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TCU Basketball Preview Series: Non-Conference Opponents

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Get to know who the Frogs will have to face this season before Big 12 play rolls around. A few teams could provide resume boosts for the Frogs’ postseason hopes.

Schollmaier

TCU’s non-conference schedule will test the Frogs before we get into Big 12 play. From the Global Sports Classic to a trip to SMU to the Big 12/SEC Challenge, TCU will have a chance to create a solid postseason resume out of conference. Learn more about each opponent and who to keep an eye on when they take on the Frogs.

St. Thomas Celts (NAIA)

The Jamie Dixon (coaching) era at TCU will officially open at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena against the Celts from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. The Celts currently play in the NAIA’s Red River Athletic Conference, which formerly included Houston Baptist and Texas Wesleyan, to give an idea on the level of play. St. Thomas went 10-16 last season, losing their only matchup against a NCAA D-1 opponent, Sam Houston State, 114-92.

Alabama State Hornets

TCU last played Alabama State in 2000, with the Frogs winning 104-58. The Hornets last season went 14-17 and finished 5th in the SWAC. They return three starters, including All-SWAC candidate Tony Armstrong, but lost leading scorer Jamel Waters. In addition to Armstrong, keep an eye on 6’9” forward Amir Warnock, a JUCO transfer who is a candidate for SWAC Newcomer of the Year.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks

The Gamecocks, like TCU, will also be led by a first-year coach this season, Ray Harper. Harper has won national championships at both the Division II and NAIA levels and had previously had success at Western Kentucky. He will have his work cut out for him this season though as the Gamecocks went only 8-23 last season. Their best returning player is Malcolm Drumwright, who led the team in scoring last season with 14 points per game. Drumwright is one of three returning starters hoping to lead the Gamecocks to success in Harper’s first season. However, there is not much experience to help them as Jacksonville State has eight freshmen and JUCO transfers looking to contribute.

Illinois State Redbirds

TCU faced the Redbirds last season in Mexico as part of the Cancun Challenge, beating Illinois State 71-60. The Frogs were led by a balanced attack from Karviar Shepherd, Vladimir Brodziansky, and Malique Trent, who all shot above 50% from the field and contributed a combined 50 points. TCU will have a challenge from Illinois State this year though. The Redbirds, led by head coach Dan Muller, are the team most likely to challenge Wichita State for the Missouri Valley title this season. They finished last season 18-14 overall and 2nd in the MVC.

Illinois State will benefit this season from having four returning starters, including three who averaged double-digit scoring. One of the returning starters is Paris Lee, who led the Redbirds against TCU last season with 16 points. Illinois State also has two good forwards, MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins who can score from inside and outside. TCU should be able to handle them when they come to Fort Worth, but this is not an opponent who they can sleep on. A win in this game over a strong mid-major would also provide a boost if the Frogs have a legitimate chance at a postseason tournament.

@ UNLV Rebels

TCU will face UNLV in Las Vegas this season in the opening round of the Global Sports Classic. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since they were Mountain West Conference foes. TCU won the last matchup in 2012 in Fort Worth over the then-ranked #11 Rebels. However, TCU has a history of struggling against UNLV, going just 3-16 against the Rebels since 1949-1950.

Luckily for the Frogs, UNLV will be in a rebuilding year this year under new coach Marvin Menzies, who was hired from New Mexico State, where he had taken them to 5 of the last 7 NCAA Tournaments. Menzies will have only one returning starter this season, Dwayne Morgan. To be honest, it’s quite amazing that Menzies has a full roster, considering there weren’t even enough players to form a starting five when he was hired. Aside from Morgan, who only averaged 5.5 points per game last season, the Rebels will likely rely on Christian Jones and Jovan Mooring to produce. Jones is a graduate transfer from St. John’s, where he averaged 8.4 points per game, and Mooring is a JUCO transfer who averaged 26.6 points per game in junior college.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (potentially)

The Hilltoppers are one of the teams in the other game in Las Vegas as part of the Global Sports Classic. TCU may not have to face Western Kentucky, but it is important to keep them on our radar. This is one heck of a team that Western Kentucky will have for new coach Rick Stansbury, a former head coach for Mississippi State and most recently a Texas A&M assistant. The Hilltoppers are my favorite to win Conference USA this season due to incredible talent they have transferring in this season.

Western Kentucky will benefit from two graduate transfers who will most likely be starters this season. The first transfer is Que Johnson from Washington State who will likely be their starting shooting guard. He averaged 11.3 points for the Cougars last season and shot above 40% from deep. The second transfer is Junior Lomomba from Providence, who made the NCAA Tournament last season. He started all but one game for the Friars last season alongside NBA lottery pick Kris Dunn and now will have a chance to be the Hilltoppers’ floor general.

In the frontcourt, the team will benefit from Tennessee transfer Willie Carmichael becoming eligible. These three transfers and returning leading scorer Justin Johnson, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season, will make the Hilltoppers a formidable threat for any team they play. TCU will have to go to Vegas with their A-game to come away with a pair of wins and a tournament title.

