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Frog hoops has matched their best conference record in the Jamie Dixon era and enjoyed high-profile wins despite a late-season conference slump. Courtesy TCU Athletics

Hello darkness, my old friend. TCU basketball has grown their cache, as well as our collective expectations, tremendously since the arrival of Coach Jamie Dixon, yet as we stumble through early March and NCAA tournament selection nears, it seems like the same ol’ song and dance for TCU hoops. Can their soft non-conference schedule hold up? What credence is given to the late-season slump the Frogs often experience? Is the Big 12 really as dominant a hoops conference as everyone was led to believe at the beginning of the season? These — along with other questions — can largely not be answered by the Frogs on the court but must be asserted by the selection committee at which Frog nation is now beholden to.

The season is not completely over. By the time you read this, the purple men will have already tipped or finished their game against Oklahoma on the second day of conference tournament play in Kansas City on Wednesday. The Frogs and Sooners are seeded 8th and 9th respectively and are largely considered the last members to be selected to the big dance. Oklahoma has the better conference record by one game, but the Frogs’ head-to-head victory over the Crimson back in January gives them the slightly better seed, though it’s moot in an 8-playing-9 scenario. The winner of the scuffle receives the joy of facing top-seed and top-ranked Houston to open the tournament’s third day. The Cougars have only three losses since washing out of last year’s Sweet 16, against Kansas, Iowa State, and … TCU (by one point).

Dixon’s Frogs are likely receiving a tournament invite regardless of their outcome against Oklahoma, but a victory on Wednesday would banish the drama from Selection Sunday. Losing four of their last six tips leading into Kansas City hasn’t helped the situation, but give credit where credit it is due: This season, along with a W against H-town, TCU has also beat conference heavies Tech and Baylor. The purple hoopers also swept bottom-dwelling West Virginia but are haunted by close home losses to Cincinnati and UCF, who are chillin’ with the Cowboys and Mountaineers in the Big 12 basement.

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As the season closes, this year matches Dixon’s two best conference records and will finish .500 (9-9) in the Big 12 for the third overall time this year, a record that’s classically plenty for tournament selection and is likely the case again. Almost every bracketology prognosticator forecasts the Frogs among the field of 68 and to be the last conference squad invited. At the risk of sounding repetitive, the sinking Frog lily pad is partially because they don’t roster a big man who can place the team squarely on his comically large back when field shooting is cold. The lack of an imposing inside presence via non-shooting forwards or centers has relegated a traditionally good defensive team to tied for 165th nationally in scoring defense, though their high-scoring conference can be partially blamed. Blocks are also nothing to brag about at 112th in the country.

Frog scoring hasn’t been a problem from the field, and their effective FG percentage is adequate at 96th in the country. Dixon’s dribblers have staked their reputation and success on the transition game and dunk on their competition as the overall leader in fastbreak points. Consequently, that also leaves TCU vulnerable to teams who cover the court well on defense and force the opposition into a slower game with fewer freestyle opportunities. The local boys are most comfortable running and gunning in full-court situations, which also tends to lead to lower overall possession time and opportunities for very high-scoring games (which reads like a nod to their football counterparts this season).

Feeding into their style, the Frogs are 18th in steals this season — one of their only encouraging defensive stats — and make hay with their transition opportunities. The question is: Is TCU capable of a multifaceted style within the inevitable ebbs and flows to outlast the notoriously unforgiving tournament? Every team starts their season with the goal of cutting down the final net and wearing it on their heads as the blasphemous Christs of the hardwood, but realistically, the Frogs are looking to quench their sweet tooth by advancing to the round of 16, which has eluded our local college for the last 56 years.

This week serves as a preview — any team TCU faces in the conference tourney represents a dancing squad and an indication if Dixon’s eighth iteration possesses the energy and expertise to assert what they’re good at while minimizing and concealing where they struggle. Opposing game plans will surely center on an agonizingly slow pace, forcing the Frogs to make the absolute most of their offensive possessions and creating a tempo that is anything but fun to watch.

The purple men have failed to eclipse 80 points in 16 of their 31 games this season and have lost nine of them. In contrast, they have lost only twice in the 15 tips where they have exceeded fourscore. Pace matters for this group. They want to fly and avoid the grind. In the past, Syracuse, Gonzaga, and Arizona have represented Frog Kryptonite: With offensively and defensively talented big men, these squads are filthy in the paint, they grind tempos down, and they have sent the Frogs packing.

Those are the greatest considerations and threats when our local ballers are assigned their first-round opponent on Sunday. TCU may not possess the firepower to raise the final nets this year, but surviving until the third round would be the greatest success that any purple-loving Boomer or young’un has adjacently experienced from Frog hoops in their lifetime.

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