Monday, February 27, 2012

What's Next for the BasketFrogs?

naaaaaaah.

Surely by now everyone here is familiar with TCU's stunning upset of 18th ranked New Mexico this past Saturday at the DMC. You're also all probably pretty aware that the most shocking thing about it wasn't the tic mark in the win column - it was the final score of 83-64. Now is where you would typically slip in the usual, "AND IT WASN'T EVEN THAT CLOSE" type jargon, but when you beat a top 20 team by 19 points - one that had drummed you by 17 not long before - I think it's fair to say that the final margin looks almost generous. And, not to toot my own horn - ok, to toot my own horn - I pretty much called it earlier in the week, albeit while at the same time suggesting we would lose to Air Force.

Still - I don't think anyone expected the goings on of Saturday, and you're a liar if you say you did. With the score tied at halftime and UNM shooting a comfortable percentage from the field, the Frogs absolutely clamped down after the half, holding the Lobos to 40% shooting at a dreadful 4/17 night from long range. The game was back and forth to begin the half, but a brief episode of the Amric Fields Show broke and the game was never in doubt. Fields didn't have a huge night - just 11 points on a rough 3/12 night from the field - but it's WHEN he scored that put the game away. Consider - with 11.5 minutes to go in the second half the Frogs led 50-48 off of a Connell Crossland put back dunk. At the time, Fields had scored 0 points and it looked like he was going to be a complete non-factor in the outcome of the game. ONE MINUTE later, TCU led 58-48 after 8 consecutive points by Fields. You see what happens, Larry? You see what happens when Amric Fields plays to his potential? From there, the Frogs would slowly pull away as New Mexico was apparently overwhelmed by the intimidating atmosphere of the cavernous DMC.

The Frogs have now beaten three Top 25 caliber teams this year, and two in a row for the second time in school history. True, TCU pretty much has to hit double digit 3-pointers to win either game, but statistically they are the best at that in the Conference, so a cold night would be unexpected. At 17-11, TCU guarantees themselves a winning record for the first time since the Santee era and sit alone in second place in the MWC. With wins over Wyoming and San Diego State to close things out, they would have a genuine shot at tying for the Conference title with second place being a worse case scenario.

Let that last sentence sink in for a little while.

Ok, ok, so I'm still not ready to buy in completely. I've said enough negative things about the basketball team to date that it'd be beyond fairweather and hypocritical of me to all of a sudden sing their praises. That said, if Jim Christian isn't a shoo-in as MWC Coach of the Year, then they should probably do away with the award. We all know the bare bones situation he inherited when he came in, so there's no need to rehash. But it seems like we all, myself included, completely disregarded the rebuilding situation he had to deal with by suggesting that he wasn't the guy. I'd say taking a 1-15 MWC team from last season and turning them into the most dangerous team in the Conference at present turned those tables a bit.

About that post season stuff though... at present, there isn't any late breaking information and you won't find our name in any of Bracketology predictions. However, I think we're a LOCK for the NIT barring a three game losing streak to end the season/tournament. TCU is currently sitting at 83 in the RPI rankings, up about a dozen spots from earlier in the week. Thanks to the narrow losses at Colorado State, SMU and Boise, TCU is very, very much on the outside looking in for an NCAA berth; Win those and, based on the recent resume, the Frogs are on the bubble at the very least. If we're being realistic, the NCAA's will more than likely require getting in via a Conference Tourney Championship. But considering that this time last year the Frogs were in the midst of a 13 game slide, it's nothing short of amazing that we're having any sort of post-season discussion in the first place.

So what can we expect from TCU going forward these last two games and into the Conference tournament to boost that resume? According to Teamrankings.com, not too much. TCU currently projects as having a 0% chance of winning the Conference regular season crown and only a 1% chance of winning the tournament. Considering the Frogs would have to make up two games with two to go to win the Conference outright, and that the tourney isn't at Amon G, these are probably fair assessments. But still... who wants to play TCU right now?

I earlier suggested that TCU would likely win Saturday and a week later against San Diego State with a loss at Wyoming sandwiched in between, and I'm not yet ready to waver from that. Wyoming may only be 5-7 in MWC play but they are an impressive 13-3 at home including a win over UNLV, although all three losses have been in Conference play. We plan on having a more comprehensive preview the day of the game though, so that's all we'll discuss here. As for San Diego State, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it as well. For now, let's just enjoy the ride the best TCU Basketball team of the past near-decade is taking us on.

TCU-Fullerton recap

Alright, fair-weather TCU fans. It's time to jump off the baseball bandwagon. At 2-4, this year's squad is obviously not going anywhere- so why waste your time with them? For the rest of us that realize there is going to be a significant learning curve for such a young (and injury-riddled) team, though, it's nice to see some gritty performances by freshmen and sophomores in this tough opening stretch of the season- even if the downs have the ups out-numbered so far.

Nobody filled the role of a young player stepping up in a big moment this weekend more than Jerrick Suiter. The 6'4" 235lb true freshman from Indiana, made his debut at the plate on Friday (although he did pitch 2/3rds of an inning last week against Baylor) with two outs in the top of the 8th, two runners on and the Frogs trailing 1-0. The first pitch he saw turned into a triple, and he later scored himself to provide the difference in the 3-2 win.

But Suiter wasn't alone in illustrating the good things that are still to come for this green squad. Freshman shortstop Derek O'Dell had a hit in all three games, including his first career home run on Saturday. Braden Mattson had two timely hits and drew two walks on the weekend, while showing that he can catch as well as play first if needed. Reliever Preston Morrison had another great outing, working a very efficient three scoreless innings to help preserve Friday's victory.

Of the veterans on the squad, it was good to see the bats of outfielders Jason Coats and Kyle Von Tungeln come alive this weekend. Coats spread seven hits over the weekend, including a 4-5 performance on Sunday that fueled the near-comeback. Von Tungeln had five hits in the series, including his first career home run. On the mound, Andrew Mitchell played the role of staff ace well on Friday when he struck out 12 batters in his five innings of work. Closer Kaleb Merck struck out four in his three scoreless innings of work, and sophomore righty Nick Frey worked three gutsy innings of relief on Sunday- keeping the Titans at bay while the Frogs nearly rallied to win the game.

The next eight games are at home, and all against teams that the younger players on the roster will see a lot of over the next few years (Texas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Tech). Hopefully a few more of the vets can get back to normal (or in a lot of cases, healthy) and a few more of the new guys can start to make their own contributions as this team begins to erase the memory of this sub-.500 first part of the season.

Morning Dump

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