Big 12 Basketball began Wednesday night, when eight of the league’s ten teams played their first games of the conference season. TCU and Baylor, meeting Saturday in Fort Worth, were unfortunate victims of the first bye week scheduled by the conference in a decade and a half, and the extra time gave the Frogs some time to build up anticipation for their Big 12 opener. Alex Robinson, a veteran of three opening nights, certainly feels it. “We can’t wait. A lot of our guys are excited, you can see our excitement in practice. I feel like, the closer we get, the more everybody is going to be anticipating it and wanting to get out there and play.”
Though the excitement is certainly palpable around the program, it bears to wonder if a ten day layoff will hurt the Horned Frogs prior to tipping off against a Baylor team that seems to be hitting its stride after a tough start to the season. Jamie Dixon is certainly aware of the challenge, and has tried to keep his team locked in despite the lay-off. “We’re playing well, we have to just try and continue to do it. We have had some time off, a big break since a game. You don’t know until you put it out there and play in front of some people and against someone else. We are obviously playing well and certainly excited about the start of conference.”
Getting a chance to get the lay of the land was both a plus and minus for the players and coaches, who definitely tuned in to opening night to catch Texas Tech at West Virginia (a close Tech win), Oklahoma at Kansas (KU pulled away late), Iowa State at Oklahoma State (a fun shootout that ended with a close Cyclones victory), and Texas at Kansas State (probably the most shocking result, a blowout by the Horns) - Dixon mentioned how many players stopped by his office as they were shooting in the facility and how they were texting back and forth which each other as the games wore on. “I know there was some sense of ‘missing out’ too by not playing, but our conference is so great because of our TV package - our games are all on ESPN in primetime, you can flip back and forth and see them all. They’re all right there, there’s four other games, it’s just fun to watch. You know you have high quality games, every game is close, every game is back and forth.”
Alex Robinson also noticed how closely contested the openers were, and what a benefit that is to TCU and the other teams in the league. As he and his teammates prepare for Baylor, it’s something that is at the forefront of their minds. “Really any Big 12 school, you always have to watch out for everybody. I was impressed with pretty much everybody’s play. It’s going to be a tough year, top to bottom.” No Nights Off is a common mantra of one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, conference in the country, one that currently sports three teams in the top ten of the RPI (Kansas at 1, OU at 2, and TCU at 10). But that competition is something that Dixon and his players embrace, as they believe that every team being a quality team only serves to make them better. “Every team being good is important. Everyone is talking about different conferences at the start of the year, then we go through November/December and all of a sudden the Big 12 seems to have the best teams, top to bottom.”
Knowing what lies ahead doesn’t phase Robinson, who has watched his team improve every game, in his opinion. “We have been playing so well and so well together. Our offense has gotten a lot better and we have been really good on defense this year - and, to be honest with you, I still think we can get better, even though we are playing really well right now. Hopefully we can keep riding this wave and do well when we get into Big 12 play.
The Horned Frogs, still unranked despite winning their last eight games by at least 20 points, know they have a lot to prove - and that the only way to get national attention is to win games in conference play. It’s a challenge Robinson welcomes. “I anticipate us to be really prepared for Baylor, and Baylor is going to prepare us for Kansas, and Kansas will prepare us for whoever we have next. I think we’re ready.” Being ready is one thing, turning that readiness into wins is another. Robinson gets that, and understands the bigger picture. “A lot of people don’t have high expectations for us. I feel like we should be ranked, and they haven’t given us that yet. So we have a lot to prove.”
Dixon’s parting words ring most true. “These two months are going to be great for our fans.”