The TCU Men’s Basketball tips off its season this Thursday against McNeese State, and after their Purple & White Scrimmage last week, hope abounds as Head Coach Jamie Dixon enters his sixth season leading his alma mater. In the same way that Dixon’s perimeter-centric motion offense revolves around three-point shooting, three things stood out in the Horned Frogs’ intersquad tuneup: Mike Miles is the unquestioned leader in his sophomore season, Chuck O’Bannon could make a leap, and the seven new transfers could lead to the most physical defense Jamie Dixon has ever fielded in Fort Worth.
Mike Miles is the captain now
Over the course of the last Horned Frog hoops season, TCU slowly shifted from being RJ Nembhard’s team to being Mike Miles’ team. The transition became visible starting with their narrow 59-51 loss against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on January 28. Miles led the team in scoring with an efficient 18 points on 50 percent shooting (6-12) while connecting on five of his eight three-pointers. That game kicked off a stretch of five straight games with double-digit points for Miles, including a career-high 28 in a four-point overtime loss at Missouri.
Miles continued that momentum into the offseason where he and Dixon helped lead the Team USA Basketball U-19 team to a gold medal.
“I think he was kind of a little bit under the radar coming out of high school, and it was a little bit of a surprise with how good a freshman year he had from the outside [36 percent on three-pointers],” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “Obviously I was there with the under-19s. He clearly established himself as one of the best guards, if not the best guard. Then really as the tournament went on he played really well, especially in the semis and final. I saw growth there. He’s really taken on the things that we’ve asked him or told him that he needs to improve on to get to the next level.”
A specific area Dixon has noted is Miles’ work in the weight room.
“I think the one that stands out to me, other people may not recognize, is his conditioning because his body has changed since he got to TCU,” Dixon said. “He came in a little chunky, to be honest. His body fat has changed dramatically, his conditioning is way better. Those are the things I really thought we had to address.”
On the court during the Purple and White scrimmage, Miles had 12 points while initiating the White Team’s offense and picking up the Purple Team’s primary ball-handler on most defensive possessions.
“I think he’s more of a leader, which just comes with being a second-year guy in our league. That makes you old in this league now, or at least a veteran. Those things really stand out, which are the most important things really for a point guard. I think he’s going to be a better defender.”
Chuck O’Bannon could be making a Desmond Bane-like leap from the three-point line
No, Chuck O’Bannon isn’t necessarily a few years away from becoming a starting NBA shooting guard like Horned Frog basketball alum Desmond Bane. However, O’Bannon does seem to be in the process of making significant improvement in his three-point shooting like Bane did across his four seasons at TCU.
Bane shot 38 percent from three his first season at TCU, and O’Bannon shot 36.8 percent his first year at TCU. In the scrimmage, O’Bannon scored a game-high 21 points while knocking down five three-pointers. What stood out about these three’s was his confidence when pulling up. O’Bannon was drilling them from the corners as well as the wings.
His release seemed faster and smoother as he hunted for his perimeter shot, calling for the ball behind the arc on fastbreaks and calmly knocking down shot after shot. Dixon’s motion offense is predicated on three-point shooting creating space for ball-handlers to work off pick-and-roll plays. If O’Bannon continues shooting like that over the course of the season, he could significantly raise the ceiling of the 2021-2022 Horned Frogs team.
Roster turnover could lead to TCU’s best perimeter defense
With seven new players joining this year’s TCU team via transfer, the on-court product will look very different. Those seven are Souleymane Doumbia (Navarro College), Emanuel Miller (Texas A&M), Micah Peavy (Texas Tech), Xavier Cork (Western Carolina), Shahada Wells (UT Arlington), Damion Baugh (Memphis) and Maxwell Evans (Vanderbilt). This roster is constructed completely opposite of how Dixon built his teams at Pitt that went to 12 NCAA Tournaments in 14 seasons.
“Obviously, I think we’re all in the same position, a lot of new players, but I’m excited about it: It’s college basketball, the new era,” Dixon said. “I’ve embraced it [transfers], obviously we weren’t quite in the transfer mode the last couple years. I think when I came to TCU, obviously playing here, the type of school we are, transfers was not probably the way I thought we would go.The game has changed, we had one transfer in 17 years at Pitt. One thing was developing guys, watching them grow over four years, and have some guys go early in the draft. It’s a new era, it’s a new time, and now I’ve embraced it.”
The two headliners to this group are sophomore guard Micah Peavy and junior forward Emanel Miller. Peavy started 25 of his 29 games played as a freshman for a Red Raider team that reached the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and Miller was the Aggies’ leading scorer last season, averaging 16.2 points per game.
“They are guys that have played in major conferences, they’ve gone through battles, and their bodies are more developed than they were as freshmen,” Dixon said. “Those two guys stand out, there’s no question because of where they’ve been, who they are. I think they’ve made big strides this summer.”
Watching them and the other newcomers play in the scrimmage was eye-opening because there was a noticeable difference in speed and athleticism on the court particularly when watching the six-foot-nine inch, 228-pound Xavier Cork and six-foot-four-inch, 195 pound Damion Baugh glide up and down the court. Dixon’s best Pitt teams that won the Big East were defensive-minded, smashmouth teams. These additions could allow Dixon to get back to his coaching roots, which could pay big dividends for the Horned Frogs this season.