Paul Watson, the Fresno State forward, was studying when the matchup flashed across the TV screen. The Bulldogs vs. Texas Christian in the NIT, marking the first time since 2001 that Fresno State will play in a postseason basketball tournament in back-to-back seasons.
Watson put the books aside to take a peek at TCU. Had to. Just, he laughed, for a few seconds.
“I definitely tried to stay in those books because I knew we were going back on the road,” he said. “But I knew we would be getting a lot of preparation.”
Fresno State has played nine games against Big 12 teams since the conference was formed in 1996. The Bulldogs are 3-6 with their most recent win coming at Iowa State on Dec. 3, 2005, an 84-77 victory.
The Bulldogs started that prep on Monday and practiced again on Tuesday morning before boarding a flight to Texas for the game Wednesday.
It’s a fairly long prep list facing a team from the Big 12; the Bulldogs had lost 13 games in a row against Power 5 programs before winning at Oregon State this season.
“They don’t really beat themselves. They take care of the basketball,” coach Rodney Terry said. “They’re a physical, hard-nosed-playing defensive team. They’re a really good rebounding team – they do a good job of crashing the glass hard. They’ll give you a little pressure up the floor, some zone press back to man-to-man, back to zone. We’ll see some 2-3. We’ll see some 3-2. They’re a good team.”
Terry complimented first-year TCU coach Jamie Dixon on the Horned Frogs’ style of play.
“Guard play, transition defense is really big for us getting back,” Terry said. “We have to do a good job containing (Alex) Robinson and (Jaylen) Fisher in transition. They push the ball up the floor really well. They run a lot of ball-screen stuff. Ball-screen defense is going to be really big for us in this game.”
The Horned Frogs also present an interesting matchup for the Bulldogs with Vladimir Brodziansky, a 6-foot-11 junior forward.
We’re going to go into a hostile environment against a really good team in the Big 12, a team that has a chance to be one of the top teams in their league next year. It’s a great opportunity for us.
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry
“You can’t let him get deep post because he’ll destroy you if he gets to the deep post,” Terry said. “He’s a really good player in there.”
Fresno State (20-12) has seen all that at points this season, which included five wins in a row to end the regular season and a No. 4 seed for the Mountain West Tournament. The Bulldogs were bounced there in the semifinals by Nevada, which went on to secure the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
But it hasn’t seen it from a team that has a victory over a No. 1 – the Horned Frogs (19-15) beat top-ranked Kansas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
TCU lost seven games in a row to end the regular season, but it’s a deceiving record. The Horned Frogs lost to Oklahoma State by three, 71-68. They lost to No. 12 West Virginia by one, 61-60. They lost to Kansas State by one, as well, 75-74. They lost at Oklahoma by five, 73-68. The Cowboys, Mountaineers and Wildcats all are NCAA Tournament teams. In that losing streak, TCU also had losses at Baylor, at Iowa State and at Kansas, a No. 3, a No. 5 and a No. 1 seed, respectively, in the big (NCAA) tournament.
But the Horned Frogs, like the Bulldogs, still are a young team that lacks a great deal of postseason experience.
TCU is working only its third winning season in the past 12 years and last was in a postseason tournament in 2012, playing two games in the CBI. It does not have a player on its roster with postseason tournament experience.
55.2 Deshon Taylor’s 3-point shooting percentage (16 of 29) in the past six games
Growth curves will be accelerated, starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and Watson, who is adding the NIT to trips to the CBI in 2014 and the NCAA Tournament last season, believes the Bulldogs can jump on the gas after back-to-back road wins at San Diego State and at Boise State toward the end of the regular season.
“We’re still playing our best basketball right now,” Watson said.
“We’ve grown over the course of the season,” Terry said. “We didn’t handle things very well early in the year. But the thing is, we’ve gotten better on the road.
“The thing with us, when we’ve struggled, we’ve turned the ball over. We have to take care of the ball. When we value taking care of the ball and we have low-possession games in terms of turnovers, we’re right where we need to be to win the game.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. TEXAS CHRISTIAN
- Wednesday: 5 p.m. at Schollmaier Arena (8,500) in Fort Worth, Texas
- Records: Bulldogs 20-12; Horned Frogs 19-15
- NIT seedings: Bulldogs No. 5, Horned Frogs No. 4 in the Iowa quadrant
- TV/radio: ESPN3/KFIG (AM 940)
- Notable: The Horned Frogs, in the first season under coach Jamie Dixon, are in the NIT for the first time since 2007. TCU averaged 65.9 points during a seven-game losing streak to end the regular season, but put up 82 points in beating Oklahoma and 85 in beating No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. The Horned Frogs are led by 6-foot-11 forward Vladimir Brodziansky, who is averaging 13.8 points per game. In conference play, he averaged 15.7 points per game.