The No. 1 baseball team in the nation opened their season playing like it, scoring 53 runs and allowing just 7 in their first five games. While there were some concerns about the offense heading into the season after losing Mike Antico, Lance Ford, Zach Zubia, Cam Williams, the Horns sure haven’t had a drop-off in production yet. Have you seen enough to be confident in the offense? Or is it too early?
Cameron Parker (@camerondparker) - I’m all in baby. I’m quoting RV prices and planning my trip to Omaha. In all seriousness, unless Texas goes 0-6 against Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and UCLA, the expectation is Omaha. A lot of pressure was on Ivan Melendez and Douglas Hodo to carry the offense but it’s been Silas Ardoin, Eric Kennedy, and Austin Todd leading the bats! I don’t expect them to hit near .500 the whole season but if that type of production will be there all season it might be the best offense in the David Pierce era.
Kyle Carpenter (@KyleCarpenter) - Baseball is an incredibly long season with a level of unpredictability unmatched by almost any sport. There will be some midweek losses along the way. The weather has an outsized impact, especially in the early season. Weird stuff can and will happen. That said, this Texas team looks different. This seems to be Coach Pierce’s most talented roster, especially on the mound, but the depth in the field should not be discredited either. If it’s a true leap in production for guys like Trey Faltine and Silas Ardoin from elite defensive guys who you tolerate their bats to truly dangerous both ways (and therefore surefire All-Americans), the team should increase their 50-win total from a year ago.If Daly, Hodo, and Kennedy can all prove to have taken a step up and can bring a level of consistency that you lost with Zubia/Williams/Antico, it will allow Ivan Melendez to hit SportsCenter bombs and Dylan Campbell and Murphy Stehly and Skylar Messenger to drive in runs. This has the look of a lineup that can create production 1-9, but that will be tested as they face elite pitching in the coming weeks. If the bats can generate at least a few runs a night, that may be enough with arguably the best pitching staff in the nation.
Gerald Goodridge (@ghgoodridge) - I think it’s hard to judge it based on that weekend series, but it’s hard to argue with 53 runs. Rice is a decent squad, but probably not up to the level of talent Texas will see in conference play and the postseason. I think the biggest question still outstanding is whether or not Eric Kennedy and Mitchell Daly can consistently set the table for and/or protect Melendez, who is clearly the big bat in the lineup. If you can force pitchers to put a hittable ball in front of Melendez, there’s at least one run of support on the board. I also wonder just how good the offense needs to be when you’ve got guys who would be Friday starters for nearly every other program in the country pitching on Saturday and Sunday. Texas left a lot on base in the mid-week series, a problem we’ve seen rear it’s ugly head in relatively recent history, so that still remains to be seen. I think we’ll get a clearer picture of just how good this team is in a few weeks when they take on Tennesee and LSU.
Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) – I do feel confident that the offense has better depth and I believe Pete Hansen when he says he thinks it will be improved this season. There have already been positive steps in that direction taken by catcher Silas Ardoin and left fielder Eric Kennedy in the early going, while shortstop Trey Faltine has continued to flash his power.. I’ve been impressed with their ability to command the strike zone and force pitchers to throw strikes to get them out. I am still worried about the lack of power – how Texas looks in that department should become more apparent as the weather warms – and some of the issues with runners in scoring position, especially on Wednesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. With the quality of opposing pitching improving this weekend against Alabama, by Sunday evening we should have a better idea about where they’re at now, but regardless of how the series goes, what really matters is where the Longhorns are in late April.
Texas hoops picked up a crucial comeback victory over TCU on Wednesday and face West Virginia on Saturday before closing the season against No. 8 Baylor and No. 10 Kansas. Is it a “must win” game against the Mountaineers?
Cameron - Texas is pretty much a lock for the tournament but their seeding is up in the air. The Horns don’t match up well with Baylor and Kansas will be looking for vengeance after their loss in the Erwin Center. Losing to West Virginia would mean that Texas could enter the Big 12 Tournament on a three-game losing streak. It’s not “must win” in the sense that if they lose they’ll be on the bubble, but I think it’s a “must win” so the team doesn’t enter March on a long losing streak.
Kyle - It might be a “must win” if 21 wins are your threshold for a good season for some reason. Scott Drew has had Chris Beard’s number even at Tech and I don’t see the Kansas win streak extending to 4 (or 2 straight wins in Phogg). So assuming two losses, you are arguing a .677 win percentage versus a .645. Either would be the best win percentage since Rick Barnes in 2013-14 over a full season. But the “20 wins for the first time since…” stat is a bit misleading because Shaka went 19-8 last year, a .704 winning percentage, the best since 2010-11. If Beard really wants to improve on that, then both WVU and Baylor are “must wins” to get to .709 and a 22-9 record. I think Texas is locked at 4 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, but the next three games could bump them up to that on a national level.
