Chris Beard’s first season on the Forty Acres came to a close on Sunday evening as the Texas Longhorns fell to the Purdue Boilermakers in the Round of 32.
It was a rollercoaster season with seemingly equal parts highs and lows, but the foundation is now officially set for the future. With that said, here’s a few thoughts on the season, and what to look forward to.
Chris Beard’s debut season was a success. When Texas’ roster was left almost entirely dismantled in the wake of Shaka Smart’s mutual departure to Marquette, it initially seemed like Beard was going to have his hands more than full just winning a few games during his debut season in Austin, despite the standards he declared during his introductory presser. Then, he and his staff plucked a handful of some of the best transfer prospects out of the portal and the outlook changed — significantly. So much so that a complete rebuild almost instantly turned into title aspirations and a No. 5 preseason ranking. Obviously, Texas fell well short of its preseason projections, mostly due to the question of how this team would gel and mesh never being adequately answered. In that sense, this was a group that could have been truly special but never quite was — a group that saw four-star freshman Jaylon Tyson leave the program and UMass transfer Tre Mitchell do the same not too long after. But preseason hype and expectations aside, this was the most successful group Texas has had since the Rick Barnes era. The Horns’ notched 20-plus regular season wins for the first time since 2016, and after Smart’s entire tenure at Texas netted exactly zero tourney wins, Texas finally got back into the March Madness win column. The season might not have been what many hoped and expected, but in terms of sheer success, it was the most this program has enjoyed in some time. Now, it’s time to build on that.
Andrew Jones has had one hell of a career in Austin. For a variety of reasons, he’s a talent that will be nearly impossible to ever forget around the Forty Acres. Besides the fact that it feels like he’s been around Austin forever as a member of Smart’s 2016 class, Jones’ presence and impact was undeniable, from becoming a national symbol of resiliency while battling and overcoming Leukemia to returning to the court and finishing ranked ninth all-time in scoring at Texas with 1,622 points, many of which came during big moments. Though he technically has one year of eligibility remaining as a super super senior, Jones walked on Senior Night and may be set to test his smooth jumper in the pros, and if so, he’s leaving behind some shoes that will be really difficult to fill.
Texas has room for improvement against ranked teams going forward. You could note a variety of opportunities for Texas’ to improve in Year 2 of the Beard era, from scheme to roster construction and more. But in terms of raw results, it would be ideal to see Texas take another step in regards to throwing the knockout punches against heavyweights and winning ranked games. This season, Texas was just 3-8 in such matchups, and that doesn’t include their Round of 32 loss to Purdue, which finished No. 10 in the final AP Top 25 — a team Texas could have avoided that early had it won a couple more of its ranked games and bolstered its resume. Texas’ 22 wins and NCAA Tournament victory ensure that the season was a general success, but it’s also one that benefited from a considerably weak non-conference schedule. That type of scheduling likely isn’t going to change under Beard, so whether it’s building your basketball culture and fan base, building confidence within your program, or building your resume for the big dance, Texas will need to make more of its ranked opportunities next season. Otherwise, it could be similar to his debut — good, but just not great.
Beard’s undoubtedly building a basketball culture on the Forty Acres. After helping create a imposing basketball culture and atmosphere in Lubbock, which is now among the very best in the nation, Beard’s effort and constant pleas to the burnt orange nation certainly paid off during his first season in Austin. From a bit of politicking on campus to incentivizing students to arrive early and in full force to a game at Gregory Gym to welcoming students onto the court to celebrate after wins, this was an aspect of culture-building that Beard simply gets. The result? Texas averaged 12,924 fans per home game this season, and to say that’s a significant improvement over recent years would be an understatement. I’ve covered multiple big games at the Frank Erwin Center where it felt like there were more opposing fans than Texas fans, and those in the upper deck would be invited to freely relocate to the lower bowl because of so many empty seats. It seems those days are behind us. Next season, Beard and the Longhorns will be moving into the new, state-of-the-art Moody Center on campus, where Texas’ homecourt will not only feature a more intimate college environment with an expanded student section compared to the massive museum that was the FEC, but most notably, a true homecourt advantage. If the product continues to improve, the wine and cheese label often attached to Texas’ fans will be demolished with the Erwin Center.
The future of Texas basketball seems bright. Not that things can’t go in reverse, but Beard’s first season in Austin was arguably the most successful since 2013-14, so even when the offense isn’t exactly easy on the eyes, Texas is winning at a higher rate than they have in recent years. Beard’s building a legitimate basketball culture in Austin, which theoretically should impact the win column. The Moody Center will serve as a massive upgrade and fresh breath of air after moving on from the FEC, and recruiting success will see a pair of 5-star prospects and a top-80 national recruit as part of Beard’s top 10 class. Simply put, there’s a lot to like about the trajectory of the program right now.