For once, TCU will start a new season as defending champions.
The Frogs won their final five games last season to claim the NIT title, the first postseason tournament crown in school history, making Jamie Dixon’s inaugural season at his alma mater a rousing success. The 24 wins tied for second-most at TCU; the 12-win improvement was second most in school history; the 32-point margin of victory against Georgia Tech matched the most ever in an NIT final; and the Frogs played more games (39) deeper into the season (March 30) than any TCU team before.
So the celebration at Madison Square Garden lasted a while.
“I said, ‘I want you guys to enjoy this, but understand — this is not our goal for next year,’” Dixon said after the game.
TCU will aim considerably higher in 2017-18.
The Frogs expect to be a legitimate factor in the Big 12 race and to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. “The bar has been raised,” Dixon says. “That was a great learning experience for us, but we’ve got bigger aspirations, higher goals. And [the players] agree.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Jamie Dixon
2016-17 RECORD (Big 12): 24–15 (6–12)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NIT: defeated Georgia Tech 88–56 in the championship
F Brandon Parrish (5.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
C Karviar Shepherd (4.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
G Malique Trent (3.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg)
Vladimir Brodziansky ranked 10th in the Big 12 in scoring (14.1 ppg) and third in shooting percentage (.564) as a junior, but Dixon is looking for bigger bodies and stronger finishers at the rim against the physicality of the Big 12. That’s where 6'7" freshman forwards Kouat Noi and Lat Mayen — both from Australia — fit in. Their length and aggressiveness inside should provide a dimension the Frogs lacked a year ago. Noi, who didn’t sign with TCU until August 2016, redshirted last season.
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Brodziansky and junior JD Miller figure to get pushed for playing time despite their experience. The loss of Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn left an opening at center, where four-star freshman Kevin Samuel could start right away. Samuel is raw offensively but should make an impact on defense and on the boards. Ahmed Hamdy, a graduate transfer from VCU, will also battle for playing time. He averaged 5.9 points for the Rams in 2016-17.
The Frogs return three players who can serve as primary ball handlers. Alex Robinson, in his first season after transferring from Texas A&M, averaged 11.2 points and handed out a team-high 228 assists. Jaylen Fisher started 34 games and was the team’s top 3-point threat as a freshman. Desmond Bane started four games in the NIT after Fisher broke his wrist in the tournament opener. He shot 38.0 percent from 3 for the season.
Kenrich Williams is a 6'7" wing who averaged 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a junior. He recorded a double-double in all five NIT games; for the season, his 19 double-doubles led the Big 12 and were 11th-most in the country. Williams is the only TCU player to record a 400-300-100 season.
Dixon will add two talented newcomers to the perimeter mix — four-star freshman R.J. Nembhard, a 26-points-per-game scorer in high school, and junior college transfer Shawn Olden, a 3-point-shooting lefty.
Few programs have changed their outlook as dramatically as TCU. Dixon, a standout guard on the last Horned Frogs team to win an NCAA Tournament game (in 1987), has made TCU relevant on the court and on the recruiting trail. He is adding quality talent to a roster that returns the top six scorers from a 24-win team. Anything short of an NCAA Tournament would be a disappointment.