- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Vladimir Brodziansky, Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Kenrich Williams, JD Miller, Desmond Bane
Key Losses: Karviar Shepherd, Brandon Parrish
Key Newcomers: Ahmed Hamdy (VCU), Kevin Samuel, RJ Nembhard
Postseason Projection: 7 - 10 seed
Coach Jamie Dixon wasted no time in restoring his alma mater to national college basketball relevance. The Horned Frogs had been a Big 12 bottom feeder ever since coming into the league in 2013, and prior to that wallowed in the basement of the Mountain West. So when Dixon led TCU to a 24-15 record and a NIT Championship last season, he gave his Fort Worth faithful something to cheer about and established a base from which to work off in the future. Per KenPom.com, TCU was the best team in the country to not earn a bid to the Big Dance; their resume was solid, but it’s clear the 6-12 conference mark was too much of an eye sore to overcome. Expectations will shift this season as Dixon brings back nearly everyone that made his squad so potent last year; an NCAA Tournament bid, which would be the school’s first since 1998, appears to be on the horizon.
Most of what made TCU’s emergence last season so shocking was the player personnel. Dixon’s starting five consisted of relative unknowns – a freshman point guard, a Texas A&M transfer, a wing coming off a knee injury, and two unproven forwards coming off their inaugural year with the squad. Dixon completely flipped the script on former Head Coach Trent Johnson’s 2015-16 lineup, moving Malique Trent (who later transferred), Brandon Parrish, Chris Washburn, and Karviar Shepherd to reserve roles, while handing the keys to the aforementioned unknown commodities.
Continuity will be a strength this season for TCU, as all five starters and the top man off the bench return. Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson form a dynamic semi-dual point guard system in the backcourt to initiate the Horned Frog offense. Robinson, the former A&M guard, is the primary ball handler; he ranked 3rd in the Big 12 behind Jawun Evans and Monte Morris in assists per game last season. Fisher, the highest ranked recruit in TCU history, is more comfortable off the ball where he thrives on the three-point line (38.6% on 140 attempts last year). Both Fisher and Robinson are primed for big years – Fisher should vault his scoring average into double digits, while Robinson should improve upon his already respectable assist-to-turnover ratio. All-Conference honors could be in the future for both guards.
While Fisher and Robinson will garner the most attention in the backcourt this season, Desmond Bane appears to be the most poised to take a large leap in production. Bane was invited to the U-19 Team USA Training Camp this offseason, where he made the final 25 before being cut prior to the squad’s travel to Cairo. Bane’s unique combination of size (6’5”, 215 lbs.), ball handling (can play either guard spot), and shooting (.602/.377/.764) makes him a dangerous asset off the bench. Dixon will have an embarrassment of riches in the backcourt and a “#FirstWorldProblem” dilemma on deciding the minute splits for his three stud guards.
TCU’s frontcourt promises to be just as deadly as their backcourt this year. Kenrich Williams, a former JUCO recruit, exploded last season after missing all of 2015-16 with a knee injury. Williams has all of a sudden made his way into Draft conversations after his stellar NIT performance at the end of last year. Williams averaged 15.6ppg, 12.0rpg, 5.0apg, and 1.8spg on his way to earning the NIT Most Valuable Player. His versatility (a common theme with this Frogs squad) makes him a legitimate “three and D” threat and he should be one of the Big 12’s best rebounders again in 2017-18. J.D. Miller, a “glue-guy” with a decent jump shot, will slot in next to Williams at the 3/4 spot.
Vladimir Brodziansky, the Frog with the most accolades, looks to build on his impressive 2016-17 season in which he earned 2nd Team All-Big 12 honors. Brodziansky led TCU in scoring (14.1ppg) and ranked as one of the best shot-blockers in the country on the defensive end (37th in blocks per game, 30th in block percentage). The big man is an excellent finisher on shots around the rim (70% shooter on field goals at the rim), which he often gets through offensive rebounds and deft post maneuvers (he favors a sweet little baby hook that’s nearly unstoppable). As most tall Europeans are, Brodziansky is a strong outside shooter and actually led the Big 12 in free-throw percentage in conference play (86.7%).
Dixon’s top six is so good he may not need too much bench production for TCU to be successful, but the Frogs will have options off the pine. Aside from Bane, TCU brings in 4-star point guard R.J. Nembhard, a dynamic guard with an impressive first step and plenty of range. Nembhard’s contributions may be limited this season thanks to the multitude of guard talent in front of him, but watch out for this guy in the future. Up front, VCU transfer Ahmed Hamdy and 4-star center Kevin Samuel will round out the frontcourt rotation. Hamdy is a sizable post-man with a purely back-to-the-basket style of play – he’s not the most efficient of players, but he’ll be serviceable as a reserve big. Samuel will bring shot blocking off the bench in his first season. Like Nembhard, his court time will be limited at first, but the potential for more is certainly present. Australian redshirt freshman Kouat Noi could also play a role off the bench.
It’s easy to be bullish on TCU this season. The Frogs have a ton to like in their well of talent and natural pieces at each position; Dixon has a guy at every spot on the floor that can contribute at a high level. With the turnover at schools like Baylor, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State, TCU appears primed to compete for a top three Big 12 finish.