The 2014-2015 TCU Basketball season can best be summed up with one word: improvement. After an injury-plagued 2013-2014 campaign that saw the Frogs become the first Big 12 team ever to finish a season 0-18 in conference play, Trent Johnson's squad regrouped and took a major step forward as a program. In the third year of a massive rebuilding project under Johnson, the Frogs set a program record for best start to a season, notched five victories against Big 12 opponents, and narrowly missed returning to the NIT after a decade away. Let's revisit the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in-between from the 104th season of TCU Basketball.
The Record Start
The Frogs entered the 2014-2015 campaign with something that had eluded the program for months - a completely healthy and eligible roster. Senior Amric Fields returned early this season after knee injuries cut his junior season short. Junior Devonta Abron was at full strength following an Achilles tear suffered before the 2013 season. Sophomore Karviar Shepherd was also 100% after breaking his hand in the spring. Additionally, Trey Zeigler, Chris Washburn, and Kenrich Williams all became eligible after transferring from Pittsburgh, UTEP, and New Mexico Junior College, respectively.
A Farewell to Wilkerson-Greines
In all seriousness, TCU Athletics and the Fort Worth Independent School District deserve high praise for making the best of a difficult situation this year. The Wilk was a great temporary home for TCU Basketball.
TCU's non-conference strength of schedule ranked 351st in the country - dead last. The lack of quality scheduling early was perhaps by design. With six freshmen or transfer players who had never suited up in a TCU uniform, in addition to four more Frogs returning from injuries or suspensions, the non-conference portion of the schedule allowed for this year's group to work together and build team chemistry against inferior competition. It also allowed for the team to figure out the nuances of playing inside the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center - this year's temporary home as the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum undergoes a significant renovation project.
The Frogs rolled through their non-conference slate, opening the season 13-0, setting a school record for best start to a season in the process. TCU even jumped into the AP Poll in late December, marking the first national ranking for the program in nearly 16 years. During the run, Trent Johnson picked up his 250th career victory with a 106-53 victory over Mississippi Valley State. Despite the lackluster schedule, TCU did notch a trio of impressive wins against power conference teams. In just the second game of the year, the Frogs recorded an 81-54 beat down of Washington State in Fort Worth. Later in November, TCU traveled to the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic, beating Mississippi State 61-52, en route to winning the event - the first non-conference tournament championship for TCU since 1991. A week later the Frogs picked up their biggest road win of the season with a 66-54 win in Oxford against Mississippi.
When all was said and done, TCU entered Big 12 play with a 13-0 record, looking to make some noise in the league that many were calling the best in college basketball.
A Tale of Two Schedules
The Frogs knew that Big 12 play would present numerous challenges. The competition that TCU would face in the Big 12 could not have been more different than the competition TCU faced in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The league boasted the best conference RPI rank, the most ranked teams, and the best non-conference winning percentage in the country.
The Frogs hit a bit of a speed bump transitioning into Big 12 play. After the 13-0 start, TCU dropped their next three contests, including a heartbreaking 66-59 overtime loss to Baylor in Fort Worth. Despite the trio of early losses, the Frogs proved that they had improved from last season and looked like a team worthy of competing in the Big 12.
The first major breakthrough of the season came on January 17 in Lubbock. The Frogs faced off against Texas Tech looking for their first win over the Red Raiders since joining the Big 12. In front of a hostile crowd, TCU used a dominant defensive performance and hot shooting to bury their in-state rivals by a final score of 62-42. It marked the first conference win for the Frogs in over 22 months.
With the monkey off their back, TCU entered a grueling stretch of eight consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Frogs dropped the first seven games in this stretch, including a gut-wrenching 86-85 overtime loss to West Virginia in Morgantown and a 64-61 loss to the 9th ranked Kansas Jayhawks in Fort Worth. Perhaps the lowest point in the season occurred in Austin on February 11. The Frogs fell to the Texas Longhorns 66-43 in a contest that marked the lowest shooting percentage and point total of the season. However, the Frogs bounced right back three days later with a 70-55 Valentine's Day victory at home over #21 Oklahoma State. TCU shot 52.0% from the field and dropped 70 points on the Pokes in what was perhaps the most impressive victory of the season for TCU, ironically occurring just one game after their worst performance of the season.
