No. 20 TCU hosts Cal State Bakersfield in opener
TCU basketball has come a long way in the three seasons since coach Jamie Dixon returned to his alma mater, earning the National Invitational Tournament title in 2016-17 and garnering its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 20 years last season.
Now the Horned Frogs, ranked 20th in the preseason Associated Press poll, are poised to take another step, albeit with a mostly unproven lineup.
TCU will begin its 108th season of men's basketball when it hosts Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth.
It's just the second time in school history that the Horned Frogs start the season ranked in the Top 25. The last time TCU was ranked in the preseason was when it was No. 24 prior to the start of the 1998-99 campaign.
Dixon is quick to say that there are plenty of questions to be answered about his team, which loses its top two players -- forward Kenrich Williams and center Vladimir Brodziansky -- from last season's squad, which went 21-12 (9-9 in Big 12 play) and dropped its final three games, including an NCAA Round of 64 contest to 11th-seeded Syracuse.
"The ranking is based on what we can become - we're not that right now," Dixon said. "We're a team that's interesting because we've got five returning guys, and eight new guys. That's not a group that screams of experience."
Senior guard Alex Robinson was named preseason honorable mention All-Big 12 and is one of 20 players on the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year award. Robinson, who is from Fort Worth, started his collegiate career at Texas A&M before transferring back home.
"When I was getting recruited, I wanted to go here because of my mom, but at the same time, it would have been a big risk for me," Robinson said. "Now it's not a risk, it's a place where you want to go. It's a destination people want to be at."
TCU guard Jaylen Fisher had offseason arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and it is unclear whether he will play in the opener.
CSU Bakersfield was picked to finish fourth in the Western Athletic Conference after going 12-18 overall and 5-9 in the WAC last season.
The Roadrunners' athleticism will be their strength, as Bakersfield wants to play at a fast pace. The squad has a knack for defense and hustle, and will need both since the roster features no one taller than 6-foot-9.
The Roadrunners lost three starters from last season's squad, but return 67 percent of the team's scoring and 60 percent of the minutes played. A large group of underclassmen are ready for the upcoming year with vital experience under their belts.
"We have got some guys that have really grown," Cal State Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. "We've got some guys that took another step. This may be the hardest-working team, in the offseason, that I have ever coached."
Roadrunners senior guard Damiyne Durham was selected to the preseason All-WAC first team. Durham is from Oakwood, Texas, a small town 147 miles southeast of the TCU campus. He first signed with Baylor and redshirted the 2014-15 season.
The Roadrunners are two seasons removed from their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance (which came after the 2015-16 campaign).
It's the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Updated November 6, 2018