TCU is having a very successful season (with their recent Big 12 history for comparison), so Andrew Felts at Frogs O' War and I had a little chit-chat about how things are progressing for both teams these days. You can read the questions FOW had for us, and my responses, here.
BOTC: TCU is 2-10 so far this conference schedule, which is obviously a lot better than 0-18. Are TCU fans satisfied with how the season is gone? How much higher do you think expectations will be moving forward?
FOW: After going 0-18 in Big 12 play last season, winning conference games is definitely something to be excited about, especially considering the strength of the Big 12 this season. With Kansas State and Texas Tech yet to play in Fort Worth, this could very well go down as the most successful season to date for the Frogs in the Big 12. I think that TCU fans are, for the most part, pretty satisfied. Although it isn’t necessarily reflected in the Frogs’ win-loss record, this team has taken some major steps forward. The Frogs have kept things close in several of their losses this season, with the defense being a major reason why.
Most TCU fans realize that building this program is a long-term project that will require a significant amount of time and patience. I think that expectations moving forward are to continue to compete and continue to build on the foundation that has been laid this season. Winning three or four Big 12 games is certainly a step in the right direction, and I think this program has a pretty high ceiling, all things considered.
BOTC: What is TCU's outlook for next season? Is Trent Johnson's staff getting some decent recruits come in such that the Horned Frogs will continue to at least be competitive in the conference, or is this success going to wane with the departure of Kyan Anderson?
FOW: There are certainly some question marks going into next season. As you alluded to, the biggest concern is obviously the loss of Kyan Anderson. Anderson has been the glue for this TCU program for the last four seasons. He has started every game since December 21, 2011 and has a chance to end his career as the Frogs’ all-time leader in games played. The obvious candidate to replace Anderson at point is freshman Chauncey Collins. The Oklahoma City native has a lot of the same intangibles and skills as Anderson, but is still transitioning from the home-school league in Oklahoma to Big 12 basketball.
Recruiting has been slow-going as of now, with just one signee for next season so far. Four-star small forward Jalon Miller signed in October out of Seagonville High School in Dallas. Miller is ranked as the 19th best small forward in the country by ESPN. I expect the Frogs to land some additional recruits in the coming weeks. There were several recruits in the house for TCU’s upset win over #21 Oklahoma State, which will do nothing but help Trent Johnson’s sales pitch. With the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum set to open this fall after $60 million in renovations, the TCU program is steadily reaching a Big 12 caliber. The recruiting classes should get stronger as Trent Johnson continues to build this program.
BOTC: The OSU win was impressive - coming back from a deficit at halftime to win by 15. What happened in that second half? Did certain players step up for TCU, or did OSU ultimately just drop the ball (excuse the pun)?
FOW: There were so many positives to pull from the second half of TCU’s game against Oklahoma State. Aside from, you know, winning a game (which was awesome, by the way), there were several impressive performances . Kyan Anderson and Trey Zeigler both added their usual contributions, but the most impressive players were Amric Fields and Karviar Shepherd. As a fifth-year senior, Fields has really struggled this season. Entering the game, Fields was averaging a career-low 7.0 points per game on the season. Even worse, the career 60% free-throw shooter was averaging just 39.6% from the line. On Saturday, Fields shook off the rust and looked like the dominant force that he was for most of last season. He finished the game with 12 points, nine of which came in the second half. More significantly, Fields shot 6/7 from the line, including 5/5 down the stretch. Karviar Shepherd is another player with a very high ceiling that has struggled to produce this season. The sophomore center came to life on Saturday, scoring 10 points in 28 minutes of play. It was the first time this season that Shepherd scored in double-figures in Big 12 play.
Most importantly, the Frogs played a complete team game, especially in the second half. The Frogs had 15 assists on 26 made baskets, shot over 50% from the field, and out-rebounded the Cowboys 30-25. The biggest "hallelujah" moment for TCU came at the free throw line. Coming in to the game, the Frogs were shooting 55.6% from the line in Big 12 game. On Saturday, the Frogs went 18/23, a blistering 78.3%. Free throw shooting cost the Frogs several games at the beginning of Big 12 play, so it was nice to see TCU win a game from the charity stripe.
Finally, I honestly believe that Oklahoma State’s performance was more the result of the Frogs defensive intensity and physicality than a lack of motivation for the Cowboys. The Frogs dominated in the second half, outscoring OSU 44-27 to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 15-point win. The Pokes couldn’t match the Frogs’ intensity and TCU took advantage to close out the game.
BOTC: How has it worked out for fans and players alike playing in the high school gymnasium? I'm not familiar with the story, why are we playing in a high school gym? Was this planned for this season?
FOW: TCU is playing this season in the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center, a 4,750-seat facility owned by the Fort Worth Independent School District, as the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on campus undergoes a $60 million renovation project. The new DMC is scheduled to open in the fall and will feature floor seating, expanded concourses, and a new TCU hall of athletics. For those of you not familiar with the DMC, it is a much-needed renovation. The old facility was cramped, dark, and 54 years old. The renovation plans had been in the works for some time, but "the Wilk" wasn’t chosen as the temporary venue until late this summer.
From the players’ standpoint, I really don’t think that the change in venue is much of an issue. The Frogs have three transfers and three freshmen, so it was a new experience for them anyway. Before the season started, Trent Johnson said that they would play in the parking lot if they had to, and the players have seemed to adopt that philosophy. Additionally, the Frogs’ relatively easy non-conference slate definitely helped the players adjust to the new digs.
From the fans’ perspective, the biggest inconvenience has been the distance from campus. The facility is about 15 minutes from the TCU campus, and attendance has suffered as a result. Fans complain about the drive and the stigma that comes along with playing in a high school gym, but my personal opinion is that it is well worth it to get a newly renovated DMC in exchange. The Wilk is actually a pretty nice facility, much nicer than any of the high school gyms that I have experienced. It is easily accessible, has a ton of parking, and can get pretty loud when the fans are fired up.
I hate to admit this, but for the sake of competitiveness, I will… The logos of the 14 FWISD high schools that use the facility are displayed above the baseline at the top of the seating areas. Prominently displayed near the scoreboard on the home side of the stadium is a royal purple Powercat belonging to Fort Worth’s Paschal High School. So this likely will be the first game in Big 12 Conference history in which the opposing team’s logo is a permanent fixture in the home team’s venue. If you look closely, you just might spot the Powercat in the image below…
BOTC: Prediction on the game? What would K-State need to do to secure a victory?
FOW: I think that the biggest key for Kansas State tonight will be to limit TCU’s offense in the opening minutes of the game. The Frogs are riding a confidence high after their upset win over the weekend, and I expect some of that to carry over into tonight’s game. If TCU can grab an early lead and further build their confidence, I have a hard time seeing the Frogs drop this one. However, the Wildcats excelled on the defensive end during the first matchup in Manhattan, holding TCU to just 53 points. If the Wildcats can match that defensive effort and penetrate through the Frogs’ defense, KSU will have a good shot to sweep the season series.
With that being said, I like the Frogs in this one. Prior to Saturday, the Frogs had been struggling with a bit of a confidence issue, but TCU’s win over Oklahoma State made that a moot point. I think that all the Frogs needed to being clicking was a win. They had dropped so many close games to start the season and finally winning a tight game against a ranked opponent has taken care of the monkey on their back. I expect the Frogs to ride their momentum wave into the game tonight and open up an early lead. Kansas State will keep it close, but I’ll take the Frogs 68-58.