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TCU Men’s Basketball: Realistic expectations as conference play (finally) begins

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The start of the Big 12 season was put on hold for the Horned Frogs, but they open Saturday against #1 Baylor.

TCU Basketball vs WVU | February 23, 2021 | Fort Worth, TX Melissa Triebwasser

By the time TCU Basketball’s Big 12 matchup with Baylor tips off Saturday, they will be the last team in the ten team conference to have played a league matchup. After missing close to 100 practices last year due to COVID, the program fell victim to another rash of breakouts over the winter break, and as such, last hit the hardwood on December 21st, a full two and a half week between games. This is unfortunate for many reasons, one of which is that the Frogs were on a heater, having won seven games in a row on their way to a 10-1 preseason mark.

Now they enter a loaded Big 12 slate, one that features all ten teams ranked in the top 70 of the KenPom ratings, making the conference the deepest — and toughest — in the land.

Five Big 12 teams are currently ranked in the top 25, led by overall unanimous #1 Baylor and top six Kansas. Oklahoma and West Virginia are both in the receiving votes category, with the Sooners having played the Bears tough last time out and the Mountaineers hanging with the Longhorns on the road despite a COVID decimated roster. Iowa State, predicted to finish last in the league, has been one of the country’s biggest surprises: 12-1 and a top 40 KenPom team with a pair of top 25 wins (their only loss was by 5 to BU).

So what does that mean for the Horned Frogs as they look to make the NCAA Tournament for just the fourth time in the last quarter century? What can we expect from the winter of 2022?

Ceiling:

Mike Miles is a legit superstar, and if he continues playing like this once the conference round robin begins, he will be a fringe first round prospect by the end of his sophomore campaign. Surrounded with a talented supporting cast, he is the type of star that can elevate a program to March Madness, and he’s got the help to do it.

By the way, if you haven’t read Colin Post’s Miles’ profile, stop what you are doing and go do that RIGHT NOW. It’s exceptional.

If you were to write up a dream scenario for the next 18 games for this version of this team, you probably land somewhere in the ten win range. That would mean winning most of their home games and pulling off an upset or two on the road. You have to sweep Kansas State and continue the recent success against the Cowboys, and probably sweep Texas Tech or Oklahoma to have a shot. All while hoping you can split against Iowa State and WVU and pull off n upset or two against some of the teams we expect to be upper echelon.

Ten wins in the country’s best conference easily puts you in the tournament; last year, 11 win Oklahoma State was a four seed, while 9 win Texas Tech and Oklahoma were six and eight seeds, respectively. 10 more wins puts the Frogs at 20-9 overall, and likely in line for a six seed as well.

Not a single person who follows this program would be mad about that, right?

Floor:

This conference is absolutely loaded, and even the worst team in the league — currently Kansas State — isn’t devoid of talent. And Oklahoma State, at 7-5 as things stand today, isn’t a team that many are going to like playing in league. I personally see the worst case scenario as finishing eighth in the Big 12 with six wins or so. This team isn’t going to roll over for people and Miles is going to win at least two on his own if he needs to. I feel confident in saying that the Frogs should and likely will sweep the Cats and the Cowboys — and at worst go 3-1 in that four game set.

From there, you luck into a win or two — or get a big game from Miles that propels you to something special — but overall that would be a big disappointment for a team that looks primed to reach mid-tier status in a league that could easily have seven tourney teams.

Realistic Expectation:

The key games will be the home tilts with Tech, OU, Iowa State, and WVU — all teams that are very good but not that the Frogs shouldn’t be super competitive in. I am also incredibly intrigued to see what Texas brings; Beard is a good coach and they are loaded with talent, but something seems off in that locker room.

From the looks of things at this point, but the Big 12 is a near shoe-in for six bids, and seven seems likely. That means you need to be better than at least three teams — and maybe make a mini run in the conference tournament — to have a shot of making The Big Dance. Mike Miles certainly sees keyed in on doing just that, and with one of the more well-rounded and complete supporting casts we have seen in Fort Worth, it seems possible. Add in the steady presence of veteran PG Damion Baugh, the instant offense ability to Chuck O’Bannon, the new-found aggressiveness from Francisco Farabello, the offensive rebounding of Eddie Lampkin, the versatility of Emanuel Miller and Micah Peavy, the coronation of Jakobe Coles, the interior presence of Souleymane Doumbia and Xavier Cork, etc... and it sure sounds like a tourney team, right?

The pieces are certainly there.

Miles is too big a star and too special a player to not take this team to March. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to see them finish seventh and squeak out a double digit seed in the Tourney — and not the play-in game this time around, please.

I’m calling it 9-9 (sweeps of Kansas State and Oklahoma State, splits with Oklahoma, Iowa State, WVU, and Texas Tech, and a win over Texas). They finish one game over the Red Raiders and earn an 11 seed in March and have us still fired up about hoops even as TCU Baseball begins.

That would be a pretty good feeling.