At Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City last month, TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said something noteworthy about the NCAA Tournament.
He was happy to hear his players felt the Horned Frogs had a chance to win the Big 12 Conference this season. He was happy that the roster — which endured incredible turnover just an offseason ago — was more stable than any other roster in the conference. And, he was happy with how the team was responding to offensive and defensive adjustments this offseason.
He had even put the Arizona game behind him, with one lesson learned.
“We talked about the Arizona game (in the NCAA Tournament) but we still went in there as a nine seed,” Dixon said. “We have to play for a better seed so we don’t run into the No. 1 seed in the second round.”
Then Monday night happened.
TCU’s 64-63 loss to Northwestern State was about as seismic as it gets this early in the season. National basketball writers took note. Why? Because TCU has been a trendy pick to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament next March, and it lost to the 11th-worst team in college basketball.
Eleventh-worst? Well, that’s where they were ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s national rankings entering the game. Northwestern State was the No. 352 team in the country according to KenPom at the time. For a reference, there are 363 Division I teams.
I wasn’t at the game, but Steven Johnson, who covers the team for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was. He encountered a TCU player in Emanuel Miller who, after just three games, sees a fork-in-the-road moment for a team with sky-high expectations.
The Horned Frogs struggled with Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week, another low-ranked Ken Pom team. But, one could brush that off to opening-night jitters. I did.
One can’t brush this off. Sure, you can use the excuse that guard Mike Miles Jr. didn’t play due to a bone bruise and that guard Damion Baugh is serving a six-game suspension for mistakenly signing with an agent last offseason. But, honestly? If this is a team that can make the Sweet 16, then they can beat the Demons two men down.
But they didn’t.
After the game, Dixon took some of the blame saying he needs to get his team “better prepared.” I hate that term, honestly, especially from a veteran coach like Dixon who KNOWS how to prepare his team. I’m not buying that the Horned Frogs weren’t ready. I AM buying what Dixon said next.
He later went on to tell Johnson and the rest of the media there that the Horned Frogs were too reliant on 3-point shooting and weren’t finishing off offensive rebounding with baskets. That’s a more reasonable explanation of what the Horned Frogs need to work on, especially before their non-conference schedule gets harder.
This loss isn’t the death of TCU’s season, of course. But Dixon’s goal is to get a better seed in the NCAA Tournament. If that’s true, this is the definition of a bad loss. It’s what the NCAA calls a Quad 4 loss. In other words, you lost to a team that is considered among the worst 25 percent in college basketball. When it comes seeding time, this loss will absolutely hurt TCU.
How much? That depends on how they bounce back from this. Eighteen months ago I thought TCU was going to take a dive in the deep end after most of the program transferred away. Dixon rebuilt it. He said he made “eight trades” in the transfer portal last year and he won all eight trades. All of those winning trades are back this season.
Dixon and his team overcame that adversity last year to go into this season as a Top 20 team. Now, they’ll face a different type of adversity — convincing the college basketball world that the Horned Frogs are the real deal.
Losses like Monday night won’t help them make that case.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard