By Jeff Wilson
Frogs Today senior writer
Eight was always the magic number for the TCU men.
All season long they believed they would earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament if they could reach eight wins in Big 12 Conference play.
But if you thought TCU was headed to the NIT after blowing a 10-point second-half lead Feb. 23 at Texas, believe me, you’re not alone.
The Frogs were clearly on the bubble. They had lost 4 of 5 games and were sitting on six Big 12 wins entering the homestretch:
No. 9 Texas Tech at home, No. 6 Kansas at home and on the road two days later, and at West Virginia two days after that.
The Frogs needed to win twice, and a win in the Big 12 tournament probably wouldn’t hurt just to be safe.
They pulled both off, shocking Texas Tech on Feb. 26, Kansas on March 1 and Texas on Thursday, and on Sunday had their ticket punched to the NCAA Tournament.
Call the finishing stretch whatever you want. Improbable is a good word choice.
TCU had never beaten ranked opponents in back-to-back games — they have now — and the Frogs trailed by 20 late in the first half against Texas before a dominant second-half performance.
But now TCU is in the Big Dance.
“It took a lot of work in the gym all day practicing, going over who we were playing,” guard Mike Miles Jr. said. “We ultimately knew we had to come out and play hard in the rest of the games we had in conference, and that’s what we did and we put ourselves in a good position.”
The Frogs (20-12) are seeded ninth in the South Region and will play eighth-seeded Seton Hall (21-10) at 8:57 p.m. Friday in noted city of the south San Diego. The Frogs and Pirates have never played each other.
A win will likely pit the Frogs against top-seeded Arizona on Sunday at Viejas Arena. The Wildcats went 31-3, won the Pac 12 regular-season and tournament titles, and are riding a six-game winning streak.
But TCU has a fan in Kansas coach Bill Self, who gushed about the Frogs after the Jayhawks beat team Friday night in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
“I think TCU can beat just about anybody if they play well,” Self told reporters in Kansas City. “I love that team. I do.”
TCU will be on fresh legs, and Miles (ankle) and Eddie Lampkin Jr. (foot) will be on less gimpy legs. The Frogs should match up well with Seton Hall, which will have the edge in experience thanks to a roster loaded with graduate transfers.
“They have good guards,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon, who regularly faced Seton Hall while coaching at Pitt. “It’s funny. A lot of these kids I recruited back in the day because that’s how old they are.”
That’s nothing new for the Frogs, who were one of the youngest teams in the Big 12. They also played two players short throughout conference play and dealt with a COVID outbreak before Big 12 play started.
TCU played seven games in 14 days to end the season and competed in each one. The Frogs beat three ranked teams over a five-game stretch and upset a school-record five ranked teams this season.
Those experiences are hard to replicate no matter the average age of a roster.
“We’ve been going through adversity the whole season,” guard Chuck O’Bannon Jr. said.
As unlikely as reaching eight conference wins seemed to be only three weeks ago, it might be unwise to put anything past the Frogs this weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
“We want to win a championship, but it starts with Seton Hall,” Miles said. “If we’re going to do something that’s never been done at this school, we’ve got to get past the first team.”
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org