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BON Roundtable: Rick Barnes returns to Austin

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Plus, should we expect another deep run from Vic Schaefer and the Women’s team?

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This week's roundtable focuses on former Texas head coach Rick Barnes as he returns to Austin for the SEC/BIG 12 Challenge on Saturday. We also answer some questions regarding Coach Beard and the Longhorns who have two straight but face a daunting upcoming schedule. Plus, Vic Schaefer and No. 9 Texas are on a roll as of late...is this a preview of things to come?

Former Texas Longhorns coach Rick Barnes returns to the 40 acres on Saturday in the SEC/BIG 12 Challenge between Texas and Tennessee. Barnes finished with a 402-180 record in his 17 years at Texas and led the Horns to Final Four birth, 2 Elite Eight’s, 4 Sweet Sixteens, and 3 Big 12 Regular Season Titles. What is your favorite Rick Barnes memory at Texas?

Cameron Parker (@camerondparker)- I’m going to cheat since I wrote the question. Rick Barnes and his domination over Roy Williams and UNC is my favorite moment(s). I’m partially biased because my first Texas game was the Cory Joseph game-winner in Greensboro against the Tar Heels. I’m not sure any college team was as dangerous as the Longhorns were during November and December under Rick Barnes.

Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) - I came down from Indiana to go to UT in 2002, so there’s no question that watching the TJ Ford-led team that went to the Final Four during that season is my favorite memory. It wasn’t just Ford, either – that team had a mental and physical toughness to it thanks to guys like Royal Ivey and James Thomas. When Barnes got away from recruiting those types of players, I think it had a big impact on the decline of his tenure.

Gerald Goodridge (@ghgoodridge) - I was lucky enough to be at the 2007 game overtime game when they upset A&M in overtime. Kevin Durant and Acie Law battling back and forth was a thing of beauty. When Damion James blocked that last layup from Law to keep him from tying the game in the second overtime, I thought the roof would blow off the top of the Drum. That place deservedly has a rep for having a terrible crowd environment, but that night was not the case.

Abram Orlansky (@waorlansky)- The Final Four appearance was my freshman year and even as good as the football team was that season (2002), it was Barnes’ TJ Ford-led squad that really made me a Texas fan. The specific Barnes memory would have to be that the excitement on campus was so palpable that to get decent student seats for conference games, we had to line up outside the Drum hours before tipoff. Barnes started sending pizzas out to us while we waited for the doors to open, which was a small gesture but added substantially to the students’ feeling of buying in to what he was doing.

When Texas and Barnes parted ways at the end of the 2014-15 season, the Longhorns hadn’t advanced past the Round of 32 in 8 years. Since Barnes was let go, Texas has yet to advance past the Round of 64. Looking back on it now, would you still make the same decision if you were the Texas Athletic Director?

Cameron - It’s easy to look at the lack of success in the post-season since 2015 and think it would have been different under Barnes. But I’m not so sure. Texas had a couple of good years but largely each season under Barnes finished underwhelming, especially during his finals year. I still believe it was the right move, but the Longhorns brass messed up the next hire.

Wescott - Even with the benefit of hindsight, I believe that Texas made the right decision by moving on from Barnes. It just wasn’t working at that point and I don’t think there was a high likelihood of Barnes being able to turn things around on the Forty Acres.

Gerald - It’s hard to just past decisions based on current information, it’s a recipe to go insane. That being said, at that point Barnes had continually underperformed – the aforementioned Durant team absolutely crapped the bed against USC – which should have been a sign of things to come. We were convinced that was a fluke after going to the Elite 8 the next year, but then the string of early exits started. At that point, the relationship between Barnes and the fans couldn’t really be salvaged.

Abram - In basketball and baseball, my thinking has always been that it makes more sense to judge coaches on the seed than the tournament performance. By its nature, the tournament itself is a poor measure of how good a team or coach is; one bad game and that’s it. After a 35-game season. The seed indicates how you’ve performed over the course of the full season, and in Barnes’ last four years Texas was an 11 seed, a 7 seed, missed the tournament, and then an 11 seed again. The decision to seek a fresh start with a coach then universally agreed to be the hottest on the market was, at the time, pretty defensible. Looking back now, having missed two tournaments altogether and having lost in the first round as a 6, 10, and 3 seed? It does feel like the program under Smart plateaued at about the level Barnes had the team in 2015. It’s impossible to know whether Barnes would’ve gotten us back to his peak level had he stayed, but I doubt things would have been any worse.

Chris Beard and the Horns have won two straight after blowing out TCU by 23 points on Tuesday night and sit 3rd in the Big 12 Standings. Has the short win streak changed how you see this Texas team? Or are you still not convinced?

Cameron - Every night is a “trap game” in the Big 12 but on the road against TCU in front of the largest home crowd in history screamed “trap game”. And Texas dominated. I’m not sure if the TCU bench or the coaches were talking smack but I don’t think I’ve seen this team that fired up this season. Ramey and AJ1 combined for 26 points and looked like their usual selves. I think Texas needs that type of performance from them every night but I’m still not convinced this is a team that can beat the Kansas’s or the Baylor’s.

