After the 2020-21 season, TCU basketball had no choice but to hit the reset button.
The Horned Frogs lost eight players as guard RJ Nembhard left for the NBA and seven more players entered the transfer portal. TCU filled those slots through the transfer portal.
Rebuilding essentially an entire roster in one offseason is a daunting task. Admittedly, I’ve been skeptical about what this team could achieve since building chemistry and learning to play together takes time.
An 8-1 start has not eliminated all doubts, but at least brings some optimism that the Horned Frogs can win Big 12 games and reach a meaningful post-season tournament.
Beating Oral Roberts, Utah and Texas A&M gives TCU some solid building blocks for a tournament resume. Oral Roberts made a Sweet 16 run last season and Texas A&M is currently a bubble team in some projections for the 2022 tournament. After beating Utah and Texas A&M, TCU’s NET rating jumped from No. 102 to No. 64.
An early 85-66 loss against Santa Clara in the Socal Challenge showed TCU does rely heavily on sophomore guard Mike Miles, who puts up 16.6 points per game. Miles scored a season-low 10 points and shot 4-of-15 from the field, including 0-of-4 from three-point range. As a team, the Horned Frogs made 40% (26-of-64) of their field goal attempts compared to 61% for Santa Clara (30-of-49).
Miles rebounded with a 16-point performance against Pepperdine while junior forward Emmanuel Miller has quietly become the No. 2 option. Miller, a junior transfer from Texas A&M, averages 10.9 points per game, shoots 46% from the field (25% from three), and leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game.
As Matthew Postins wrote earlier this week, TCU needs a third “go-to-guy” to emerge. So far, this person has changed almost every game. It could be senior forward Chuck O’Bannon with 18 points against Texas A&M or junior transfer Damion Baugh’s 13-point effort in the victory over Oral Roberts.
Other players, like graduate transfer Maxwell Evans, sophomore transfer Michah Peavy, freshman transfer JaKobe Coles and freshman center Eddie Lampkin have breakout ability. TCU should have no problem finding that third option.
The Horned Frogs will face Georgetown in the Big 12-Big East Battle on Saturday. Even though the Hoyas are not the dominant program of old, this game could be another benchmark game. Georgetown’s recent win over Syracuse, a perennial NCAA tournament team, highlights a 6-4 start.
No matter what happens in the three remaining non-conference games, the Horned Frogs must find a more consistent offensive approach. TCU ranks No. 8 in the Big 12 with 71.1 points per game and last in overall shooting percentage (42.7%) and three-point field goals percentage (27.9%).
The defense has been solid, allowing 61.2 points per game on 39.6% shooting.
Of course, non-conference performances are not always indicative of conference success. The Horned Frogs have entered conference play with anywhere from 0-2 losses in four of the last five years but hit a .500 conference winning percentage just once, in 2017-18. That season also ended with the Horned Frogs’ first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years.
The upward trend must continue if TCU wants to at least match its best conference performance. There will be bumps along the way, but the Horned Frogs have shown they can beat NCAA tournament bubble teams.
It’s time to build on and sustain that success.