IOWA CITY — Members of the Iowa basketball team couldn’t have told you much about the TCU basketball program until a week ago Friday.
Then the Horned Frogs went and stunned Kansas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. A few of the Hawkeyes happened to be watching the game.
So, as the Hawkeyes began preparing for their 4 p.m. encounter with TCU today in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, that was the one thing all of them could tell you about their opponent.
“They beat Kansas in March,’’ Iowa forward Nicholas Baer said. “That’s going to get your attention.’’
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery knew a little more about TCU before that, if only because of who the Horned Frogs’ head coach is.
McCaffery has known Jamie Dixon for many years and coached against him when McCaffery was at Siena and Dixon was the head coach at Pittsburgh. The two men also appeared together with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg in a highly entertaining commercial for the Infiniti Charity Coaches Challenge during the 2014-15 season.
“Obviously, I know Jamie well,’’ McCaffery said. “I’ve coached against him before and watched him at Pitt all those years. They’ve got one of the better coaches in college basketball, for sure. And he’s got them playing at a very high level.’’
TCU never has been remotely close to being a basketball power. It hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1998 and hadn’t even been in the NIT since 2005. Dixon was a starter on a Horned Frogs team that actually won an NCAA game in 1987 and he was lured back to his alma mater last year after 13 very successful seasons at Pitt.
After winning just eight Big 12 games in the previous four years, the Frogs took a precipitous step forward by making the NIT at the end of a roller coaster season.
They got off to an 8-0 start and still were in good shape to make the NCAA at 17-7 before losing the last seven games of the regular season.
But they showed what they are capable of doing against Kansas, which is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Obviously, they’re a very capable team,’’ said Iowa freshman forward Tyler Cook, who said he watched that game on TV. “We know they’re good. Every team in this tournament is good. We have to be prepared for a dogfight.’’
McCaffery said it doesn’t appear to him that TCU (20-15) has a glaring weakness.
“Everybody talks about their guards and their guards are tremendous,’’ he said. “Obviously great quickness. Kind of a throwback backcourt. Either one of them can bring it down. Either one of them can shoot threes. Either of them can drive, play off ball screens, play fast, grind it. You look at their assist numbers, the two of them, it’s fabulous.’’
Both sophomore Alex Robinson and freshman Jaylen Fisher have 140 or more assists this season while also combining for more than 21 points per game.
But McCaffery said he’s just as impressed with the TCU frontcourt, especially 6-foot-7 Kenrich Williams, who notched his 15th double-double of the season in an NIT-opening victory over Fresno State on Wednesday and was second in the Big 12 in rebounding.
“They’ve got three bigs but Williams really plays like a guard,’’ McCaffery said. “He has tremendous guard skills. He goes off the dribble, he makes threes. I’ve really been impressed with him.’’
The Hawkeyes (19-14) opened tournament play with an 87-75 win over South Dakota in which they shot 56.5 percent from the field. Freshman guard Jordan Bohannon recorded his second consecutive double-double, collecting 19 points and a career-best 11 assists.
“Obviously, our goal was the NCAA tournament, but any game at this point is huge ...’’ Bohannon said. “The NIT is a really good tournament. It wasn’t our goal but we’re going into it just trying to gain some experience and as long as we’re here, we might as well win it.’’