2012-13: 11-21 (2-16)
In-conference offense: 0.86 points per possession (10th)
In-conference defense: 1.10 points per possession (9th)
When coach Trent Johnson took the job in Fort Worth before last season, it was plain that he was taking on an enormous challenge. TCU was unable to attain relevance during its seven seasons in the Mountain West, recording one winning season and an aggregate conference record of 30-80. Stepping up a conference rung to the Big 12 didn't figure to make the quest for hoops success any easier.
Johnson did have one thing going for him, though: a track record of developing big men. From Nick Fazekas at Nevada to the Lopez twins at Stanford to Chris Johnson at LSU, the coach can say he's coached multiple first-round draft picks, and in some cases contributed significantly to their development. Dallas native Karviar Shepherd was sold on that message when he committed to TCU in October 2012. The lanky 6-foot-10 post man from Dallas has the Chris Johnson body type and is considered one of the best players to ever commit to TCU, ranking 77th in the ESPN RecruitingNation Top 100. Shepherd is expected to block shots and provide above-average offense. Assuming he can stay out of foul trouble, big minutes will be reserved for him.
Projected starting lineup
While Shepherd's presence is an exciting development for the program, there are a few things the coach does not have going for him this season. Most notably, there's a big question mark about where points will come from. Last season, the Horned Frogs owned one of the worst offenses in high-major basketball. Only 45 teams in Division I ranked worse in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. TCU managed to hit less than 40 percent of its 2-point shots in conference play, the worst figure in the Big 12 conference in at least a decade. Shepherd's availability will help, but it's rare to get efficient offense from a freshman big man.
TCU will at least have some experience at point guard. Junior Kyan Anderson will run the show again; over the last 10 games of his sophomore season, he sat on the bench for a total of 26 minutes. Anderson's unique trait is an ability to take the 3-pointer. Of course, this is not an unusual sight in a college basketball game, but Trent Johnson has a history of consistently regarding the 3 as a last resort on offense. The Horned Frogs ranked 327th in the nation in the percentage of shots they took from beyond the arc. Anderson should have a viable backup this season because Johnson signed 6-2 Michael Williams, who figures to get some playing time. Backcourt minutes will also go to 6-6 Jarvis Ray, who played 10 games last season before being declared academically ineligible.
TCU is hoping to get some help from 6-9 junior Amric Fields, who blew out his knee 12 seconds into the third game last season. Recovery from the torn ACL hasn't gone as smoothly as it could have, and Fields wasn't cleared for contact until late in the offseason.
Fields' contributions became more important when Devonta Abron tore his Achilles tendon in August. Abron was deserving of more minutes last season but was forced to split time with senior Adrick McKinney at the 5. Among rotation players, Abron had the fourth-best offensive rebounding percentage in the conference last season. Additionally, he made 53 percent of his shots (all 2s), drew a bunch of fouls, and blocked a few shots, too. In an offense dependent on getting to the rim and compensating for a poor field goal percentage with offensive rebounds and free throws, Abron was a nice fit.
Unfortunately, Fields isn't going to impress anyone with his rebounding numbers. As a sophomore, he somehow failed to post a double-digit defensive rebounding percentage, and grabbed a scant one in 20 rebounds on the offensive end. However, he did make 62 percent of his 2-point tries in his most recent full season, and demonstrated some range by going 31-of-90 (34.4 percent) from 3-point land. Fields' skill set would make him a viable wing, but given all the backcourt depth on this team, he'll need to discard the 3-point shot and battle for rebounds.
Further frontcourt support will arrive with 6-10 Aaron Durley, who I'm guessing is the only two-time veteran of the Little League World Series playing in D-I hoops. Durley missed last season after a preseason ACL injury, and he brings bulk to the court that should make him a serious rebounding threat, an area where the Frogs desperately need some help.
It's pretty clear expectations shouldn't be very high in TCU's second season in the conference. Sure, the Frogs beat two eventual NCAA tournament teams. (That was as many as Wichita State, which found itself in the Final Four -- that should be in the media notes.) But you can't make the case that their 2-16 conference record was the result of bad luck; the Horned Frogs' closest losses were by nine points, and both of those were to fellow doormat Texas Tech.
But there almost certainly will be improvement, and the fact that so many minutes will go to freshmen is encouraging. In addition to Shepherd and Williams, Johnson is expected to give meaningful playing time to Brandon Parrish and Hudson Price (son of former NBAer Mark), a pair of 6-6 freshmen wings. The incoming freshman class is rated 34th in the country by ESPN RecruitingNation, and that doesn't consider Fields and Durley as newcomers even though neither saw action during the 2012-13 Big 12 season.
The infusion of talent, though inexperienced, will be enough to improve the offense, although the progress may be slow initially. It's been four seasons since Johnson has coached an above-average D-I offense, so it's prudent to be skeptical as to whether significant strides will be made this season.
Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 10th