Analysis: Why TCU’s loss to Iowa State was so troubling

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During Jamie Dixon’s storied coaching career, he’s seen a little bit of everything. So there’s not much that can surprise him.

But after Dixon watched his TCU men’s basketball eam turn the ball over 18 times in the first half and 27 total against Iowa State on Saturday, even he was at a loss for words in the aftermath of TCU’s 73-72 defeat to the Cyclones on Saturday.

“I guess nothing surprises you, but everybody has bad stretches, four minute stretches,” Dixon said. “But it just continued for 20 minutes.”

The final play of the half in particular had Dixon at a loss for words.

“The last play of the half was unbelievable,” Dixon said. “We literally threw the ball to the other team and then we rush out to guard at half court when the guy is already behind us for a layup. We made mistakes and then compounded them with our next move.”

That’s what made the latest conference loss so worrisome. After not finding a way to put away Cincinnati away on the road, the Horned Frogs had an excellent opportunity to bounce back with its third ranked win of the season.

Instead TCU came out and played some of the sloppiest basketball you’ll see and while the Horned Frogs deserve some credit for making the game competitive late, the effort in the comeback can’t mask what happened in the first 30-35 minutes of the game.

Add in the fact the Cyclones were playing without their best player Tamin Lipsey and their second best player Milan Momcilovic missed most of the first half with foul trouble and it’s hard to not to view Saturday as a bad loss.

One of the things that stung Dixon the most was TCU’s inability to make the most of the best home crowd of the season with TCU students back in force after a lengthy winter break.

“We’ve tried to create this home court advantage, tried to win every home game, that’s been my mission here,” Dixon said. “To come out and play like this with a good crowd was disappointing. Home losses destroy what you’re trying to do.”

Saturday was another reminder that as well as TCU played against Kansas, Oklahoma and Houston that there’s still some clear question marks about the Horned Frogs. The lack of a true point guard hurt TCU again as Iowa State harassed every single guard the Horned Frogs tried to use to initiate the offense.

After Jameer Nelson and Avery Anderson combined for 10 turnovers in the loss to Cincinnati, the transfer guard duo had 12 against Iowa State. While the two combined for 10 assists against the Bearcats, they both only accounted for two total against the Cyclones.

To be clear, all of the guards and wings had at least three turnovers outside of Micah Peavy, so they weren’t the only ones struggling with ball security. However, more is expected and needed from the two additions that were brought in to replace Mike Miles and Damion Baugh.

TCU’s pacing, which has led the Horned Frogs to have the top-ranked fast break offense, masked some of the issues. It’s easier to create for others when there’s a numbers advantage or plenty of open spacing.

But what happens when a team takes away that tempo from the Horned Frogs? While TCU showed strides of better half court execution to start Big 12 play, the last two games have shown it’s still a work in progress.

“It’s hard to fathom, but it’s on me,” Dixon said. “Maybe I said it too much about the ball pressure and over-penetrating... We just didn’t handle it well. I don’t know why, we play a similar defense. 27 turnovers it makes it hard.”

Winning games in the Big 12 is already hard enough, but trying to win league games when you’ve had 46 turnovers in the last two games is near impossible.

The fact that TCU had a chance to win both games in the final minutes still says a lot about the Horned Frogs’ ceiling, but ultimately all the talk about potential will need translate to consistently producing wins. It’s not time to panic because the beauty of the Big 12 is that there will always be another chance to secure a marquee victory.

Going 2-0 this week with road wins over Oklahoma State and Baylor would do a lot for the team’s confidence and tournament resume.