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Stats O’War: TCU Basketball is Not on the Bubble (Yet)

The Basketball Frogs are 3-0 in the Big 12 for the first time ever; let’s celebrate them while not getting carried away.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Texas Christian Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

The TCU Basketball team has had a little bit of a rollercoaster season, but seems to have hit their stride as of late. The Frogs, employing six underclassmen in their rotation, are winners of five in a row, scoring 80 points twice along the way, and holding opponents under sixty in three of those games. TCU won a road game at Kansas State, something they haven’t done since 2017!

The Frogs have climbed 15 spots in the NET Rankings, all the way up to 50th, and currently sit at 45th in KenPom. Desmond Bane is finally becoming the star we knew he could be - ranked 146th nationally in ORtg, Bane is shooting 43.5% from three and averaging 17.1 points and just under 7 rebounds in 38 minutes a game. Desmond Bane is the backbone of TCU’s offense, and he is flourishing.

Then there’s Big Kev. Kevin Samuel is 27th in eFG%, 64th in offensive rebound rate, 20th in block percent, and is shooting 65% from the field. Samuel is averaging just shy of a double double (11 and 9) on the season and leads the team in rebounding.

Sophomore RJ Nembhard has been a huge piece for this team as well: he’s playing double the minutes he did last year but keeping the production up - 13.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. Plus, who can forget his heroics this season?

There’s plenty to celebrate about TCU’s basketball season - their 12-3 record, their 3-0 Big 12 start, the play of transfers Edric Dennis, Jaedon LeDee and Jaire Grayer, the emergence of key freshmen Francisco Farabello, PJ Fuller, and Diante Smith. The future is bright for the Frogs as they look to Tuesday’s showdown versus the #10 West Virginia Mountaineers.

I want to celebrate the Frogs, but I also want to offer a word of caution: this is fun, but it’s not much.

To every Frog fan wondering why TCU isn’t getting more national attention, to every person on Twitter asking why TCU isn’t in NCAA tournament projections: The Frogs aren’t on the bubble (yet).

TCU is 12-3 with zero quadrant one wins and only two quadrant two wins. One of those Q2 wins came in overtime against an Iowa State team who let FAMU drop seventy on them in a loss three days prior. The other came against a struggling Oklahoma State in one of the least-aesthetically-pleasing games I’ve had the misfortune of watching.

TCU’s resume features only three top 100 wins. They’ve lost to #86 Clemson and #71 USC, both on neutral sites. In non-conference play, the Frogs’ best win is either beating #112 UC Irvine by one or beating #132 Winthrop by 10.

The Frogs have 16 games remaining in regular season play: 15 against Big 12 competition and a non-conference matchup with Arkansas in Fayetteville for the SEC-Big12 Challenge. TCU is favored in only 7 of those games. Typically, the last Big 12 NCAA tournament slot wins 8 games in conference. To do that, TCU would need to win five of the following six games, which are the highest win probability of the slate remaining:

  1. Home vs Kansas State (77% win probability at KenPom)
  2. Home vs Texas (69%)
  3. Home vs Oklahoma (64%)
  4. Home vs Texas Tech (55%)
  5. @ Texas (45%)
  6. @ Oklahoma State (44%)

So, the Frogs will have to sweep Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State and beat one of Oklahoma and Texas Tech, two teams TCU hasn’t beaten since 2017.

The Frogs have a whole lot to add to their resume before they can be considered even on the bubble. My advice would be to wait and see how they do this week in two tough road games. The Frogs are a ten point dog going to Morgantown Tuesday and a 4 point dog in Norman on Saturday. If the Frogs can steal one of those games, or at least lose by less than 10 and 4, respectively, then we can start talking about being on the tournament bubble.

This isn’t to minimize what the Frogs have done or how Jamie Dixon has built this team up. In my preseason preview, I argued that Jamie Dixon was a little bit in a Year Zero situation now: he has a team built fully of his recruits, and he’s here for the long haul.

There are two ways to build a nationally competitive basketball team from nothing: either get extremely lucky with a coaching hire (Texas Tech) or hire an established coach and let him recruit and develop over a couple of years. TCU’s in that latter path, and it’s working: the Frogs have finished the season in the top 40 at KenPom every year under Jamie Dixon; they had only done it once since 1997 before him.

TCU’s 2020 team has six underclassmen in the rotation, and the recruiting class for 2021 is shaping up to be another solid improvement.

TCU’s 2020 tournament resume is lacking right now, but the Frogs’ ceiling has never been higher.