COACH AND PROGRAM
TCU is as healthy as it has been in two years entering the 2007-08 season. The Horned Frogs return four starters and their top six scores from a season ago, and a summer trip to Central America has coach Neil Dougherty feeling good about his team's prospects.
Now it's up to Dougherty and his players to prove they're ready for the task of returning TCU to respectability. Other than a 21-win season in 2005-06 that ended in the quarterfinals of the NIT, Dougherty hasn't won more than 13 games in any of his other four seasons in Fort Worth.
The MWC is expected to be wide open this season, giving an experienced team like TCU the opportunity for a quick rise, but the Horned Frogs have a long climb. Last year's team was miserable offensively. TCU was last in the MWC in scoring offense (63.1), scoring margin (-3.7), field-goal percentage (.413), three-point field-goal percentage (.331), free-throw percentage (.602) and assist-to-turnover ratio (.74-to-1). The Horned Frogs were also 302nd in the nation in turnovers per game (17.1).
The result of the offensive carnage was a team that lost games by an average of 14.2 points per game and scored more than 73 points just twice all season. Conversely, the Horned Frogs were held under 40 points twice. While the last two seasons, which have yielded a total of 19 wins, haven't been pretty, TCU has battled an unusually large number of injuries.
''We feel like we've been playing a little with one hand behind our back and, not to make any excuses, but we feel like now we are fighting with a full deck and let's go,'' Dougherty said. ''I think we are excited to get back out there.''
Part of the excitement comes from the trip to Central America that saw TCU go 5-1 and implement a more up-tempo brand of basketball. The Horned Frogs want to force turnovers that lead to easy baskets that can jump-start their offense.
''We found out a couple of things,'' Dougherty said of the August trip. ''One, we are very quick, very fast. We can get a lot of pressure on the basketball defensively. & It's really what I want to do [play fast] but I haven't been able to because of a lack of depth and injuries. We have some depth and we have some quickness. I just think we are more equipped to do it this year.''
One player equipped to do a little bit of everything is 6-8 senior Kevin Langford (13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg), who led the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago. Langford, who will probably play power forward, has the team's highest basketball IQ and he is comfortable handling the ball. He does most of his work in the paint but can't be ignored on the perimeter. Langford made 13-of-21 three-pointers (.619) in MWC play and worked to expand his range in the off-season.
''I think he can be one of the better front-line players in our conference,'' Dougherty said. ''I think he was close to that last year. He should be a kid that should be a double-double guy al-most every game. If he's doing that, I can promise you we are playing well.''
Also returning as a front-line starter is 6-8 senior Alvardo Parker (8.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .546 FG), who recovered well from off-season knee surgery. Parker, entering just his fourth year of or-ganized basketball, is active and athletic, but he's foul prone. He fouled out of four games despite averaging just 23.8 minute per contest.
The health and ability of 6-11 center Luke Tauscher, a red-shirt freshman who missed last season because of a back injury, could be pivotal to the Horned Frogs' hopes of improving. Tauscher, who was set for major minutes last season, gives otherwise undersized TCU a presence in the middle.
Though he was still working his way back into shape, Tauscher's play on the summer trip was encouraging.
''His rebounding in traffic was the most outstanding thing he did down there,'' Dougherty said. ''Getting him back in shape where he can play major minutes and strengthening his body up to withstand the season [is key]. I think he will be a bonus on the offensive end. He has a really nice jump hook around the basket and can shoot threes. He opens up the floor when he's out there.''
Tauscher is the only player on the roster taller than 6-8.
John Ortiz (Cali, Columbia/Colby CC), a 6-8 junior-college transfer, should be a significant part of the frontcourt rotation as well. Ortiz, a junior, is the team's most athletic player. He av-eraged 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game at Colby. Ortiz's ability to rebound could be important for a team that hasn't enjoyed an advantage in rebounding margin since the 1998-99 season.
While Langford, Parker, Tauscher and Ortiz should make for a nice four-man rotation in the frontcourt, there are concerns about an undersized backcourt. TCU doesn't have anyone on its roster that stands between 6-4 and 6-8. As a result, Dougherty has eight players 6-4 and under competing for minutes at three spots.
Returning is 6-2 senior Brent Hackett (11.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.8 apg). Hackett, who started 29-of-30 games after moving from point guard to shooting guard last season, was second on the team in scoring. He shot just 36.7 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from three-point range, but he is now more than a year removed from surgery on his right shoulder.
Neiman Owens (6.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) a 6-3 junior, started all 30 games at small forward. He was the rare Horned Frog that shot well, making 50 percent of his field goal attempts, but he was miserable from three-point range, making (.219). In the three-point happy Mountain West, having a 6-3 small forward that can't shoot from the perimeter isn't an asset. Owens is the team's best on-ball defender and he rebounds his position well.
Hackett and Owens will have competition for minutes. Keion Mitchum (5.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-0 guard who was academically ineligible for the spring semester, returns to the squad. Mitchum is jet quick and flashed the potential to be a good offensive guard. He shot a respectable 35.4 percent from three-point range and hit the go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute of a two-point win against Tulane.
Ryan Wall (7.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-0 senior, also figures to play important minutes. Wall, who transferred from New Mexico before the 2005-06 season, can play either guard spot in a crunch. He was fourth on the team in scoring last season and scored a game-high 19 points, on the strength of four three-pointers, in the TCU's biggest win of the season, 71-66 over then-No. 14 Air Force.
Junior Henry Salter, a 6-4 transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, will push for significant minutes as well. Salter, who averaged 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds as a sophomore, is the tallest and strongest of the team's wing players. A third team NJCAA All-American, if Salter is able to bring his offense to Fort Worth, he will be tough to keep off the court.
TCU's biggest concern is at point guard. Jason Ebie (1.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg), a 6-1 sophomore who battled knee problems a season ago, and 6-0 freshman Michael Scott (Philadelphia, Pa./Franklin Learning Center) are the leading candidates for the job.
Ebie is a superb athlete, while Scott is the more natural point guard. Martiese Morones (0.1 ppg, 0.4 rpg), a 6-0 sophomore, will also attempt to win minutes at the point as well.
On a team full of experience, TCU has virtually none at point guard.
''If we are healthy and a combination of those kids can handle the ball, we are going to be very competitive and with a little luck, very good along with that,'' Dougherty said.
With nearly 80 percent of its offense, 76 percent of its rebounding and four starters returning from a season ago, TCU should be improved. How much it improves is the larger concern.
The Horned Frogs' starting backcourt will likely stand 6-1, 6-2 and 6-3, and to this point hasn't proven it can shoot straight. Being small and unable to shoot, particularly in a fill-it-up league like the Mountain West, can be a fatal flaw.
Dougherty hopes to overcome his team's lack of size by speeding up the tempo, but TCU must be able to score to dictate pace. It's the classic chicken or the egg conundrum.
Langford is an all-conference caliber player, and if Tauscher is as good as advertised, the Horned Frogs should be strong up front.
The Mountain West is as wide open as it's been in years, so there is optimism for teams looking to make a jump, but unless TCU becomes a significantly better shooting team -- in all fac-ets -- anything more than a lower to middle-of-the-pack finish is highly unlikely.
Last Season 13-17 (.433)
Conference Record 4-12 (t-8th)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Neil Dougherty (Cameron '84)
Record At School 61-92 (5 years)
Career Record 61-92 (5 years)
RPI Last 5 years 193-122-75-288-182
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS