One of the more underrated stories in college basketball is going on in Fort Worth. The TCU basketball program has been largely ignored since entering the Big 12, and it was hard to argue against that. The Horned Frogs had a 15-71 conference record going into the 2016-17 season, including a 0-18 record in 2013-14.
After finishing 12-21 last season (2-16 in Big 12), the Frogs looked to their past to help lead them towards the future. Former TCU standout Jamie Dixon helped turn Pittsburgh into a Big East powerhouse as the Panthers head coach during a time when the Big East was considered the best overall basketball conference. Dixon decided to leave Pitt last March to return home to TCU.
The program has seen a turnaround quicker than many expected. TCU is 16-7 overall and 5-5 in Big 12 play with eight games left in the regular season, the first time they’ve won five games in conference since joining in 2011.
“I think our team didn’t know what we had,” said Dixon. “I saw when guys would get better and I saw the work ethic. I think there were some things in place that some people weren’t aware of and things we added to as well.”
Two of those wins are against Texas, which is the first season sweep of the Longhorns in 30 years. Dixon was a senior guard at TCU at the time, and now has single-season sweeps of Texas as a TCU player and coach.
“I think it means something, no question about it,” said Dixon after his second win over Texas during his first-year as head coach at TCU. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been caught up in beating one team. But it is Texas and we are in the state. They have their own network so there is some meaning to it and some history there. We are trying to make statements and show that we belong.”
With a few more “statement” wins in a power conference like the Big 12, TCU could be dancing in March. It would be their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.
“That is our goal every year,” said Dixon. “I made it real clear to our players that our goal was to get to the NCAA tournament. I tend to have higher expectations. I know at Pitt, I had higher expectations than anyone there and with that people raised their expectations, so that’s what I want to do here. We expect to win. We’ve got a good group here that really cares.”
That group includes freshman Jaylen Fisher, the No. 1 ranked player in Tennessee last year and sophomore Alex Robinson, a Mansfield Timberview product. Both guards have over 100 assists, the first time a pair of TCU teammates passed that mark in the same season since 2002. Junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky is also doing his part, averaging 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
But it’s the senior class, which includes Chris Washburn, Brandon Parrish, Michael Williams and Karviar Shepherd, that Dixon says has been the key due in part to making much-needed sacrifices in order for the team to be successful.
“Some guys haven’t played as much as they’ve played previously,” said Dixon. “I think they knew they wanted to leave on good terms and be a part of the group that helped turned this program around and made them Big 12 contenders.”