Yes, Monday night, TCU beat Grambling State, a team that has zero wins against Division I teams this season.
Yes, TCU’s 12-0 record consists of victories over three SWAC teams, the worst team in the Pac-12 (Washington State) and what will probably turn out to be a middle-of-the-pack SEC team in Ole Miss.
Yes, TCU hasn’t been challenged all that much. But that’s not anywhere near the point that will be made in the following paragraphs.
Bottom line, when you look at the no. 25 ranking on the Associated Press Top 25 poll right now, you see “TCU” next to that number. The Horned Frogs — the same program that went 0-18 in Big 12 play last season and 9-22 overall — are ranked in the Top 25, in basketball. And judging by what they’ve got on the roster, there’s nothing stopping them from being a .500 team in conference play by March and, dare anyone say it, an NCAA Tournament team.
Trent Johnson’s team doesn’t do it pretty. His top scorer is Kyan Anderson at 12.8 points per game. Next on that list? Kenrich Williams at 9.5 per. But the Horned Frogs’ scoring depth has made having a big-time scorer unnecessary, with six players averaging between 9.5 and 7.4 points per game.
But the Horned Frogs are winning collectively. They’re in the Top 50 nationally in rebounds, points and assists per game, as well as team field goal percentage and blocks (which they’re ranked 10th prior to the Grambling win). They’re 13th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 55.7 points per game. They’re not just winning, but winning effectively.
Again, the schedule sucks, we know. But look at the program’s last two seasons in non-conference play, which included 18 total wins. Losses to Tulsa, Houston and SMU in 2012-13 and Longwood last season. Despite easy non-conference slates then, they still lost games to beatable teams. Their progress to this point is purely just a decent step in the right direction.
The development of talent is also an obvious contributor to TCU’s early success. Karviar Shepherd going from highly-touted freshman to dependable sophomore (a team-leading 7.1 rebounds per game, with 14 points and nine rebounds against Ole Miss) has helped. Senior Amric Fields’ staying dependable despite his stats dropping has set an Unselfish tone. Nine players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
As the sentences above have shown, TCU has become all about depth. Anderson paces the team — he also leads TCU with 4.6 assists per game — but behind him are a group of players who seem to do whatever’s asked of them.
Is anyone expecting Johnson and his team to challenge Kansas for Big 12 supremacy? Nah. But for a team that has only been to seven NCAA Tournaments in their history, the last coming in 1998, finding their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble would be extensive progress.
Find David on Twitter at @David_Harten.