Well, you have to give it to the TCU Men's Basketball team. They may not make the post season often, but when they do they tend to stick around a little while. After making a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT during their last trip in 2005, the Frogs bullied their way into the vaunted Ehhhhh? Eight of the CBI Tournament with an 83-73 win over the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Panthers. The game was fairly close throughout, but the Frogs pulled away late to seal the deal in front of the faithful 1,062 at the DMC. Remember that number for later.
The most promising thing about the game, to me at least, would be the way everyone was involved. Six players hit double figures, led by Amric Fields and Craig Williams who both had 15. The Frogs shot 50% from the floor, including 48% from beyond the arc, against one of the better defensive teams they've faced all year. They also backed it up on the other end, holding the Panthers to 26% from three and 41% overall. The Frogs also won the rebounding margin, which has been a major key to winning for this team all year. That they did it with Hank Thorns nursing a rib injury - JC tossed off an almost non-sequitur about him falling in the shower in his post game presser, but I cannot confirm that - speaks volumes about how determined these guys are to extend their season, even if its only the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl of NCAA tournaments.
Perhaps the most telling part of the game was a 2 minute sequence in the second half with the Frogs leading by 7 after a Nate Butler 3, one of his three total for the evening, which the Panthers immediately answered to cut the lead back to 4. After Amric Fields and Garlon Green hit a couple of shots to push the lead back to 8, Milwaukee hit another three, dropping the lead back to five and making everyone shift in their seats a little. Amric Fields and the Panthers Paris Gulley would immediately trade threes to hold that lead at 5, but the Frogs never let the lead get any closer than that the rest of the way. My point being, with UWM hitting three 3's in that short of a span, TCU could've collapsed and let them steal the game. Instead, they came up with some big shots of their own, played solid defense and won by a decisive margin.
The Frogs now await the winner of tonight's Oregon State-Western Illinois game in Corvallis. Once that game is decided, the CBI will apparently reseed the tournament and decide the home team from there. This is confusing and runs counter to what I surmised yesterday about the home game decision making. This is why the CBI is probably not long for this world, so we better win it while it's available to us. All we know is that, no matter the opponent, said game will be played next Monday evening, giving Thorns nearly a full week to rest his ribs.
However, the long wait comes with a bit of a disclaimer due to the biggest development from last evening. Rhode Island - Christian's alma mater - has made him the leading candidate in their coaching search after firing long term coach Jim Baron. Before the season we were discussing who would succeed Christian at TCU at the end of the year after last year's embarrassment of a season, which would surely not improve this year. How the tables have turned...
Of course, being a football school, our first instinct is to think, "We're about to join the Big 12 and finally have a team that's worth at least half a damn - why on EARTH would Christian consider taking what amounts to a downward move?" I mean, if Patterson didn't leave TCU for HIS alma mater which was a perceivable step up at the time, why would Christian do the same for a "lesser" job? On the contrary, Christian has multiple reasons to leave TCU, and it all starts with that 1,062 number I alluded to earlier.
Just step back for a second and take a look at it. Seriously, I'll wait.
Yes, I realize why the number is so skewed compared to announced crowds all year - those take into account season ticket holders, seats that, if you've been paying attention, went mostly unfilled. So when the S-T reports an announced crowd of 4500, it's probably 1/2 of that. Everyone that attended last night's game had to buy a ticket, including the students, so it'd be hard to expect a sell out. But barely 1000? And, like I said, everyone that walked into the arena last night had to buy a ticket, so that is a legit number. For a post season game? That's enough to take the wind out of anyone's sails. And when you can go back to your roots and Coach your alma mater, a team that has been to three NCAA tournaments since TCU has been to one at a school where basketball comes first? I mean, makes you think twice, right?
The biggest reason to leave, though, is clearly the way the NCAA post season works. In the Big 12 TCU will have to compete against Baylor, Texas, Kansas and Kansas State every year. On top of that, West Virginia is on board for next season and there are rumors of Louisville and Cincinnati joining the Conference in the next round of expansion. Heck, even Iowa State made the tourney this year! And that's not even counting Texas Tech where Billy Gillespie has nowhere to go but up, and Oklahoma State, a school that takes their basketball VERY seriously and who was a perennial contender before Eddie Sutton drank his way into retirement. So, uh, yeah, you're pretty much playing catch-up against the entire conference. Unless we plan on hiring a sleaze like Scott Drew to cheat our way into a high tournament seed, the odds of making a huge impact are mediocre at best.
To continue, since 1997 when they began the Big 12 Conference Tourney, only 5 different teams have cut down the nets. So in a given year only 42% of the Conference has a realistic shot at getting an auto bid. The Atlantic 10 - Rhode Island's Conference - is a legit group, don't get me wrong there. But in that same span, EIGHT teams have won, and it jumps to nine if you count back one year. If my math serves me correctly, 90%!!! of the teams have won the tournament since 1996. U mad, Duquesne? Let's just say that thing is WIDE open.
On top of that, perennial contender Temple is moving back to the Big East, UMASS hasn't done much since Calipari cheated his way into a Final Four appearance and it was won this year by ST. BONAVENTURE! Seriously, WIDE OPEN. After Xavier, second place is open to the highest bidder, and second place in the A-10 will get you a dance invitation quite a bit of the time. And in a job where an NCAA bid is what pays the bills, that's a lot better for job security.
I'm not calling Christian a coward. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He has said all the right things amidst this chatter and says he wants to keep turning TCU around. But next year's TCU job is not the job he signed up for. We said that last year when we LOLjoined the Big East, and we can say it again now. Christian was perfect for Kent State, a small time team in a middle of the road Conference that was ripe for the taking every year. Had we remained in the MWC, I think Christian had us on the right track, if not to compete for the title, at least be in the tournament discussion late in the year. But moving into the Big 12 with the kind of support our basketball team gets is a job no one should covet. I hate it say it, but I think Christian has taken this thing as far as anyone outside of John Wooden is capable. It may be time to go back home.