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November 28, 2017

Big Ups

The TCU Men’s Basketball team is off to a hot start, but Coach Jamie Dixon wants to see improvement.

Jaylen Fisher leaps for a basket during the November 15 game against South Dakota in Schollmaier Arena. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Ellman Photography

Jaylen Fisher leaps for a basket during the November 15 game against South Dakota in Schollmaier Arena. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Ellman Photography

November 28, 2017

Big Ups

The TCU Men’s Basketball team is off to a hot start, but Coach Jamie Dixon wants to see improvement.

Coach Jamie Dixon calls a play during the home game against Omaha. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Gregg Ellman
Coach Jamie Dixon calls a play during the November 20 home game against Omaha. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Gregg Ellman

The 6-0 TCU men’s basketball team checked in at No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press poll. It’s the program’s highest ranking since 1999.

Coach Jamie Dixon ’87 said the sign of respect is no surprise. His team is fresh off of an NIT championship season. The top-six scorers return from a group that didn’t lose again after being defeated by Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament. The Frogs are nurturing college basketball’s longest current win streak at 11.

Should the Frogs be ranked higher? “Obviously our history doesn’t lead one to, you know, jump the gun,” Dixon said. “Got to earn it a little bit.”

The coach said the team enjoyed a Thanksgiving break trip to Destin, Florida, where TCU won the Emerald Coast Classic with victories over New Mexico and St. Bonaventure.

But Dixon didn’t sound satisfied, telling reporters, “I thought we’d be playing at a higher level right now.”

Improvements need to happen fast because Big 12 play is looming. The gauntlet through the nation’s toughest basketball conference opens December 30 against Oklahoma at Schollmaier Arena.

The slate of nonconference opponents should be good preparation, Dixon said. Last year’s TCU squad played one of the country’s toughest schedules, and this year’s list of nonconference foes is even stouter. Most are predicted to come in first or second in their leagues, he explained. “I think we put ourselves in position to get a good RPI if we take care of business.” (The RPI, or Ratings Percentage Index, measures strength of schedule and factors into NCAA tournament invitations and seeding.)

Beating South Dakota and Omaha, as the 2017 Frogs have done, is a good step, but Dixon has ambitious goals for the program, including making TCU’s first NCAA tourney since 1998 and winning a Big 12 championship.

Before any of those plans can become reality, the Frogs have some problems to rectify, he said, including reducing fouls and turnovers.

Some of the turnover problems can be blamed on injuries to point guards Alex Robinson, who has been a “little hobbled,” and Jaylen Fisher, who missed more than four months of practice with hand and knee injuries. Dixon expects both to be in top physical shape soon.

The team needs them at their best.

“You’re only as good as your point guards,” Dixon said. “To be at the top of the conference, you have to have the top-of-the-conference point guards.”

The injuries, along with delayed eligibility of freshmen Lat Mayen and Kevin Samuel, left TCU shorthanded in practice. Only eight or nine players have suited up during most practices, compared to a consistent dozen last year. The lack of bodies has dampened the overall competitiveness in practice.

Even given the challenges, Dixon expressed several reasons to be optimistic about the team and the season. The addition of a senior transfer, forward Ahmed Hamdy, solidified a cadre of big guys led by Vladimir Brodziansky, who was All-Big 12 Second Team last year.

Kenrich Williams (left) and Michael Williams smile after receiving their NIT championship rings. The 2016-2017 team reassembled for the ring presentation before the November 10 game against ULM. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Sharon Ellman
Kenrich Williams (left) and Michael Williams smile after receiving their NIT championship rings. The 2016-2017 team reassembled for the ring presentation before the November 10 game against ULM. Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics/Sharon Ellman

The NIT’s Most Outstanding Player Kenrich Williams started a little slow, scoring an uncharacteristic 13, five and seven points in TCU’s first two games. The guard heated up over the weekend, scoring 17 and 23 in the Emerald Coast Classic, and Dixon said Williams has been shooting lights out in practice. “He’s improved dramatically.”

One of the biggest causes to celebrate thus far is the meteoric progression of guard Desmond Bane. He scored in double-digits in every game so far in 2017. “It’s rare that guys surpass expectations,” Dixon said, claiming Bane is playing at the level he expected him to achieve his senior season.

More good news is ahead. Mayen and Samuel could regain eligibility on December 16, which would amp up practice intensity just in time for conference play.

But first, the Frogs will face Belmont (Wed., Nov. 29), Yale (Sat., Dec. 2) and crosstown rival SMU (Tues., Dec. 5) before heading to Los Angeles for the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.

“We’ve got to play better, and hopefully this week it starts,” Dixon said.

Where it ends could be anywhere. All the big dreams remain within reach.