FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU felt snubbed after being left out of the NCAA Tournament last season. As for those picking the Horned Frogs to now finish at the bottom of the Big 12 standings, no big deal.
"Preseason polls are just to get everybody talking," said guard Desmond Bane, the league's top returning scorer. "We're not going to finish 10th, that's for sure."
Outside looking in, there are easily a lot of questions about the much-changed Frogs. Along with the graduations of hometown guard Alex Robinson and big man JD Miller, seven other players have departed since the start of last season and all of them could have still had eligibility at TCU.
"Obviously we're not picked very high," coach Jamie Dixon said. "That's to be expected when you return so few guys."
There are nine scholarship newcomers, with former George Mason guard Jaire Grayer and former Texas-Arlington guard Edric Dennis Jr. among seven of them eligible to play this season. The roster is bolstered by seven walk-ons.
Preseason All-Big 12 guard Bane (15.2 points per game) and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Kevin Samuel (7.4 points, 6.9 rebounds per game) are the only returning starters.
"The craziest thing ... I feel like it's the most together team we've had as far as relationships and continuity. But as far as on the court, we're growing for sure," Bane said. "Our togetherness is there and if we can keep that, I feel like we can have a special year."
While there are plenty of changes on the roster, their coach who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area is back for his fourth season at his alma mater after discussions with UCLA about its opening at the end of last season.
Dixon is 68-41 with the Frogs, a postseason team each of his three seasons. Their 2018 NCAA Tournament appearance was only their second since 1987, when Dixon was TCU's point guard. They won the NIT title in 2017, and got to the NIT semifinals last season. TCU was one of the first teams left out of the 68-team NCAA field after struggling down the stretch, with six losses in seven games.
WHAT TO WORK ON
Samuel worked out for some NBA teams this offseason. The big man, who had more blocked shots (77) than missed shots (61) last season while shooting 67% from the field, called it a great learning experience. NBA scouts told him to be more aggressive and try to get his body fat down.
"So it was just like little things I know I can work on," the 250-pound Samuel said.
Dennis had an interesting journey to reach TCU, where he could be the starting point guard. The player from Dallas is at his third Division I school since initially going to a junior college in Hillsboro, Texas. He also played at Jackson State and UTA.
"I took the longer route to get here," Dennis said. "As a kid growing up, you know, of course, you think you're ready for it. But I really wasn't ready for it at the time. But I see that now. But now I'm definitely ready for it being older."
He averaged 14.3 points per game and had two 30-point games at UTA last season.
Kouat Noi was TCU's second-leading scorer as a sophomore last season at 13.9 points per game but he left school to play professionally in Australia. Kendric Davis played in all 37 games as a true freshman, but transferred to SMU, and Kaden Archie left for UTEP. Oft-injured point guard Jaylen Fisher decided during last season that he wasn't returning and is now at Grand Canyon University.
Even with the departures of forwards Noi and Lat Mayen, cousins from Sudan, TCU has five players on its roster from other countries. Samuel is from Barbuda, and the other four foreign players are freshman guards from Argentina (Francisco Farabello), Canada (Taryn Todd), New Zealand (Harrison Young), and Serbia (Nikola Vasiljevic).
Before their Big 12 opener Jan. 4 at home against Iowa State, the Frogs will play 10 of their 12 games in Fort Worth — nine on campus and another against USC in the new Dickies Arena only a few miles from campus. They open Nov. 7 at home against Southwestern University.