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Big 12-tested TCU men excited but focused for NCAA Tournament

By March 17, 2022March 19th, 2022No Comments
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TCU takes the floor for a shootaround at Viejas Arena ahead of their first-round NCAA Tournament game (Frogs Today/Jeff Wilson).

 

 

 

By Jeff Wilson
Frogs Today senior writer

 

SAN DIEGO — TCU hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1987, when current coach Jamie Dixon was the Horned Frogs’ heady senior guard.

It’s not like they have been regulars in the Big Dance in the 35 years since, so, yeah, they should be excited to be in the tournament field.

But there’s a fine line between excited and just being happy to be in the field.

Teams who arrive with that mindset typically depart after their first game.

Not the Frogs, or so they said Thursday ahead of their first NCAA Tournament game since 2018 and only the 14th in program history. No. 8 seed TCU plays No. 9 Seton Hall at 8:57 p.m. in a South Region game.

The players seemed loose Thursday at their shoutaround at Viejas Arena on the San Diego State campus, and perhaps with good reason.

Though the TCU men have never played Seton Hall, they played teams in the past three weeks who are a lot like the Pirates.

The Frogs don’t expect to see anything different than what they saw in the Big 12.

“They’re big, strong, everyone in their starting lineup is 6-foot-6 or taller,” guard Mike Miles Jr. said. “We know it’s not going to be easy. They’re a good team. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in the conference we’re coming from. So, we’re going to be ready.”

TCU played a murderer’s row to finish the season beginning Feb. 23, when No. 20 Texas rallied from a 10-point deficit for a 75-66 home victory. The Frogs then beat No. 9  Texas Tech and No. 6 Kansas in back-to-back games, lost two nights later at Kansas and less than 48 hours after that at West Virginia.

The Frogs then turned the tables on No. 22 Texas, rallying from a 20-point deficit to prevail in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. A third game against Kansas in 10 games followed, and the Jayhawks won easily.

But playing six ranked opponents in seven games has hardened the Frogs for the Pirates, who Dixon said resemble Texas Tech and Texas. All three have an older roster — Seton Hall has six graduate transfers — and play physically.

“They run probably more sets offensively, but it becomes a lot of mid-post,” Dixon said. “We talked about that as a similarity. Posting of guards, other guys, just not their big guy. And Texas is similar like that, too. Their best shooters are their bigs, so they play through the post through their guards similar to Tech in a little way.”

Seton Hall beat Texas in December in a grinding game that resembled a Big 12 score. The Pirates’ best player, Jared Rhoden, scored 18 points in the 64-60 home victory.

TCU beat Texas 65-60 on March 10.

Seton Hall does a few things differently defensively, namely that coach Kevin Willard will employ a 2-3 zone. The Pirates also have 7-foot-2 center Ike Obiagu, whose primary duty is guarding the rim.

The Frogs are at their best when their offense generates points inside to free up shooters on the perimeter.

“We’ve gone up against a 7-footer, but the mentality for each and every player is still to be aggressive,” forward Emanuel Miller said. “No matter who is in the paint, we have to have the mentality that we’ll get a bucket.”

TCU also has the mentality of not just playing in the NCAA Tournament but winning games. The Big 12 schedule  helped the Frogs prepare.

They’re excited and focused, not just happy to be here.

“We are locked in right now,” Miles said. “The coaches have been on us the past couple of days in practice, so we don’t have a choice but to be locked in.

“This is the biggest game of our life coming up. We’ve got to take it as serious as anything. That’s what we’re doing. We’re practicing hard. We’re scouting them hard. We want to go win the whole thing, but we can’t do it without beating Seton Hall. ”

Jeff Wilson, jeff@frogstoday.com

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