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Know your non-conference opponent: TCU

NCAA Basketball: NIT Semifinal-Texas vs TCU Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Christian was so close to having a great season last year. They started 12-1, they beat Baylor, Texas twice, Florida, Iowa St twice, and had zero sub 100 losses. The Horned Frogs didn’t make the tournament, though, because they went 7-11 down the stretch, losing three in row twice. Much like Xavier and other Xavier opponent Lipscomb, TCU’s season ended at the hands of the Texas Longhorns in the NIT.

Jamie Dixon is the coach of Texas Christian after his long and successful stint at Pitt. Dixon’s teams at Pitt weren’t known for their flashy or sexy style of play (they were in the top 200 in tempo once in his time there), but they were efficient. Dixon has taken that penchant for efficiency and slowly increased the pace of play to the point where the Horned Frogs were 107th in the nation in tempo last season. It’s not breakneck, but no longer will you have time to make a snack run during a Dixon led team’s possession.

Key Departures:

Alex Robinson led the team with 6.9 assists per game and an assist rate of 37.2%. If he could have shot the ball well at all, he’d have been an elite point guard. As it is, his ball distribution and 35 minutes per game gone will leave a hole in TCU’s offense. 5-11 guard Kendric Davis won’t be stepping up to fill that hole, as he has transferred to SMU. Davis played 17.1 minutes per game and put up 6.3/1.7/2.0 in that time last season.

Jaylen Fisher (Grand Canyon) and Kouat Noi (Australian Basketball League) are also gone. Noi left early to go pro in his adopted homeland of Australia, where he lived after being born in Sudan. Jaylen Fisher was injured for most of last year but was excellent in the 24 minutes per game he did play. In nine games, Fisher averaged 12.1/2.4/2.7 with a glittering 128.9 efficiency. Fisher suffers from albinism, but it is a chronic knee injury that has him leaving Fort Worth. Fifth leading scorer and offensive rebounding specialist JD Miller also graduated.

Key Returnees:

TCU lost all four of their top usage players, but not their best player. Desmond Bane played 35.5 minutes per game, tops on the team, and put up a line of 15.2/5.7/2.4 on a 121.8 offensive efficiency. Bane was a deadly 42.5% behind the arc and 86.7% at the line. The dude can fill it up. Center Kevin Samuel also returns. Samuel is an efficient scorer (14th in the nation in EFG%), but was eighth on the team in usage last year. Where Samuels excels is in the dirty work. He was 36th in the nation with a 9.0% block rate and crushed the offensive glass to the tune of a 13.1% offensive rebounding rate.

RJ Nembhard, a 6-4 guard, is back for his sophomore season. Last year he had a 82.4 offensive efficiency, shot 29% behind the arc, and turned the ball over a quarter of the time he used it. His return may not be as universally welcomed as Bane’s. And... that’s it. TCU lost a lot last year and brings back a lot more in quality than they do in quantity.

Incoming Players:

6-4 guard PJ Fuller is the crown jewel of the Horned Frogs class, and he’s quite a get. Everyone from Florida to Arizona was in on him, but TCU landed him. He can shoot and get to the rim with equal aptitude, which is how you end up on every top 100 list in the nation. 6-8 forward Mickey Pearson is also a four star recruit and, even though he isn’t as highly regarded as Fuller, he drew plenty of recruiting attention. Diante Smith turned down offers from Xavier, Florida, and LSU to come play for Jamie Dixon.

Jaire Grayer comes over as a grad transfer from George Mason where injuries limited him to just eight games last year. He’s a 6-5 swingman who is serviceable on the glass but has done most of his damage as a 35% career three point shooter. Fellow grad transfer Edric Dennis Jr. is a 6-3 guard who averaged 14.3/4.5/2.3 for UT-Arlington last year. Dennis was 60th in the nation in shots (not shooting) percentage, but all that gunning was generally ill-aimed. Dennis’ 94.3 offensive rating was weighed down by the 202 three pointers that he converted at only a 30.2% clip.

Outlook:

In Desmond Bane and PJ Fuller, Jamie Dixon has the studs to build a team around. Samuels is a great complimentary piece, and the grad transfers bring experience. The question is whether Dixon can overcome the turnover he’s experienced to cobble together a contender. When the Horned Frogs come to Xavier it will be a matchup of a team trying to come together against one loaded with veteran talent and trying to return to the top.