Gerald - Depends on how you define must-win. I think Texas seems pretty safe for the tournament, but this is a team that somehow is still struggling to land on a consistent identity and level of confidence. They can play like world-beaters one week against Kansas and absolutely crap the bed against Texas Tech. So for a team that is in need of some momentum, or at least just good vibes, beating WVU heading into the Baylor and Kansas seems essential.
Wescott – I’m not sure it’s a “must win” game in the sense that Texas isn’t going to miss the NCAA Tournament if they lose and I don’t think they’re even likely to drop in the Big 12 standings as a result. But I do think a loss would be tremendously concerning – Andrew Jones talked after the TCU game about his confidence in the team’s trajectory and losing to West Virginia would represent a major setback for that trajectory because the Mountaineers just aren’t any good this season.
Andrew Jones has reached double-figures in three straight games and is possibly playing the best basketball of his career since his leukemia diagnosis. Is Jones the key for Texas if they want to make a deep run?
Cameron - Texas doesn’t make that comeback against TCU without Andrew Jones. He’s playing confident basketball and seems to be gelling with Ramey and Marcus Carr at the perfect time. Beard is turning to the three-guard lineup more and more to find offense and Texas needs to be able to score to make up for the lack of size on the court. Jones provides that and Texas needs him, especially during the long scoring droughts that seem to occur every night. I don’t see Texas making a run in March, heck even winning a game or two without Andrew Jones playing the way he’s been playing as of late.
Kyle - I love Andrew Jones as much as any Longhorn I’ve watched in my lifetime. His story is an Outside the Lines tear-jerker and him playing is a win in itself – playing this well is just lagniappe. I do think Texas needs a scorer and a shooter, and I hope Jone isn’t asked to do both every night. Against OU, Jones shot 4-5 from deep while the remainder of the team shot 0-6. Against Tech, Jones: 4-10 / Others: 4-16. TCU, Jones: 0-4 / Others: 1-10. An ideal world for me would see Jones not have to score 20 for Texas to get to its ~68 point winning mark and allow him to be the shooter. If Timmy Allen or Marcus Carr are scoring and getting the defense in rotation, I would love for Jones to keep being the best deep threat on the floor. Now if Courtney Ramey wants to rediscover his hot hand, by all means, let them both punish defenses from range.
Gerald - I’ve gone on record saying that Andrew Jones even making it back onto the basketball court was enough to cement his legacy, but it seems like he wants to end his Texas career with legend status. With everything that he’s been through, it’s easy to forget he was a potentially NBA-level talent before his battle with cancer. From my perspective, he’s one of two guys on the roster with the ability to create offense on his own and, at least in the last few games, the more consistent of the two in that ability. Because of the style of play that Chris Beard chooses for Texas, someone who can consistently put the ball in the bucket with a limited number of opportunities is vital.
Wescott – First of all, it’s been great to see AJ1 playing at such a high level in the last three games – he’s been through so much and worked so hard to get to this point. No one in college basketball is more deserving of the success he’s experiencing than he is. Maybe this is a little bit of a cop-out because it seems reductive and like an oversimplification to say that he’s the key for the Horns, but he’s the team’s second-best three-point shooter and right up there with Marcus Carr as the best shotmaker on the team. In key situations, especially in the TCU game, he was the guy who was able to come up with the big baskets when Texas needed one, so having him on track and able to complement Carr in that area is definitely huge for the Longhorns.
Tre Mitchell has missed the last three games due to personal reasons and his return is not expected soon. If the forward does not rejoin the team, how will it impact the Horns?
Cameron Parker - Losing Mitchell will hurt the Horns offensively on the block, on the glass, and force Beard to either play smaller or give more minutes to Disu or Bishop. Bishop played a great second half against TCU and finished with 5 blocks, impressive for the six-foot-seven forward but Mitchell is the tallest player on the team. He also has the ability to stretch the floor. Either Disu needs to make a vast improvement over the few remaining games of the season or Bishop will continue to get bigger minutes. Beard better hope they can avoid bigger teams in March.
Kyle Carpenter - If you don’t count Timmy Allen as a traditional “big” then Texas heads into the homestretch and ultimately March with Bishop/Disu/Cunningham as your non-guards (and Brock certainly isn’t a traditional big man). That depth is worrying for issues of injury, foul trouble, or possibly just the opponent’s playing style. For a team that seemingly refuses to play a game without a 4-8 minute scoring drought, it is also a blow to lose your best post scorer and bank-shot three-point shooter. Many teams have made March runs playing small, but Mitchell is one less weapon for a team that has needed heroic offensive efforts from somewhere in past big wins. Can Texas start consistently hitting threes required to play small ball?
