Alright TCU fans, this is my attempt at a pep talk. Anybody that has followed TCU basketball, especially in the last couple of seasons, knows how difficult it can be. And right now, it is difficult. The Frogs suffered their worst loss of the season on Wednesday night, a 20-point defeat to the Baylor Bears in Waco. Not much went right for the Frogs on either end of the floor, and to make matters worse, Texas Tech beat Kansas State later that night, giving TCU sole possession of last place in the Big 12 for the first time this season.
This is definitely the low point for a TCU team that began the season 13-0 and was one possession away from beating a top 20 team in back-to-back outings a couple of weeks ago. But, the season isn't over. Not even close. The Frogs have nine more games in the regular season and are guaranteed at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. That's 10 more games, roughly one-third of the schedule, still to be determined.
While it may seem unlikely right now, TCU is in an excellent position to play their way into the postseason. The Frogs already have 14 wins under their belt, and have yet to suffer a "bad loss." Because the Big 12 is loaded with talented teams this season, TCU avoided any major resume blemishes by sweeping their non-conference opponents.
As of today, there are eight Big 12 teams with an RPI in the top 100, including six teams in the top 30. Basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy has nine Big 12 teams in his top 100, including seven teams in the top 30. Six Big 12 teams are ranked in this week's AP College Basketball Poll, and every conference team except Texas Tech has received votes in the poll at some point this season. Barring a slipup against the Red Raiders at home, the Frogs will finish the season without a bad loss.
TCU is sitting at 14-8 on the season. Seven of those eight losses are against ranked teams, with the remaining loss being a five-point defeat on the road to Kansas State in early January. The problem is that the Frogs' don't have a long list of quality wins, at least not yet. TCU's best win came in early December, when the Frogs knocked off Ole Miss in Oxford. The Rebels are currently 15-7 on the season, tied for second place in the SEC behind top-ranked Kentucky. TCU also beat Texas Tech by 20 on the road in Lubbock in mid-January. TCU has the chance to add several more quality wins to their resume before all is said and done.
I'm still convinced that the Frogs will pull an upset. This team has the pieces capable of knocking off better opponents, they just haven't put it all together yet. We are exactly halfway through Big 12 play and the Frogs have a more favorable stretch of games approaching. TCU is nearing the end of a stretch of seven consecutive games against ranked opponents. With Texas likely to drop out of the top 25 on Monday, five of TCU's final eight contests will be against unranked teams.
Tomorrow the 21st-ranked Oklahoma Sooners come to town. If the Frogs can play with the same toughness and intensity that we saw them display against Kansas, that one could potentially go TCU's way. After that, the Frogs next three home games are against unranked opponents, including affairs with a duo of 12-11 teams in Kansas State and Texas Tech.
The Frogs know they can beat the Red Raiders, and the Wildcats have struggled since the first meeting between the Big 12's two purple-clad teams. Still remaining on TCU's schedule is the season series with Oklahoma State. The Frogs should match up well with the Cowboys, who are 15-7 on the season but 5-5 in conference play. An Oklahoma State team that often struggles to score offensively should provide an opportunity to pick up a quality win at home, and maybe even the chance at another road victory. If the Frogs can take care of business against unranked opponents at home and pull an upset somewhere along the way, the NIT should be within TCU's reach.
In 2007, the NIT contracted from 40 teams to 32 teams. Since then, 179 teams have been invited as at-large teams. (I wrote about this at length earlier in the season.) Over one-third of all teams invited since then have had at least 13 losses. TCU has eight losses right now, and with road games against Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as well as a home contest with Iowa State, TCU will likely finish with at least 13 losses, including a loss at some point in the Big 12 Tournament.
Let's say that TCU upsets Oklahoma tomorrow, beats the remaining unranked teams that will travel to Fort Worth, then knocks off Oklahoma State on the road. That would equate to a 19-12 regular season record with a 6-12 record in Big 12 play, which should result in a 7th or 8th place finish in the conference. That would mean a likely opening round Big 12 tournament game against Oklahoma State or Kansas State, one that could be winnable for TCU. Say the Frogs go 1-1 in the Big 12 Tournament to finish the season 20-13. Seven of the 13 Big 12 teams that have received NIT bids since 2007 have had records equal to or worse than that. Most recently, West Virginia advanced to the 2014 NIT with a 17-15 record and Baylor advanced to the 2013 NIT with an 18-14 record.
I know that it is a lot of speculation and guessing with not much merit behind it. My point is that while things look bleak right now, they can change in a heartbeat. The season is long from over, and TCU has shown the toughness required to compete in the Big 12, but the Frogs need to translate that toughness into wins. It is way too early to give up or count out TCU. Anything can happen in today's game of college basketball. There's a reason that it's called March Madness, after all.
One last point - Trent Johnson is going to need time to build this program. The reality of the situation is that this is a multi-year project that likely won't see significant dividends until Johnson is able to establish recruiting trails and build up TCU's profile in the overall college basketball landscape. On the women's side, TCU Head Coach Raegan Pebley uses the term "the process" quite a bit when describing her program. That mentality is exactly the same for the men's team. In the future, guys like Kyan Anderson, Amric Fields, Brandon Parrish, Karviar Shepherd, and Hudson Price are going to be looked upon as the players who helped build the TCU program. It is a process. Trent Johnson, his coaching staff, and his players need the time and support to get through that process.
I don't think there is a coach in America that could have facilitated TCU's monumental shift from the Mountain West to the Big 12 Conference better than Trent Johnson. In 2011, the year before Johnson's arrival, TCU finished in fifth place in the Mountain West - the highest MWC finish in program history. Anyone that was expecting TCU to transition from a mediocre Mountain West team to the top of the Big 12 in less than three seasons is kidding themselves. That's just the reality of the situation.
As we enter the second half of Big 12 play, the opportunity exists for TCU to take some major steps forward as a program. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. It might seem distant, but it is there. With several winnable games remaining, the Frogs have a chance to make some noise and finish the season on a positive note. Don't give up on TCU.