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How TCU Men’s Basketball can bounce back next season

With RJ Nembhard declaring for the NBA Draft and three players transferring out, head coach Jamie Dixon will need to dig deep if the Horned Frogs hope to turn their recent misfortunes around.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 men’s basketball season was one that TCU head coach Jamie Dixon and his players would like to forget. Despite COVID-19 presenting multiple challenges throughout the year, TCU struggled to compete in the Big 12 once again, finishing 12-14 overall and handing Dixon the first losing record in his 18 years as a Division I basketball coach.

The Horned Frogs appear to be at a crossroads as the program attempts to bounce back for what will be Dixon’s sixth season at TCU this coming winter. Players are continuing to leave the program through the transfer portal, with Diante Smith, Mickey Pearson, Jaedon LeDee and now Kevin Easley all departing for new opportunities. These transfers come roughly two years after TCU saw a handful of players like Jaylen Fisher, Lat Mayen, Yuat Alok, Kaden Archie, Kendric Davis, Russell Barlow and Angus McWilliam depart from the program.

TCU has also lost some notable leaders in recent seasons, with Desmond Bane, Kenrich Williams and RJ Nembhard declaring for the NBA while Kouat Noi left to seek out a professional career overseas. Although the Horned Frogs will have some cornerstone players like freshman Mike Miles and center Kevin Samuel returning for the 2021-22 season, TCU sorely lacks the depth necessary to compete in a Power 5 conference like the Big 12.

So how can the Horned Frogs recover and get back to where they were when Dixon arrived on campus? Here are three areas to watch when TCU tips off the 2021-22 season.

Improve the Perimeter Shooting

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

When TCU made the NCAA Tournament during the 2017-18 season, Horned Frog players shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and almost 50 percent from the field. That number has dipped significantly over the last few years, with TCU shooting only 33.5 percent from beyond the arc this season. It’s clear the absence of Francisco Farabello, who went 13-for-29 on triples through nine games before missing the remainder of the season, negatively impacted the Horned Frog shooting numbers.

TCU should have ample firepower in the offensive backcourt next season in Miles, Farabello, Vanderbilt transfer Maxwell Evans and redshirt freshman Taryn Todd. But shooting on the wings remains a huge concern. With Smith, Pearson and Easley transferring, TCU will need someone other than USC transfer Chuck O’Bannon knocking down 3-pointers from the wings. Freshman forward Terren Frank showed some flashes, but a lack of sizeable shooters will force the Horned Frogs to go small, which could pose issues against bigger teams.

Sophomore P.J. Fuller, who shot 30.5 percent from 3-point land, is one player who could be a noticeable difference maker. The four-star recruit, who at one point made only one 3-point field goal over a nine-game stretch this season, has struggled to shoot the ball consistently. Unlocking Fuller’s offensive abilities would bode well for the Horned Frogs next season.

Keep Kevin Samuel Engaged

At 6 feet 11 inches and 255 pounds, Samuel has an NBA body and should be one of the more physically imposing players in the Big 12. But after a promising sophomore season in which he averaged career-highs in points, rebounds and blocks, Samuel took noticeable steps back during his junior campaign. The TCU center shot a career-low 62.5 percent from the field and reached double digits in scoring in only 11 of the 26 games he appeared in. His free-throw numbers remained woefully bad, as he converted only 38.5 percent of freebies.

Maximizing Samuel’s productivity becomes even more important now that LeDee, the only reserve big man to earn consistent minutes this past season, will be leaving the program. The Horned Frogs will have some support coming in three-star 7-footer Souleymane Doumbia, while freshman and former four-star recruit Eddie Lampkin could be in line for more minutes as well. Regardless, Samuel is TCU’s most experienced low-post player and making him a catalyst for the team could light a spark on both ends of the floor.

Make Mike Miles a Star

If there was any Horned Frog who showed he could take over a game at any moment this past season, it was the true freshman Miles, who overcame a series of first-year hurdles to average 13.6 points per game while shooting 36 percent from 3-point land. An All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, Miles carried TCU on his back in multiple games, scoring 28 points in an overtime loss against Missouri while leading the charge with 26 points in a victory against North Dakota State. Miles consistently scored the ball this past season, and with a full year under his belt, he should take on a more commanding role in the backcourt.

Miles will most likely be TCU’s No. 1 scoring option next season, which means opponents will start planning on how they can stop him from breaking loose. If Miles can overcome the sophomore slump and improve his shooting percentages a few ticks, he’ll likely be looking at Second-Team or Third-Team All-Big 12 consideration. The 6-foot-2 guard has shown dynamic playmaking abilities thus far, and it will be interesting to see how his game develops as he prepares for his second campaign with the Horned Frogs.