MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s safe to say that very few people had TCU pegged as one of the last two undefeated teams in Big 12 play, even if it is only three games into the schedule.
Big 12 coaches resoundingly voted the Horned Frogs as the league’s worst team in this year’s preseason poll — TCU had 11 points in a polling system where nine points would have indicated a unanimous choice for the cellar. There was even a considerable gap before ninth place, where Kansas State received 23 points.
That’s in the rearview mirror now.
TCU (12-3, 3-0) doesn’t figure to still be in front of the conference 15 games from now, but the Horned Frogs are certainly capable of putting themselves in the conversation for their second NCAA tournament bid of the 21st century.
But in order to do that, the Frogs need some quality road wins. Their record is puffed up by a home-heavy schedule. Thus far their only win away from Fort Worth is at Kansas State. So it can be expected that TCU will be playing with some urgency in Tuesday night’s 9 p.m. tip at No. 12 West Virginia (13-2, 2-1).
TCU coach Jamie Dixon is a familiar villain to West Virginia fans from his long tenure at Pitt, but his current team looks little like those he has coached in the past.
An astounding 41.7 percent of TCU’s points come from three-point range.
“He puts four guys on the floor that can really make shots,” said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. “He’s got to build everything around the 3. They really spread you out.”
Four Horned Frogs have hit at least 20 three-pointers this season, led by guard Desmond Bane’s 37. Jaire Grayer (24), Edric Dennis (22) and RJ Nembhard (20) can also shoot.
In contrast, West Virginia doesn’t have a single player in that territory. Sean McNeil leads the Mountaineers with 18 threes.
Though shooting the three has not shown itself to be a West Virginia strength this season, defending it has. The Mountaineers are second in the country against the three, with opponents only making 23.3 percent of their attempts.
Impressive as that stat may be, Huggins doesn’t believe his defense is anywhere close to reaching its potential yet
“We can get better when we improve our angles and rotations,” he said. “We’ll be able to get more live-ball turnovers. Then I think we’re pretty good. But we sure haven’t got there yet.”
TCU’s ability to go small would seem to be an effective counter for West Virginia’s front-court duo of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe. But Huggins thinks Culver has the athleticism to hang with TCU defensively.
“Derek’s done a really good job on the perimeter,” Huggins said. “Everybody’s talking about how good of feet he has for a guy who is 6-10.”