Mizzou basketball program far from being pushed to the sidelines

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04/22/2014 11:08 AM

05/16/2014 1:19 PM

With Missouri’s basketball coaching search in motion, now is a good time to dispel an idea that has gained momentum since about mid-February.

That is, Missouri has assumed a full Southeastern Conference flavor, which is to say football is such a priority as to dwarf interest in all other sports, including men’s basketball.

I’m not buying it.

A school year of football success and basketball disappointment is driving the perception that didn’t exist a year ago, when fans were unhappy about football and men’s basketball for different reasons. Football didn’t win, and basketball didn’t win more.

Five straight NCAA Tournament appearances didn’t satisfy fans who believed coach Frank Haith’s second team was capable of more than an first-game exit in the tourney. This year’s NCAA Tournament miss, coupled with the Miami mess, meant few seemed to regret Haith’s departure to Tulsa.

The underlying sense is Missouri basketball should be better, better than playing in the NIT, and that’s not the expectation of a fan base that has pushed all of its chips toward football.

Also, keep in mind that among SEC schools, only Kentucky and Arkansas have more NCAA Tournament appearances than Missouri. Polls don’t mean anything, except to provide a snapshot of weekly perception, but the Tigers have the third-most appearances in the polls among SEC schools.

These aren’t the qualities of a program that’s being pushed into the background.

Attendance was down this season, the lowest average since 2008, and Missouri will continue to battle the unfamiliarity of SEC opponents. But a year earlier, the first SEC season, average attendance reached a decade best.

All of which makes it important for Mike Alden to get this hire right.

The resume of Mr. Right is anybody’s guess. Alden’s hires have come from the sampler platter, a top assistant (Quin Snyder), a coach on the rise (Mike Anderson) and an established major-conference coach (Haith). None stayed long enough to establish a consistent winner, and to some extent that’s Alden’s failure.

But the record shows 15 years by those three coaches produced nine NCAA Tournaments, two Elite Eights, a 9-9 NCAA record and two conference tournament championships.

The final 15 years of Norm Stewart: 10 NCAA Tournaments, one Elite Eight, a 7-10 NCAA record, four conference tournament titles and three Big Eight regular-season titles.

Give a slight edge to Stewart, for whom the court at Mizzou Arena is named and is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. But not a bad 15-year response.

What Alden is likely to find on the trail is plenty of questions about the program, which doesn’t appear ready to win next season because of the departures of Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson. That might limit the candidate pool.

Why would some of the game’s hottest names, such as Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and VCU’s Shaka Smart, who are already well compensated, be interested in rebuilding Missouri?

Proven winners at high level — unemployed Ben Howland and Texas-El Paso’s Tim Floyd, formerly of Iowa State, Southern California and the Chicago Bulls — are likely to be intrigued.

Same with an up-and-comer such as Louisiana Tech’s Michael White, who reportedly turned down Tennessee on Monday.

But the previous hire came from far of the pace. Alden used Dallas-based head hunter Bob Beaudine to find Haith, whose hire was wildly unexpected. The initial reaction bordered on hostile from a fan base who wondered why Alden hired a coach who was 26 games under .500 in conference play.

Fans cared then. They’ve never not cared.

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