TCU Men’s basketball will kick off their 2020-21 campaign when they take the court tonight against Houston Baptist at 7pm. It’s the first game in the post-Desmond Bane era for TCU.
Add to Bane’s departure an abbreviated out of conference schedule and limited practice opportunities courtesy of Covid-19, and there are a lot of unanswered questions about this iteration of Jamie Dixon’s squad.
But we do know there’s some significant talent joining the team, and the hole left by Bane provides an opportunity for multiple Frogs to step up.
What the pundits are saying
TCU is picked to finish 9th in the 10-team race this season. A quick look around the conference reveals that the Big 12 is once-again going to be stacked, and every game will be an uphill battle. As Dixon always says, it starts by winning at home, and if the Frogs can do that they’ll exceed expectations in 2020-21.
Outgoing: Desmond Bane, Edric Dennis Jr., Jaire Grayer
Incoming: Mike Miles, Terren Frank, Eddie Lampkin, Charles O’ Bannon Jr.
TCU adds three freshmen to the team in guard Mike Miles, forward Terren Frank, and center Eddie Lampkin. Miles was one of the best point guards in Texas for this recruiting class, and can provide good depth behind Francisco Farabello and Taryn Todd. Frank has played alongside Bronny James, Zaire Wade, Scotty Pippen Jr., and Kenyon Martin Jr. and knows how to produce and facilitate from his forward spot. Eddie Lampkin checks in at almost 300 pounds and will provide another big body in the paint - something TCU has severely lacked behind Kevin Samuel in the past.
It will be interesting to see how much playing time these three get early on, as Dixon plays with rotations to see who fits well together.
Charles “Chuck” O’Bannon Jr. is ready to play too after transferring from USC a season ago. The redshirt Junior provides experience and depth at the guard/forward spot that could make him an early candidate for some of Bane’s minutes. But that gets us to the biggest question for this team.
Replacing Desmond Bane
It’s easy to say that Desmond Bane’s production needs to be replaced: He played more minutes, shot more threes, and made a higher percentage of threes than any other player in the Big 12 last season. Beyond those stats he facilitated for his teammates, played incredible defense, and was a leader in the locker-room. All of that can’t be replaced by one guy.
Jamie Dixon knows that.
“It’s not going to be one guy, but a variety of guys,” Dixon said during his media availability on Tuesday.
“We’ll be different. We need guys that get more offensive rebounds, more drives to the basket, more put backs. Those kind of things at that position. We’ll need to have a lot of energy defensively to do that.”
Candidates to start filling that role are RJ Nembhard, PJ Fuller, and O’Bannon, who will all need to step up this year for TCU to be competitive.
RJ Nembhard is the obvious first choice to fill the bulk of this void. RJ played the second-most minutes last season, was the second-leading scorer, and showed some dramatic improvements from year one to year two. Now it’s about stepping up into a primary scorer role as a junior and improving his jump shot, but the good news is that he won’t have a dearth of options around him should he need to defer to someone else. Granted, most of those options are still pretty young.
Developing the young guns
TCU enters the season with one senior: Owen Aschieris. The juniors are Kevin Samuel, Nembhard, O’Bannon, and Jaedon LeDee. Everyone else is a sophomore or younger. So 2020-21 is going to be a year to develop younger guys and see who steps up.
Trying to replace Bane with mostly freshmen and sophomores means that multiple guys will need to develop and improve.
“Right now, I don’t feel like we’ll have a guy that does what Desmond did as a senior,” Dixon noted on Tuesday, “but Desmond didn’t do what he did as a senior as a freshman, sophomore or junior year. He gradually got better each year and that’s what I expect these guys to do each game getting better and better. As we’re out here more as a group and a unit we’ll see that. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to get better individually and as a unit.”
Francisco Farabello is entering year two, and Frog fans loved to see his toughness and flashes of shooting and passing ability he showed in year one. According to Dixon, Farabello has been giving TCU “really steady play” this offseason.
The Argentinian will need to provide that and be willing to shoot more this season. He quietly had the second-highest 3-point shooting percentage on the team last year behind Bane for guys in the regular rotation, at 41%, and having a true facilitator that can also keep defenders honest will be a major asset for a young squad.
PJ Fuller, who really came on in the second half of last season, and Diante Smith are two more guys who will need to make leaps from year one to year two. Fuller flashed some incredible athleticism and shot making around the rim as a freshman, and as a sophomore he’s going to be called on more to be a scorer. Fuller also stepped up as a defender, seemingly inspired by Bane’s effort on that end. If that continues and his shot improves he could be a superstar in the making.
Smith struggled with injuries early on in 2019, and his three-point shot never really recovered (Dixon touted his shooting ability throughout the season, all while Smith shot 18% from deep). Both he and Fuller will need to be more consistent on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Support for Kevin Samuel
One of the biggest criticisms of TCU basketball over the last few years were interior size and rebounding. Kevin Samuel has essentially been the lone interior presence for TCU, and outside of him the Frogs have struggled to pull down boards.
Well, TCU lost two of its three best rebounders (Bane and Grayer) from last year, so it’s going to take a team effort to help Samuel on the boards. We can expect Jaedon LeDee to make an impact in that area, but the smaller forwards and guards are going to need to crash the glass as well. TCU’s defensive breakdowns often came when teams were grabbing offensive rebounds, and the Frogs simply can’t afford to let that happen too often this season.
Another body to watch is the freshman center, Lampkin. At 6’11” and 295 pounds, Lampkin is a hulking presence that might be able to give Samuel some support (and rest). TCU’s defense, in spite of LeDee’s best efforts, was susceptible in the paint when Samuel was off the court last season. Lampkin’s presence could keep teams from exploiting Samuel’s time off the court as much this year.
This really feels like year two of a rebuild for TCU. They had some incredibly talented freshmen last season that are moving into their sophomore years, playing time is up for grabs, and there are some junior leaders who are taking on more responsibility this season in the absence of an all-time great.
I think TCU will finish in the bottom half of the conference, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they wind up closer to 6th than 10th. This team won’t be a pushover, and could surprise a few folks if the right guys step up and develop.