Washington Huskies (at least once, potentially twice)

TCU is in an odd predicament where they could potentially play the Huskies, a non-conference opponent, twice in same season. Even weirder, the games could be back-to-back. Washington plays Western Kentucky in the first round of the Global Sports Classic, so the Frogs could see Washington in Vegas, then at home in Fort Worth four days later.

TCU traveled to Seattle last season to play the Huskies and got throttled 92-67. Going into halftime, Washington led 57-23. The Frogs struggled offensively, turning the ball over 26 times. Defensively wasn’t much better as they let the Huskies make eleven 3-pointers. Luckily for the Frogs, the Huskies lost a lot of talent in the offseason, including lottery pick Marquese Chriss and guards Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray. Andrews scored 32 points against the Frogs last year and the three combined to average 50.7 points per game, en route to an NIT bid.

One player to keep an eye on for Washington is freshman guard Markelle Fultz. He is one of the top candidates for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, maybe even conference or national Player of the Year, and he was the #7 overall recruit in the nation last season according to ESPN.

Arkansas State Red Wolves

After going 11-20 last season, the Red Wolves decided to go in a new direction and hire a new coach, Grant McCasland, who will have his first shot at the helm of a Division 1 program. Arkansas State will also have to deal with breaking in nine new players on the roster. They will benefit from returning their leading scorer, senior Devin Carter, who averaged 17.3 points per game last season and made 41.7% of his 3-pointers. The Red Wolves will need someone in the frontcourt to step up in order to have success this season. One name to keep an eye on is Nelson Nweke, a JUCO transfer who had over 10 rebounds per game last season. If they can find a reliable big man, they could be competitive in the Sun Belt Conference.

@ SMU Mustangs

Last season, TCU hosted the Mustangs at Wilkerson-Greines before the opening of Schollmaier Arena. The Frogs lost a close game 75-70 in a game that was close from start to finish. TCU shot the ball well and made nine 3-pointers, but ultimately could not stop Nic Moore, whose 19 second-half points fueled the Mustangs to victory.

Despite losing Larry Brown to retirement, SMU is well-positioned to make another run at the NCAA Tournament. New coach Tim Jankovich has been the coach-in-waiting there for four years and is now ready to take the helm. He’ll have to find ways to replace both last season’s leading scorer Nic Moore (16.1 ppg) and leading rebounder Jordan Tolbert (8.5 rbg). Jankovich will have some talented players returning this year, including AAC All-Rookie Team member Shake Milton and big man Ben Moore. He will also have back Sterling Brown, the conference’s leading 3-point shooter, who made 53.6% of his shots behind the arc. In addition, SMU will benefit from having Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye, a talented 6’8” forward, available this season.

Wofford Terriers

Wofford finished last season 15-17 but played well in their conference, finishing 3rd in the Southern Conference. Last year, the team struggled defensively, allowing opponents to shoot about 49% from the field. They also struggled in some games from turning the ball over too much. The Terriers will also have to replace their leading scorer from a year ago, but do return star guard Fletcher Magee who will help carry the load. Wofford should likely still be able to finish in the middle of the pack in their conference, but if TCU can force some turnovers and attack the rim, they should have no trouble with the Terriers.

Texas Southern Tigers

Texas Southern comes into this season as one of the favorites to win the SWAC this season, led by conference player of the year favorite Derrick Griffin. The Tigers were regular-season SWAC champions last season, but lost in the conference tournament and ended up in the NIT where they were eliminated by Valparaiso in the first round. Griffin averaged a double-double (13.3 ppg, 11 rbg) racked up the conference awards last season, winning player of the year, defensive player of the year, and newcomer of the year. The Tigers will have to find pieces to put around Griffin though since he is the team’s only returning starter from a year ago.

Auburn Tigers (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

Both TCU and Auburn are teams that had disappointing seasons last year and are expecting to see big improvements on the court this season. The Tigers struggled with injuries and suspensions but were able to come away with some key wins, including a 75-70 victory over Kentucky. Led by Bruce Pearl, Auburn will have to find some ways to mix their returning talent with an incredible freshman class, headlined by five-star recruit Mustapha Heron.

The Tigers will have to replace two crucial big men from a year ago, Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris. Bowers and Harris combined to average 24.4 points and 17.3 rebounds per game a season ago, and were crucial to Auburn in winning some big games. There are a couple of returners this season for the Tigers who can help them contend for a postseason tournament. T.J. Dunans is a senior guard who averaged 11.6 points per game last season when healthy, but missed 15 games to injuries.

The player to watch this season for the Tigers though will be Heron. He is the first five-star recruit to ever sign with Auburn in basketball and he is an exceptional defender and finisher at the rim. TCU will have to keep him in check to have a chance. One good note for TCU in this game is their success in previous years against the SEC. The Frogs have gone 4-0 against the SEC in the past three seasons, including 3 wins in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Auburn on the other hand is 0-3 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.