TCU Basketball has been ranked in the Preseason AP Poll only twice in the program’s existence.
Once before the 1998-99 season, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance the year prior, and once before the 2018-19 season, once again coming off an NCAA Tournament, the program’s first since that 97-98 season.
The team was ranked #25 in 1998-99 and #20 in 2018-19. This upcoming season, once again coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Frogs are primed to be ranked the highest they’ve ever been in a preseason poll.
Potentially, the highest they’ve been ranked, period.
ESPN’s preseason poll has the Frogs ranked #15, CBS Sports has the squad ranked #14, and esteemed college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein has them them ranked #10, as does 247sports.com.
That #10 ranking is the highest the program has ever climbed up the poll, back on Dec. 25, 2017, back then a welcome Christmas gift.
We’ve all known these Horned Frogs are a different, deeper, and hungrier team than squads in years past, but none of us expected media rankings, and praise, like this. Yet, when laid out on paper, it’s easy to see why mainstream media is finally recognizing, and appreciating, this basketball team.
“Team” is what’s important there. Within college basketball, and especially, within todays’ game, one-and-done culture, combined with the never-ending transfer portal, makes it harder and harder for coaches to retain that sought-after “team”.
Well, this off-season, Coach Jamie Dixon did just that.
Returning each starter from last year’s squad, and bringing everyone back but TCU graduate Harrison Young and now-Creighton transfer Francisco Farabello, Dixon has a near identical team to the one that was a foul-call away from upsetting #1 Arizona in the Round of 32 last season.
For a while, this didn’t seem like a possibility.
When superstar PG Mike Miles initially announced he was leaving TCU to declare for the NBA Draft, it felt the dominos would fall right along with him. A couple days later, G Francisco Farabello announced he was putting his name in the transfer portal, and a week later, star G Damion Baugh declared for the NBA Draft, following Miles’ path.
As Miles and Baugh were arguably the most valuable pieces of the Frogs’ tournament team last season, their potential losses spelt concern for TCU fans.
But, after a month-or-so of waiting, Miles announced he was coming back to finish what he started, and a week later, Baugh followed Miles back to school, and in doing so brought every starter back from last season’s team.
Coming back to finish what we started with my brothers!! #UnfinishedBusiness— Мιкє Мιℓєѕ Jr (@MikeMilesJr_) April 11, 2022
This means at least 52.6 points of the team’s 2021-22 average of 68.5 will be accounted for in the starting lineup alone. Star Mike Miles and his 15.4 PPG, Damion Baugh (10.6), Chuck O’Bannon Jr. (9.5), Emanuel Miller (10.3), and fan-favorite Eddie Lampkin (6.8), are all primed to start this upcoming season.
Every single one of them should improve this off-season, and learn more about each other’s tendencies, as they continue to spend more time on the court together. Miles’ bag will grow even deeper, and his playmaking skills should increase, as he’ll look to cut down on turnovers next season. Baugh will continue to be a defensive stalwart, and the confidence he has in his offensive ability should skyrocket. O’Bannon Jr. will look to improve on his 33.8% 3-PT percentage, as he’ll look to be the team’s shooting specialist. And, Miller and Lampkin can only get stronger with gym time, and in bringing the same tenacity they did last season, these two should continue to help TCU rank as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country.
Only two other teams in the projected Top 25 can boast about this returning prowess as much as the Frogs can: ‘Blue Bloods’ North Carolina and Virginia.
Safe to say, Coach Dixon is in a good spot, and this is without mentioning the stellar bench unit he’s bringing into the 2022-23 season. Returning Micah Peavy, Jakobe Coles, Xavier Cork, and the return to health of Shahada Wells, combined with the additions of Freshman P.J. Haggerty, the #14 ranked prospect in Texas, and Oklahoma State transfer Rondel Walker, the Frogs will have one of, if not the, best bench unit in the Big 12.
TCU is retaining the same, tournament-experienced starting lineup, and is bringing an improved bench unit along with them, meaning the Frogs will own that ever-sought after “team”.
While the “team” is more important than the “star”, especially in college basketball, no modern team has won the NCAA Championship without at least one at the helm.
Luckily, TCU has that star this upcoming season, and you could argue the team has two more budding.
Every Frog fan knows Mike Miles has been “that guy” since he stepped onto campus in 2020.
Averaging 15.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, and 3.8 APG, Miles has done it all for the Frogs at an efficient rate, shooting 39.4% over his career. His honors already include Big 12 All-Freshman 1st Team, 2021-22 All-Big 12 2nd Team, and 2022 All-Big 12 Tournament 1st Team. And, we’ve all seen and experienced his star moments.
Last season’s 28 point, 8 rebound, 4 assist performance versus Utah on a cold December night; his 26 point, 4 and 4, and 5 steal outing in February’s massive win over then #9 Texas Tech, in which he shot 10 for 15; or his two incredible tournament performances, which included 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting in only 28 minutes versus Seton Hall, and, the grittiest Mike Miles game we’ve seen of his career in the Round of 32 loss versus Arizona, in which he dropped 20, shooting 9/9 from the line, are obvious examples of Miles’ star power.
And, if his improvement continues at the same rate since his first dribble in Schollmaier, TCU fans might be able to expect 17 PPG, and maybe 5 APG, which would be made all the sweeter with All-Big 12 1st Team honors.
Yet, he might not be the only star shining in a Frog uniform.
Damion Baugh and Eddie Lampkin have both had moments in the limelight, and now the only step is applying the consistency needed to shine in the national spotlight.
Baugh truly might be the most underrated player in the nation. Averaging 10.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 4.5 APG, paired with his incredible defensive prowess, Damion did it all for the Frogs in his first year with the team. There were multiple moments where he took over and became the best player on the court. His 23 point, 7 and 7, 7 steal game versus Iowa State, in Ames in late January or his 20 point, 8 rebound performance in a late January win versus Oklahoma are exemplary of Baugh’s potential star-status.
And Lampkin, already a superstar on the TCU campus, is inches away from being a national name.
Already owning a Chicken Express meal, in his name, on campus, Lampkin has trended nationally on Twitter, and was the apple of Barstool Sports’ eye the night of the Frogs’ tournament loss to Arizona.
That night, engulfed in the national spotlight, Lampkin dropped 20 points on 8/9 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, 10 of them offensive. Easily career highs in all three categories.
Averaging 6.8 PPG and 6.2 RPG, Lampkin totaled 5 Double-Doubles last season, and with his constant improvement, and potential increase in minutes, Lampkin might just make the Double-Double seem routine next season.
And the “Eddie” chants, loudly emanating from Schollmaier’s student section, should return in full-force.
Ultimately, this team understands how to win. They’ve all experienced moments that matter.
To popping themselves out of the tournament “bubble” throughout the month of February; competing deep into the Big 12 Tournament, and, of course, dominating Seton Hall in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament; before fighting and clawing to the brim against the #2 overall seed, Arizona, every starter on this squad is used to playing in critical moments, and is used to the pressure that comes with them.
This should only make the Frogs hungrier to get right back into those situations, and this year make the most of them, as the Big 12 Championship, and the Final Four, are the ultimate goals.
And, in having a true ‘team culture’, the stars priming to shine, and the experience showing, these goals are absolutely attainable.