Wescott - The TCU game did have an impact on how I look at this team – I wasn’t convinced this group was capable of scoring 22 fast-break points against everyone. If they can get out and run more often to get good looks instead of relying on the halfcourt offense, Texas has some significant upside. The question now is whether Tuesday’s game was an anomaly in transition and whether they can continue to make three-point shots more in line with the shooting talent this team does possess.

Gerald - TCU isn’t really a great basketball team, but that was the most dominant they’ve looked since conference play started. The problems for me are that it seems like the offense can dry up at any second and the absolute ball of knives that is the Big 12 on any given night. We’ve all seen the list of the 10 toughest schedules left, nine of which are Big 12 teams. It’s hard for me to take it any way other than game-by-game because the conference is just so tight.

Abram - I don’t think the ugly win over OSU and the dominant win over TCU should necessarily be enough to change anyone’s overall view of the team. Texas’ Big 12 record now includes 2 convincing wins, 1 rock-fight win (like we were promised would be the norm under Beard), 2 wins I don’t know what to make of, 2 ugly losses, and 1 reasonable road loss to a good team. I’m certainly hopeful the TCU game is an indication that the team is moving toward peaking at the right time and being the contender we all thought it could be, but the next 5 games will tell us much more than the last two.

The Horns begin a grueling five-game stretch on Saturday. After hosting No. 18 Tennessee, Texas plays at No. 13 Texas Tech, hosts No. 23 Iowa State and No. 5 Kansas, and then plays at No. 4 Baylor. Texas is in a good spot to make the tournament as of now but how many of the upcoming five games would you like the Horns to win to give you confidence about this team heading into March?

Cameron - Honestly I’d be fine with 1-4 if that one win was against Texas Tech in Lubbock. It’s also realistic that Texas only wins one game out of this five-game stretch. However, if Texas is going to make a deep run this March they have to show they can contend and beat Quad 1 teams. I would be content with a 2-3 record over the next 5 games.

Wescott - Two wins is the minimum for me during this stretch and the best way to accomplish that is by protecting homecourt at the Erwin Center. If the fans continue to show up and support the Horns as they have in recent games, that will make a big difference. Right now, Texas is looking at a No. 5 or No. 6 seed and winning two games during this stretch should help get them on track to be in that range or better on Selection Sunday.

Gerald - I think 2-3 is probably what I expect, but I hope to see at least 3-2. Baylor and Kansas both have legit shots at being the top team on one side of the NCAA Tournament bracket, so my hope for those two games is just “don’t get embarrassed.” If I had to pick two of the other three, I could stand losing to Tennessee more than I could losing to the other Big 12 teams.

Abram - I agree with Cameron that getting a W in Lubbock would justify losing the other 4 just based on how badly everyone in that arena will want to beat Texas. But from a resume perspective, I think Texas needs to win 2 out of 5; I fear those 2 need to be Tennessee and Iowa State at home because I don’t love our chances in any of the other three. Of course, if Texas defends at the level they’re capable of, there’s no game they should be completely out of. But keeping up that degree of intensity against great teams is quite the ask if you can’t score the basketball to take some pressure off the defensive end.

Speaking of Texas basketball, Vic Schaefer and the Women’s team have won four straight in conference play and sit half a game back from No. 13 Iowa State and No. 18 Oklahoma. The schedule gets tougher over the next three games, facing Oklahoma and No. 11 Baylor twice but Schaefer’s squad has already shown the ability to beat good teams this year. Is this another Elite 8 team? Final Four?

Cameron - Schaefer’s team is a lot of fun to watch. Joanne Allen-Taylor and Aliyah Matharu can score from anywhere on the floor and freshman Rori Harmon doesn’t play like a freshman. They’re a defensive nightmare for opponents and Audrey Warren is their own Brock Cunningham! I don’t think anyone in the country wants to see this team in March. Should be another deep run in the tournament but definitely want to see how they stack up against OU and Baylor over the next two weeks.

Wescott - Schaefer has shown that he’s capable of ensuring his teams peak at the right time, so it seems like the challenge for this particular group is to maintain the current momentum and keep growing as a team. If they can do that, and stay healthy, I’m confident the Longhorns can make some noise once again in March.

Gerald - Vic Schaefer is doing what we hoped Chris Beard would do with the men’s team. They are turning a messy and aggressive style of defense into offensive opportunities and capitalizing on them. Texas made an Elite 8 last year and that team overperformend. If Schaefer and his staff can do the coaching job they did a year ago with a more talented squad, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the Final Four.

Abram - See above for my point about the tournament and randomness, but Schaefer has the team looking like it should be in position to get a top-3 seed. Obviously there are fewer Abilene Christian-type happenings in the women’s tournament than on the men’s side, so getting one of those protected seeds for a coach who has shown the ability to take teams deep into March would provide plenty of reason for confidence. Weird loss to Kansas aside, they look like a legitimate Final Four contender and that marquee early-season win at Stanford looks as good as ever with the Cardinal currently ranked No. 2 nationally.