The upset victory marked the beginning of a five-game stretch in which the Frogs played their best basketball of the season. TCU would go 3-2 in that span, knocking off Kansas State and Texas Tech while dropping close contests on the road at #8 Kansas and #16 Oklahoma.
The Frogs would go on to lose their final two contests of the regular season, entering the Big 12 Tournament as the 9-seed, exactly what the league coaches predicted in the Big 12 Preseason Poll. TCU traveled to Kansas City and picked up their first-ever win in the event, holding off Kansas State 67-65 in the First Round of the Big 12 Tournament. The season would come to an end the next day with a 64-59 loss to the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the Quarterfinals. The game against the Jayhawks served as a microcosm for the entire season. TCU battled for 40 minutes, displaying an impressive level of toughness and competitiveness, taking a more talented team to the brink of defeat.
When the dust settled, the Frogs finished the season with an 18-15 overall record, including a 4-14 mark in conference play. TCU landed securely on the NIT bubble, a position that proved to be precarious for the Frogs. The weak non-conference portion of the schedule, paired with a 1-14 record against teams in the top 50 RPI eventually did the Frogs in, as they were left out of the 32-team NIT field. The season officially came to an end when the school declined a bid to participate in the pay-for-play College Basketball Invitational.
Despite not getting to play in the postseason, TCU took some major steps forward as a program. The 18-15 record marked just the second time this decade that the Frogs finished with a winning record. After looking competitive in the majority of conference games, Trent Johnson proved that he is capable of turning TCU into a force to be reckoned with.
Defense was the calling card for this TCU team. Trent Johnson-coached teams usually pride themselves on tough defenses, and this season was no different. The Frogs ranked in the top 50 in the country in three defensive categories: blocked shots per game (14th), total blocked shots (20th), and field goal percentage defense (48th). In fact, TCU held their opponents to just 40.0% shooting from the field, the best mark for the program since the stat became official in 1960.
The TCU defense held opponents to just 62.4 points per game, a mark good for third in the Big 12. As the graphic below illustrates, TCU was among the conference leaders in defensive efficiency, a combination of points allowed per game and average opponent shooting percentage. In league play, defense kept the Frogs in games. TCU held conference opponents to under 70 points in 13 different contests this season.
The star of the TCU defense this season was undoubtedly Chris Washburn. The UTEP transfer led the team in blocks and steals, with 45 and 46, respectively. Washburn finished second on the team in total rebounds, with 190, second only to Kenrich Williams' 221. Williams also finished second on the team in blocks with 32, and third on the team in steals with 30. With Williams and Washburn anchoring the defense as sophomores, the unit will likely be even stronger in the years to come.
Balanced Offensive Attack
The TCU offense certainly wasn't anything to write home about this season. The Frogs finished in about the middle of the pack in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency, averaging 68.2 points per game on 43.7% shooting from the field. While the defense kept the Frogs in most conference games, the offense usually couldn't get over the hump enough to steal wins. TCU was outscored by about five points per game on average in Big 12 play.
Kyan Anderson was the undisputed leader of the TCU offense. The senior guard led the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. However, six other Frogs made up the supporting cast, averaging between five and ten points per game. Anderson led a balanced scoring attack, as seven different Frogs led the team in scoring throughout the season. The senior class usually carried the Frogs, as Anderson, Zeigler, and Fields combined to average 31.0 of TCU's 68.2 points per game. In fact, this trio accounted for 44.2% of total points scored this season, including 51.4% in conference play.
Most of the damage done on offense this season came in the paint. The physical TCU offense usually found success down low. Elsewhere, the Frogs weren't so dominant. TCU finished the season 8th in the Big 12 in three-point shooting, at 32.7%. From the line, things were even worse. The Frogs finished dead last in the Big 12 in free throw percentage at 61.5%, nearly three percentage points lower than the next closest team. It was the 8th worst performance from the line in program history.
