FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU men’s basketball learned plenty of lessons about postseason play en route to winning the NIT title in 2017.
The Horned Frogs managed to win five straight do-or-die games last March after going 2-16 in Big 12 play a year prior in 2016. And that’s nothing to complain about as the Horned Frogs now head to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 — with the stakes raised significantly.
TCU won’t have it easy, with teams such as Michigan State, Duke and Kansas all joining the Horned Frogs in the Midwest region. But coach Jamie Dixon is confident that the attitude his team displayed one year ago can go a long way — something that hasn’t let up ever since.
“You’ve got to be excited about [the NIT], and these guys were excited about it,” Dixon said. “It was a big step for us getting there.”
Now, an even bigger step has been taken for TCU — one that has the Horned Frogs dancing once again.
Experience goes a long way
As a No. 6 seed, expectations aren’t exactly high on a national level for TCU as March Madness begins. Nonetheless, TCU is one of a select number of men’s basketball programs that can say they won a championship if 2017, and that is nothing to take for granted.
While some teams might see the big picture as the NCAA Tournament or bust, that wasn’t the case for Dixon in his first year back at his alma mater.
“When you’re talking about 351 teams, there is a challenge [to make the NIT],” Dixon said. “Just being excited for it is key, and it makes you better for next year.”
TCU’s 2016-2017 season that culminated with the tournament championship over Georgia Tech in Manhattan was followed by program-best 9-9 Big 12 record for the Horned Frogs — exceeding their Big 12 win total from their first four years in the conference. TCU even earned a top-10 ranking on Christmas Day.
There’s no doubt that the NIT has sent the Horned Frogs on an ideal trajectory. For Dixon, it’s now a matter of replicating the mindset from last spring as TCU heads to Detroit.
Fatigue not currently a factor
There’s nothing easy about playing in the Big 12, but the Horned Frogs have navigated the conference well under Dixon. That includes not being worn out by high competition — which March basketball regularly brings.
“There’s something about winning in March, getting better as the year progressed, playing our best basketball the last five games of the year … I think [last year] is something that can help us,” Dixon said. “We’ve played a long season and were part of a long season last year. I don’t feel at all fatigued.”
TCU has a track record of recovering from fatigue under Dixon as well. The Horned Frogs lost seven straight games to end Big 12 play in 2017 before knocking off No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and advancing all the way to New York later in the month.
“The energy was still good [after the losses], and you hear about teams where the season just gets long,” Dixon said. “It didn’t get long after those losses, and we showed it in the NIT.”
The Horned Frogs now have an opportunity to show that once again — this time with an entire nation watching.
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