TCU, the team that beat UCF in the second NIT semifinal Tuesday night to advance to play Georgia Tech in Thursday’s final, may sound familiar to Yellow Jackets fans.
1. The Horned Frogs have a first-year coach in Jamie Dixon, who left Pitt after 13 seasons to take the TCU job. Dixon was largely successful during his time coaching the Panthers, but fans were growing impatient by the end of his run after a downturn in the team’s postseason results. In coming to his new job, he has succeeded with a fresh start and the chance to take on a building project. (Josh Pastner made a similar jump from Memphis to Tech, although Dixon was returning to his alma mater, and Pastner was subject to disapproval that was more pronounced, rightly or wrongly.)
2. TCU was picked to finish last in the 10-team Big 12, but finished in a tie for seventh with a 6-12 record. (Tech was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC and finished in a tie for 11th.)
3. TCU had a landmark win, beating a team that would ultimately be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament – Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. It was the Horned Frogs’ first win over a ranked team on a road or neutral court since 1998. They were 0-49 since then. (Tech beat eventual No. 1 seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels had won seven in a row over the Jackets.)
4. They also beat two other NCAA Tournament teams, Iowa State and Kansas State. TCU hadn’t beaten Iowa State in 20 years and hadn’t won at Kansas State in 18 years. (Tech beat NCAA Tournament teams VCU, Notre Dame and Florida State. It was the first time the Jackets beat three top-25 teams in one season since 2003-04.)
5. Dixon preaches ball movement. TCU is 10th nationally in assists per made field goal, according to KenPom. (Tech is 13th in the same category.)
6. Dixon has also been credited with helping restore excitement around the team. He has won the most games of any TCU coach in his first year with the team. After beating the Knights, the Horned Frogs are now 23-15. (Pastner has also won the most games of any first-year Tech coach. The Jackets are now 21-15.
7. In his first season, Dixon has lavished praise on his seniors for their buy-in to his philosophy in their final season with the team. Tuesday, he referred to them as the “Four Believers.” (Pastner has given credit to seniors such as Josh Heath and Quinton Stephens for helping develop a culture of character and effort, although he has yet to come up with any clever names for them.)
8. TCU, against all odds, was on the cusp of making it into the NCAA Tournament in January before a slide in February ended that possibility. (Tech was considered to be in position to earn an NCAA bid before losing five of seven games, concluding with an ACC tournament loss to Pittsburgh.)
9. TCU has a player from San Antonio who has excelled in the classroom (three-time Academic All-Big 12 guard Michael Williams), and its football coach has a long track record of success and once coached at Navy. (O.K., that was a stretch.)
It should be noted that TCU is not comparable to Tech in the depths to which it had sunk and also in its lack of historical success. The Horned Frogs were 0-18 in Big 12 play three years ago and 6-48 in the past three seasons.
Tech was 8-10 in the ACC last year, won 21 games and went to the NIT quarterfinals. Where TCU ended a streak in which it hadn’t beaten a ranked team away from home since 1998, the Jackets last beat a ranked team on the road in 2015 (Miami).
Starting with the 1971-72 season, TCU has been to the NCAA Tournament twice; the Jackets have made 15 NCAA appearances over the past 33 years and reached the Final Four twice.
But, the comparisons between the two teams’ unlikely performance this season, and the roles of Dixon and Josh Pastner in the success, would seem apt, particularly now that they’ll meet in the NIT final.