Gerald Goodridge - We’ve seen Texas struggle in the post, Texas Tech twice, so losing one of the better post players on the team is an obvious blow. I think this was a bit of the risk you ran when building nearly the entire roster out of transfer talent that is used to being “the guy” on their team, especially with the rep and record that Chris Beard has of being tough to play for. Texas really needs Dylan Disu to turn whatever corner he’s been standing on for the majority of the season, but based on the evidence I am not hopeful that it will actually happen for the Longhorns. Not having that legit post presence seems like a pretty hard ceiling on what this team can achieve for the regular season and postseason.
Wescott Eberts – After seeing some of the tweets by Mitchell’s father in recent days, I don’t have a lot of hope for the UMass transfer to return to the Texas program. If Mitchell doesn’t return, it’s a really significant loss for the Longhorns. Mitchell is the team’s best low-post player, he’s a credible shooter stretching the court, and Texas is thin in the frontcourt now with Mitchell’s absence, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Timmy Allen and Christian Bishop to stay out of foul trouble, as well as produce consistently in multiple facets of the game. Chris Beard keeps on talking about Dylan Disu finally breaking out and providing some help for Allen and Bishop, but I’m not holding my breath for that because Disu has been a virtual non-factor for weeks. He hasn’t scored more than three points in a month, he hasn’t played more than 15 minutes since the third game of conference play, and he hasn’t scored in double figures since the second conference game. I don’t know if he’s struggling with his conditioning, with his return from his knee injury, or what’s going on, but right now he’s a shell of the player he was at Vanderbilt last season and that’s a major hit to this team’s upside unless he can turn things around quickly.
Texas Women’s head coach Vic Schaefer voiced his displeasure with Texas fans for not showing up to home games, calling it “frustrating” and “disappointing”. The No. 11 Longhorns are 20-6, have won five straight games, and look to be heating up and the right time. Does Schaefer have a point? And if so, what’s the solution?
Cameron Parker - I don’t think this is just a Texas Women’s basketball problem, but a Texas problem. Fan attendance at basketball games has been ugly for years and it took Chris Beard to vocally appeal to students and fans to start filling up the drum. The location of the Erwin Center makes it difficult for students to get to the arena (especially with all the construction) and it’s a not fan-friendly venue. That being said, it is disappointing but Schaefer needs to take a page out of Beard’s book. You can’t argue it’s a money thing when tickets are $5. Schaefer needs to find ways to connect with students the way Beard has. Texas could have the #1 ranked team in Men’s and Women’s and I don’t think that would be enough to fill up the Erwin Center.
Kyle Carpenter - As long as Vic is at Texas, the team is going to have a specific identity and be very good (this is his 9th consecutive 20-win season). Texas currently sits at #7 in NET which likely translates to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. The discrepancy between the 7th best team and #37th best attendance (averaging 2,649) is tough to swallow, but not necessarily a new phenomenon. Texas women’s sports are supported by a vocal but ultimately small group. Softball, Basketball, even Volleyball–the best-supported of the bunch–have had issues. Recall Jerritt Elliot had to beg to fill 4,000 seat Gregory for the national title favorite AT HOME in the NCAA tournament. I don’t know what the answer is for Vic…Austin isn’t ever going to be StarkVegas or College Station or Ames. It is a city, not a town, with competing interests and commute times longer than 10 minutes. But I do think Texas fans need to step up generally. If you demand so much from your coaches, players, and teams, the inherent part of that contract is that you will uphold your small part of the bargain and contribute in the only meaningful way that you can: support.
Gerald Goodridge - I appreciate the level of candor from the coach, but I think there definitely needs to be a plan to get people in the seats. Texas fans, for basically every sport except volleyball, have rightfully taken shots about not supporting the teams in-person, but you’ve seen the shift in both the football and basketball teams when they took a page from the volleyball team. The reason why volleyball has always had a ton of support is that going to Gregory Gynamasium for those games has been an “event,” specifically for students, to participate in. When Chris Beard took it upon himself to make basketball games an event for students, butts started hitting seats. Football added Bevo Boulevard and all of the other events to football gameday and we’ve seen an increased level of attendance. While that doesn’t seem like something Coach Schaefer has any appetite for, I wonder if someone on the support staff would be willing to take it on.
Wescott Eberts – Vic certainly doesn’t have any reservations about telling it like it is, does he? I think he does have a point, but I’m not sure that his approach is the best way to solve the attendance issues. He’s much better off taking a page from Beard’s playbook and working to build relationships with students and student organizations. It’s nice to see Xavier Worthy tweeting about coming out to support the women and something like an autograph session with football players or just encouraging them to show up and tweet about it could help move the needle.