There aren’t many parallels between TCU and Baylor basketball. At least, not until recently. Both programs had 20+ year droughts between NCAA Tournament berths, but since Scott Drew’s arrival in Fort Worth - in 2003 - the Bears have been March Madness regulars (seven appearances) and have won at least nine games in the Big 12 eight times. Meanwhile, prior to Jamie Dixon’s return to TCU, the Frogs were the epitome of the also-ran.
When these two squads face off on the hardwood Saturday afternoon, they will once again be trending different directions - this time, it’s the Horned Frogs that seem primed to be serious players while the Bears try and get on track after a disappointing preseason.
The Frogs won in Waco for the first time since Jamie Dixon traded in his uniform for a coat and tie just last year, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly two decades. After the game, Dixon remarked at how much different the Baylor-TCU rivalry is now compared to his playing days, how in the old SWC, “everybody was a rival”, but it was obvious to him now that the games against the Bears had taken on a deeper meeting. He remarked on that Thursday when meeting with the media. “In our mind, it’s always been this game. The Baylor game, the first game of Big 12 play. Playing Baylor, Baylor has a certain - as I have come to know here in the last couple years - more of a rivalry than I remember it being back in the day. Baylor means something extra now.”
The rivalry aspect certainly matters, but not more than the game itself - winning at home is critical in the Big 12 Conference, as is starting your season off on the right foot. And against a Baylor team somewhat in rebuild mode - they started the season with just four players on their roster that had collegiate experience - and that the Frogs are favored by 8.5 in, getting a victory is almost expected, if they want to live up to their own high standards. But senior point guard Alex Robinson isn’t taking the Bears for granted, “Baylor is always going to be a threat, they’re always a good team,” nor is he worried about he or his teammates looking past their rival to a big game in Lawrence next week. “I honestly don’t think it’s going to be a big deal for us, because it’s going to be our first Big 12 game. I think it works in our favor, they’re going to be really excited to play Baylor, so I’m not worried about looking past Baylor.”
Though the Bears had some shocking losses - a home loss to Texas Southern to open the season as well as a defeat at the hands of SFA in Waco, and to 7-6 Wichita State on the road, they look to be coming around at the right time - see their win at Arizona on December 15th, they are still a quality program with great talent. Sophomore Tristan Clark is one of the best players in the conference and King McClure is capable of giving Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher fits on both ends of the floor. In watching film, Dixon has noticed the improvement, and isn’t taking today’s game for granted. “I think they’re playing better. I think that’s partly a result of some new guys getting some more minutes, getting some play under their belt, improving and getting better. In a lot of ways, they’re in our position as well - they have had some guys out, for different reasons, but still have had some guys out. And you know they have to feel good after getting that win at Arizona.”
No matter what the record, no matter if the students are still on vacation, no matter who is or isn’t available to play, this game means a little extra to both teams. And not only to beat their rival, but to make a statement, according to Robinson. “We want to make our mark. We want to come out and play as hard as we can against Baylor. We notice it (the lack of national respect) and we want to put our name out there.”