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Could the Frogs Dance this March?

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At the end of the college basketball season, 148 of the 351 Division I college basketball teams will play in a postseason tournament. What would it take for TCU to be one of them?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We are more than one-third of the way through the TCU Horned Frogs Basketball season, and the 25th ranked Frogs are still undefeated. At 12-0, TCU is off to its best start in program history. The Frogs are riding a 12-game winning streak - tied for the third longest in school history. With just one more non-conference game left, against the 2-10 Tennessee State Tigers, there is little reason to believe that the Frogs won't enter Big 12 play with a perfect 13-0 record.

Which begs the question, what would TCU need to accomplish in conference play in order to earn a bid in one of the four college basketball postseason tournaments?

I know, I know... March is a long way away, and the Frogs have only had a couple of tough opponents so far this season. But it is rare to have TCU in this position, so we might as well have a little fun with it, right?

As far as postseason play is concerned, the Frogs are already at a huge advantage by virtue of playing in the Big 12 Conference. As it stands right now, the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball, with a combined record of 94-17. Seven of the ten teams in the Conference are ranked in this week's AP Top 25 poll, the most of any conference in the country. Once Big 12 play begins, any wins that TCU picks up will be quality wins, thus strengthening their overall resume. That logic goes both ways, as any conference losses that TCU suffers will be viewed as "quality losses."

If TCU finishes the season over 0.500, they should have about a 96% chance of playing in the postseason.


The inaugural Big 12 basketball season was the 1996-1997 season. Since then, there have been a total of 220 complete seasons in the conference. Only nine times has a Big 12 team finished over 0.500 for the year and not been invited to a postseason tournament. Theoretically, if TCU finishes the season over 0.500, they should have about a 96% chance of playing in the postseason. Picking up 13 wins in the non-conference schedule is certainly a huge step toward finishing with a winning record.

It is also important to note that TCU's strength of schedule will vastly improve once conference play begins. As a point of comparison, the Frogs played a pretty similar non-conference schedule last year compared to this year. At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Frogs finished in the top 40 in nearly every strength of schedule measure. With the Big 12 just as strong, if not stronger than it was last year, it's hard to imagine TCU finishing with a worse strength of schedule as last season.

Despite being one of the oldest programs in the country, TCU has only advanced to a postseason tournament 14 times in the school's history. Most recently, the Frogs appeared in the 2012 College Basketball Invitational. The CBI, and its rival, the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, are mostly focused on inviting mid-major teams who were not selected for the NCAA or NIT Tournaments. In fact, since its creation in 2008, the CIT has never invited a power conference team. Of the 112 teams invited to the CBI in its seven-year history, only 15 have been from a power conference - with just one of those coming from the Big 12, as Texas participated in 2013. The Longhorns finished 16-17 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12 that year.

Should TCU start the season 13-0, the Frogs would likely only need 3-4 conference wins to be invited to the CBI. Of the 15 power conference teams invited in the tournament's history, only five have had a winning record. The Frogs would likely be invited with a 16-16 or 17-15 record at the end of the year.

Power Conference Teams in the CBI

Year

School

Record

Conference

Conf. Record

2008

Cincinnati

13-18

Big East

8-10

2008

Virginia

15-15

ACC

9-7

2008

Washington

16-16

Pac-12

7-11

2009

Oregon State

13-17

Pac-12

8-11

2009

Stanford

18-13

Pac-12

8-11

2009

St. John's

16-17

Big East

6-12

2010

Oregon State

14-17

Pac-12

8-10

2011

Oregon

16-17

Pac-12

7-11

2012

Oregon State

19-14

Pac-12

7-11

2012

Pittsburgh

19-11

Big East

5-13

2012

Washington State

15-16

Pac-12

7-11

2013

Texas

16-17

Big 12

7-11

2013

Purdue

15-17

Big Ten

8-10

2014

Oregon State

16-15

Pac-12

8-10

2014

Penn State

15-17

Big Ten

6-12

2014

Texas A&M

17-15

SEC

8-10

CBI Data:

Big 12 Appearances: 1

2013 Texas: 16-17 overall, 7-11 Big 12

Total Team Appearances: 112

Average Record: 19-13

Worst Record Appearance: 2008 Cincinnati: 13-18 overall, 8-10 Big East

While any postseason play would be a big step forward for this program, let's aim a little bit higher. Six times in TCU history, the school has been invited to play in the NIT, most recently in 2005. Getting back to the NIT is certainly an achievable task for the Frogs, but they're going to need some of their non-conference success to carry over into Big 12 play. In order to make it to the NIT, the Frogs would likely need to pick up 5-7 Big 12 wins. A 17-20 win season should be enough to get the Frogs in.

The NIT contracted from 40 to 32 teams in 2007, and since then, 13 Big 12 teams have participated. Recent Big 12 history in the tournament certainly suggests that the Frogs could get in with 5-7 conference wins. In 2010, Texas Tech was invited to the NIT despite finishing 4-12 in Big 12 play. Similarly, in 2009, Baylor was invited with a 5-11 Big 12 record. It would be impossible for TCU to finish with 5-7 conference victories and not have several quality wins on their resume, in addition to what will be a strong strength of schedule. An 18-14 or 20-12 season would likely earn the school an NIT berth.

