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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Commentary: Can Jamie Dixon give TCU the one thing missing from his resume?

March 17, 2023 Updated Fri., March 17, 2023 at 11:36 p.m.

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon yells from the headlines during their game against Baylor in February at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth.  (TNS)
TCU head coach Jamie Dixon yells from the headlines during their game against Baylor in February at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth. (TNS)
Mac Engel Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jamie Dixon doesn’t require a reminder, but the Final Four is the one achievement noticeably missing from his resume.

Again, no need to remind him.

When he left Pittsburgh in 2016 for Fort Worth, the lack of a Final Four appearance had become a loud point of “discussion” among the alums and fans. He’s never been there.

He consistently had Pitt “around it,” but never in it, and fans/alums/boosters were tired of that reality.

The Final Four is not some ghost he’s chasing. The Final Four doesn’t keep him up at night.

“Be the best team you can possibly be with with the players you have. That has always been my guide,” he said. “Not the Final Four.”

He doesn’t technically need the Final Four to be successful at TCU, but he’s like every other coach. A Final Four is validation.

They all want it, even if they don’t need it.

Dixon currently has 466 wins as a Division I coach, and his .686 winning percentage ranks among the best among active coaches.

And if you look at the list you will see Jamie Dixon’s name among those such as Mark Few, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, Rick Pitino, Bob Huggins, Jay Wright, etc. The only thing they have he does not is that Final Four.

Dixon’s currently team is his best chance to reach the Final Four in more than 10 years.

TCU is the No. 6 seed in the West Region of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, and will play the winner of Arizona State/Nevada in the first round on Friday night in Denver.

The odds of a six seed reaching the Final Four aren’t exactly great. Since the tournament field was expanded to 64 teams, three six seeds have reached the Final Four. It’s been 31 years since a six made the Final Four.

Jamie Dixon in the NCAA Tournament

In his 13-year tenure as the head coach at Pitt, Dixon reached the NCAA Tournament 11 times and he had a handful of teams that could have won the national title.

A coach knows when he has the right team that can do it, but that doesn’t mean it happens.

“It’s matchups and upsets,” Dixon said. “One year when I was an assistant at Pitt, we had the path. There were a bunch of upsets and we had it.”

Every coach has an NCAA tourney horror story about a team that could have reached the Final Four, but some cute little Cinderella screwed it up.

Dixon was a part of head coach Ben Howland’s staff at Pitt in 2002 that was a three seed. There were a bunch of upsets in the first two rounds, and Pitt had “the path” to the Final Four.

Naturally, Pitt lost in overtime in the Sweet 16 to 10th-seeded Kent State. (BTW: An assistant on that Kent State team was future TCU head coach, Jim Christian).

Dixon replaced Howland in 2003, and twice in his run at Pitt the Panthers won 30 games; twice he had No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and three other occasions his team was the three seed.

In 2009, Pitt was the one seed, reached the Elite Eight and played the three-seed, Villanova. The game was tied at 76 with 5.5 seconds remaining when Nova guard Scottie Reynolds dribbled the length of the floor and hit a floater with .05 seconds to win.

More than a decade later, that shot haunts what was Dixon’s best team at Pitt.

“Every time I see it, it just makes me sick,” Pitt center Gary McGhee told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2019. “I thought that was the year.”

The next season, Pitt was a three seed but lost in the second round.

In 2011, Pitt was the one seed and led eight-seed Butler by one point with less than four seconds remaining. The Panthers lost in a chaotic finish, 71-70.

That was Dixon’s last, best, chance for a Final Four team in his time at Pitt.

“At Pitt we were so good for so many years it was always how we did in the tournament,” he said. “My goal was to get here and do that. That you’re asking me about it seems like we’ve done that now.”

Not quite. He does not have TCU at his Pitt levels. TCU hasn’t earned a one-seed, or reached a Sweet 16.

There is positive, however, momentum. There is expectation.

Expectations for TCU basketball

It helps Dixon inherited a program where the bar was a solid 12 inches off the floor; his team has cleared that and built a level of interest that never previously existed.

For decades the school had not invested in men’s basketball; other than a couple of spurts under Jim Killingsworth in the 1980s and Billy Tubbs in the ‘90s, interest in the team was sporadic to mostly non-existent.

When Dixon left Pitt in the spring of 2016 he walked into a job that finally gave its head coach a chance to compete. Previous coaches at the school had no real chance of doing anything other than maybe reaching the NCAA tournament.

Whatever happens in this tournament Dixon’s era at TCU is a success. The basketball team is now a complement to the university, and a viable point of sale.

TCU’s win over Seton Hall in the 2022 NCAA tournament was the school’s first tourney win in 35 years. This is the first time since 1952 TCU has made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

TCU has made the NCAA tournament in three of Dixon’s seven seasons in Fort Worth. The 2020 season had no NCAA Tournament because of COVID; TCU won the NIT in his first season, 2017, and reached the NIT semifinals in New York City in 2019.

At Kentucky, that resume gets you fired.

At TCU, it gets you an extension.

Jamie Dixon wants to do more than this. Now he has a team good enough to potentially to do what he did at Pitt, and push for the one thing missing from his resume.

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