College Sports: Three things for TCU fans to know about Texas basketball ahead of Big 12 clash in NIT semifinals

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TCU men’s basketball will play the furthest away it has from home within the continental U.S. all season on Tuesday when the Horned Frogs take the court for the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

And despite the nearly 1,400-mile trek from Fort Worth to the Big Apple, TCU will be squaring off against an opponent that is roughly a three-hour drive south along the highway from Schollmaier Arena when tip-off arrives in the heart of Manhattan. 

Call it fate or something else, but Jamie Dixon and Co. have earned yet another date with Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns — less than a month removed from their Mar. 9 regular-season finale vs. each other in Austin — after both teams effectively utilized home court in the first three rounds to punch their tickets to the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Frankly, an all-Texas Big 12 clash in the NIT semifinals is the last thing just about anybody expected, considering the Horned Frogs and Longhorns both had NCAA tournament aspirations before ultimately falling short of that common goal. Now, one plot twist later, TCU has its chance to defeat Texas for the third time in 2019 as two in-state foes go head-to-head under the same roof that has hosted some of the game’s most magical moments. 

Alas, plenty has changed in the short time since the teams last met. Here are three things for TCU fans to get caught up to speed on regarding Smart’s squad heading into the matchup. 

Roach back, Hayes out 

While TCU’s 69-56 win over Texas at Frank Erwin Center earlier in the month — one that featured a career-high 34 points from Desmond Bane — was nothing short of impressive, the Horned Frogs benefitted from the absence of Texas guard Kerwin Roach that day in Austin. The senior and leading scorer for the Longhorns missed the team’s final five games of the regular season following a Feb. 22 suspension for a violation of team rules, returning in time for Texas’ Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas on Mar. 14. 

Roach, who hails from Houston, is averaging 14.8 points and 3.1 assists — both team highs — in addition to 4.5 rebounds per game entering Tuesday. In his four games played since returning from the suspension, he’s averaged 13.75 points per game, with an average of 15.67 points since the start of the NIT. 

Despite his return, the Longhorns will still be short of 100 percent come tip-off, as Smart told reporters last week that forward Jaxson Hayes will not play in New York in wake of a knee injury sustained earlier in March. Hayes had double-figures against the Horned Frogs in each of the regular-season meetings, including a season-high 19 points during the Mar. 9 matchup. The freshman has been sidelined for the entire duration of the NIT thus far, so the news doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Nonetheless, his absence puts the Longhorns down a young playmaker who was averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds a game in the regular season. 

Fresh off a dominant defensive showing

Texas’ true identity has been one of the biggest puzzles for Longhorns fans to solve this season. A largely schizophrenic campaign for Smart’s squad has featured highs among the likes of a 73-63 win over No. 17 Kansas in late January, coupled with lows that included five losses in the team’s final six games ahead of selection Sunday. 

Nobody would have guessed that last Tuesday though with the way the Longhorns buried Colorado in the team’s 68-55 quarterfinals victory. Everything fell in Texas’ direction during the first 20 minutes of the game, as the Longhorns charged to a 44-19 halftime lead after shooting 53.8 percent from beyond the arc and holding Colorado to just six points in the final 10 minutes of the half. Smart described it as Texas’ “best defensive half” of the season following the game.

That said, TCU hasn’t been any stranger to defense either, boasting one of the top 3-point defenses in the Big 12 during the regular season. In the NIT quarterfinals, the Horned Frogs held a high-scoring Creighton team to just 58 points, matching the lowest point total for Greg McDermott’s Bluejays on the entire season. If both TCU and Texas keep things up, don’t rule out a low-scoring matchup in New York. 

Texas’ history in the NIT

The Longhorns’ history in the NIT isn’t exactly rich, considering Texas has typically found itself in the NCAA tournament when it comes to making postseason appearances. 2019 marks just the fifth time the Longhorns have partaken in the NIT, and the first time in more than three decades. Prior to this spring, the Longhorns hadn’t appeared in the NIT since 1986, a campaign that saw Texas fall to Ohio State in the second round. 

Texas does have one NIT championship in the rafters, which came over North Carolina State 41 years ago in 1978. Before last week, that was the only time the Longhorns had advanced past the second round in the history of the event. Texas also had NIT appearances in 1980 and 1948.

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