health before entering a murderer’s row of tips starting next week. One game will already be decided by the time we go to press, when (weather permitting) the Frogs host their rematch against the Mountaineers — a winnable game in Fort Worth even with Miles and Lampkin banged up — before traveling to OSU this weekend. There are no gimme victories in Big 12 basketball, but Dixon needs to chess-piece these games while preserving minutes for more potent opponents. Kansas State and Baylor are waiting in what will be a week of excellent opponents seeking revenge. Both the Wildcats and Bears are ranked ahead of TCU despite the Frogs owning both head-to-heads. A season sweep of either squad would probably guarantee an NCAA tournament berth.

The most notable improvement of these Frogs is their control. Past iterations of Frog ball seemed reckless, exciting but maddening with the gunslinger manner with which they advanced and scored the rock. This year’s toads are careful and methodical with the ball and have shown superior turnover numbers in all their noteworthy upsets so far (Baylor, K-State, Kansas). Fans are benefiting from premier guard play by Miles and Baugh and veteran forwards Emanuel Miller (#2) and Chuck O’Bannon Jr. (#5). In fact, it seems Miles has been the face of this team for years, though he is only a junior and flanked on all sides by grown men finishing their careers who’ve come Dixon’s way through the transfer portal but meshed and stuck around. Lampkin, who is in his third season but technically a sophomore, is the baby of this group despite his ginormous stature and personality.

I know I wanted to take a break from football, but it’s hard not to be reminded of Sonny Dykes’ football team when I look at this group of dribblers, a crafty group of veterans with experience and grit who seem to have a nose for playing their best against tough opponents. TCU hoops are putting together one of the best runs Fort Worth has seen in decades and are letting the conference and the nation know that the Horned Frogs are becoming a constant factor in every major collegiate sport.

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