Big 12 Appearances in the NIT (Since 2007)

Year

Seed

School

Overall Record

Big 12 Record

2007

2

Kansas State

22-11

10-6

2007

2

Oklahoma State

22-12

6-10

2008

3

Nebraska

19-12

7-9

2008

5

Oklahoma State

17-15

7-9

2009

3

Baylor

20-14

5-11

2009

4

Kansas State

21-11

9-7

2009

6

Nebraska

18-12

8-8

2010

5

Texas Tech

17-15

4-12

2011

1

Colorado

21-13

8-8

2011

3

Oklahoma State

19-13

6-10

2011

5

Nebraska

19-12

7-9

2013

2

Baylor

18-14

9-9

2014

5

West Virginia

17-15

9-9

NIT Data:

Big 12 Appearances: 13

Average Record: 19-13 overall, 7-9 Big 12

Worst Record Appearance: 2010 Texas Tech: 17-15 overall, 4-12 Big 12

Total At-Large Appearances*: 179

Average Record: 21-12

Worse Record Appearance: 2010 North Carolina: 16-16 overall, 5-11 ACC

(*The NIT awards automatic bids for teams who win their conference in the regular season but fail to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in their conference tournament. The remaining selections are considered at-large selections. Only once has a team with a 0.500 overall record been awarded an at-large berth.)

Now for the most challenging task of them all - what would it take for TCU to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998? At the beginning of each season, every team in America dreams of punching its ticket to the Big Dance. The Frogs have accomplished that feat seven times in school history. An eighth time would certainly be significant, considering TCU's performance in the Big 12 thus far.

The NCAA Tournament expanded from 32 to 64 teams in 1985. It expanded again to 65 teams in 2001 and to its current format of 68 teams in 2011. Of the 68 available spots in the Tournament, 32 are reserved for the individual conference champions. The other 36 are for "at-large" teams. For the Frogs to qualify for one of the at-large berths, they will likely need to win 8-10 conference games.

Since the creation of the Big 12 Conference in 1996, 80 teams from the conference have advanced to the Tournament as at-large teams. Only once has a Big 12 team with a losing conference record qualified. Last season, Oklahoma State finished 8-10 in the Big 12 and 21-12 overall and was awarded with a #9 seed. Oklahoma State and TCU finished with nearly identical strength of schedule measures last season, so an 8-10 finish this year for the Frogs would likely place them securely on the bubble.

Additionally, only four of the 80 Big 12 teams to advance as at-large teams finished with a 0.500 record in conference play, most recently Baylor in 2014 (the Bears finished 24-11 overall and 9-9 in conference play). Since the Big 12 expanded to an 18-game conference schedule in 2012, four teams have finished 9-9. Two have gone to the NCAA Tournament and two have gone to the NIT. For the Frogs, 9-9 in Big 12 play would equate to a 22-10 win season, even with a loss in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. More than one-third of all at-large teams since 1985 have finished with double-digit losses. The Frogs would certainly have a shot if they finish around 0.500 in conference play.

Moving on, in each of the other 75 appearances, the Big 12 representatives finished 9-7 (in the old conference format) or 10-8 (in the new conference format), or better. A winning Big 12 record would all but guarantee TCU a spot in the Big Dance.

Big 12 Teams in the NCAA Tournament (Since 2012)

Year

Seed

School

Record

Big 12 Record

2012

3

Baylor

27-7

12-6

2012

8

Iowa State

22-10

12-6

2012

2

Kansas

27-6

16-2

2012

8

Kansas State

21-10

10-8

2012

11

Texas

20-13

9-9

2013

10

Iowa State

22-11

11-7

2013

4

Kansas State

27-7

14-4

2013

10

Oklahoma

20-11

12-7

2013

5

Oklahoma State

24-8

13-5

2014

6

Baylor

24-11

9-9

2014

2

Kansas

24-9

14-4

2014

9

Kansas State

20-12

10-8

2014

5

Oklahoma

23-9

12-6

2014

9

Oklahoma State

21-12

8-10

2014

7

Texas

23-10

11-7

NCAA Data:

Big 12 At-Large Appearances: 80

Average Record: 23-9 overall, 11-5 Big 12

Worst Record Appearance: 1997 Texas: 16-11 overall, 10-6 Big 12

Total At-Large Appearances: 1,020

Average Record: 22-9

Worse Record Appearance: 2001 Georgia: 16-14 overall, 9-7 SEC

But, let's be realistic. TCU is 2-36 against the Big 12 since joining the conference. Winning eight or more conference games would be unprecedented and a major step forward for the program. We haven't seen enough to get into the business of predicting specific wins and losses at this point in the season, but with the Big 12 looking like it will again be the toughest college basketball conference in the country, 5-7 conference wins would be a reasonable prediction for a successful 2015 in the Big 12 for TCU.

Throw in a couple of upsets along the way, and the Frogs could see themselves as an NCAA Tournament bubble team come mid-March.


Should the Frogs pull this off and finish above 0.500 with around 20 victories on the season, they will likely be playing tournament basketball in March. The NIT looks like it could be a realistic destination, but who knows? Trent Johnson and his squad have proven that they know how to win games this season. Throw in a couple of upsets along the way, and the Frogs could see themselves as an NCAA Tournament bubble team come mid-March.

Although, with that being said, I'm not sure if TCU fans are ready to leave things up to another selection committee.