Free throw woes accounted for some of the early conference struggles for the Frogs. In the first meeting with Kansas State, TCU missed 10 free throws in a five-point loss. The Frogs missed 11 regulation free throws in a seven-point overtime loss to Baylor. Against Kansas, the Purple and White missed 14 free throws in a three-point loss. Finally, and most egregiously, TCU missed 16 free throws in a one-point overtime loss to West Virginia in Morgantown.
While the offense was sluggish as a whole this season, better free throw shooting could have equated to three or four more Big 12 wins, which would have secured a spot in the postseason.
Kyan's Curtain Call
This season marked the end for three talented TCU seniors. Kyan Anderson, Amric Fields, and Trey Zeigler all wrapped up their collegiate careers this year. Fields made the most of his senior campaign as the team's sixth man following a knee injury suffered last season. Zeigler found his home in Fort Worth after stops at Central Michigan and Pittsburgh, making significant contributions on the offensive and defensive ends this season. But perhaps the most significant loss for the TCU program will be that of Kyan Anderson.
Anderson finished a prolific career at TCU, rewriting the record books in the process. He will leave Fort Worth in the top ten in program history in 13 different offensive categories. Anderson was the lone constant during a period of rapid change for the program. He oversaw a move from the Mountain West to the Big 12, a coaching change from Jim Christian to Trent Johnson, and even a change in home venue from the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum to the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center.
Perhaps the most defining characteristic ofcareer is his loyalty to a program that has seen more downs than ups as of late. Anderson is Fort Worth to the core. After winning a State Championship at nearby North Crowley High School, he chose to attend TCU over bigger programs such as Providence, USC, Virginia, and others. Even when Jim Christian left for Ohio, Anderson had the opportunity to transfer, but he chose to stay a Horned Frog. This season was bittersweet for most TCU fans. While it will be nearly impossible to fill the void left by Anderson both on and off the court, Frog fans can't help but appreciate his tremendous accomplishments while helping build a program from the ground up.
As was mentioned previously, Anderson and his fellow seniors led the way for TCU this season. However, strides made in conference play, impressive performances from underclassmen, and a pair of early recruits have provided a reason to be optimistic about next year.
When TCU joined the Big 12 Conference, most people associated with the program knew that it would be a multi-year rebuilding project. After three seasons in the league, TCU has started to settle in. The Frogs won five games against Big 12 opponents, the most in a season since joining the league in 2012. TCU also won its first Big 12 Tournament game since joining the league. Although the Purple and White finished just 5-15 against conference opponents this season, the Frogs competed in the majority of games this year. Improvements were made more in the level of play rather than in the win-loss record.
Several underclassmen developed under Johnson's leadership this season, most notably newcomers Kenrich Williams and Chris Washburn. This duo of transfers did most of their damage on the defensive end, however they each posted admirable numbers on offense. Both Williams and Washburn averaged over seven points per game, shooting over 47% from the field. With continued development from Karviar Shepherd and Brandon Parrish, the incoming juniors could lead the way for TCU next season. As Chauncey Collins transitions into a bigger role, look for his game to continue to improve as well.
Finally, a pair of incoming recruits will likely help boost the offense next year. Trent Johnson signed Jalon Miller, a four-star small forward out of Seagoville High School in Dallas. Miller is ranked the 19th best forward by ESPN and will come to TCU after averaging 22.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in his senior season. Additionally, three-star shooting guard Lyrik Shreiner has verbally committed to TCU out of the Fishburne Military School in Phoenix. Shreiner averaged 25.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game this season. This duo will likely have an immediate impact on the TCU offense next season.
The goal for the TCU Basketball program is to continue to grow and adjust to life in the Big 12. Several significant strides were made this season as the Frogs began to compete night in and night out in conference play, and recruits are starting to take notice. With continued growth under Johnson's leadership, TCU will be in a prime position to compete in the Big 12 for years to come. This 2014-2015 Horned Frogs squad will likely most be remembered as the group who helped to build the foundation for future success.