Team preview: TCU

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Give Neil Dougherty an entry in the "W" column for every warning he has heard about visiting new Mountain West Conference foe Wyoming in the dead of winter, and the fourth-year TCU coach can start making plans for mid-March.

Add a conference win for every piece of advice to "recruit big" to match the MWC's cache of 7-footers and the Horned Frogs will be in the middle of the MWC fray from the get-go.

Altitude in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming aside, Dougherty insists the biggest challenge will be learning a new set of venues and eight fresh conference opponents. Sure, there are no more games against Louisville or Cincinnati, but Dougherty knows no one will give him a bye when he walks into The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M., or the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

The last time TCU played current MWC teams was in 1999 when Billy Tubbs was coach and NBA journeyman Lee Nailon earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors.

Dougherty then crafted a roster to meet the athletic standards of Conference USA. The MWC makes the fourth conference in a decade, going back to the disbanded Southwestern Conference.

"We try to play fast," said Dougherty, who started from scratch in C-USA by taking aim at Louisville. "Either be more athletic legitimately or just appear to be more athletic. We're trying to recruit a little bit better athlete."

The long-time Roy Williams aide at Kansas waited for the right head coaching position to come along. It was an ideal fit. Dougherty instituted defense, discipline and an emphasis on academic achievement. It was hardly a quick fix, but TCU showed steady improvement, from nine to 12 wins and then a 21-14 season ending in the third round of the NIT. The continuity is there with the staff returning intact for its fourth year.

TCU joints its new league having lost five seniors, including three starters. But Dougherty doesn't view this as total rebuilding. He has returning starters in 6-4, 202-pound senior guard/forward Nile Murry (12.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and 6-9, 257-pound junior center Femi Ibikunle. If forward Chudi Chinweze, a starter as a sophomore, makes it back from December ACL surgery, Dougherty will be feeling pretty good about things.

"Three starters are somewhat of a nucleus," he said. "I don't feel we're starting over."

Although it involves more travel and playing a time zone or two earlier, Dougherty is delighted to move to a conference with a double round robin schedule and true champion. He didn't need to get too immersed in film to see the parity in the league made possible by Air Force's rise from the sub-300 RPI ranks.

Still, there's no avoiding the altitude factor, with five sites at nearly a mile above sea level or higher. It took on a positive motivation during off-season workouts.

Daugherty calls it "playing on the side of a mountain" and said his players are scaring each other into better conditioning. Told of Wyoming's "How's your oxygen?" signs, Dougherty said he might just post something about the Fort Worth humidity.

Regardless of league affiliation, Dougherty believes in preparation through a brutal non-league schedule. Last season Kansas became the first No. 1 ranked team to visit Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. This year's non-league slate includes several Big 12 schools and a trip to Syracuse.