From Missouri’s perspective, it didn’t make sense to move away from men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson right now, which is why he’s coming back for 2016-17.
Why? Considering the roster problems he inherited and an ongoing NCAA investigation, it’s difficult to reach a definitive opinion about Anderson’s tenure. Continuity is probably the best option for the moment as the immediate future of the program appears gloomy.
Does his return signal that Missouri believes Anderson’s the right guy for the job? That’s still unclear, but it’s evident that nobody cares more about restoring MU’s former glory and winning again than Anderson.
Anderson’s on-court record, considering the historic nature of Mizzou’s mounting losses the last two seasons, would suggest he’s been overmatched (or, at the very least, his players have been) and the litany of suspensions and off-court issues hint at difficulty relating with players (though the punishment, to the extent it’s known, seem justified).
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Before returning to Mizzou from a stint with the Big 12 Conference, Anderson won a championship at Division II Central Missouri, but it’s been hard to translate that success to the Division I level.
D-I recruiting is different — not only in terms of the caliber of athlete, but also in terms of the time commitment, intensity and competition. The spotlight is different — not only in terms of media, but also in terms of fan scrutiny. The demands are different — not only in terms of hours spent breaking down film, but also in terms of alumni relations, player management and myriad institutional/NCAA controls that must be managed.
Anderson faced a steep learning curve and the rebuilding project he undertook is considerable. Here are a few factors Missouri surely considered in weighing whether to stay with Anderson another season or move on:
1. The ongoing NCAA investigation
Missouri announced self-imposed penalties Jan. 13 related to a 19-month joint investigation into rules violations within the men’s basketball program. While it would be unprecedented for the NCAA to demand additional years of a postseason ban or other substantial penalties, the final report won’t be released until April or later. What coach is accepting a job under those circumstances? Probably not one who’s a substantive upgrade.
2. Looming APR issues
Missouri’s APR for men’s basketball during the final season under Anderson’s predecessor, Frank Haith, was a paltry 851. When the scores were released last May, only three of 351 NCAA Division I schools had a worse four-year APR.
The Tigers face additional APR concerns with an eye toward the release of the 2014-15 numbers for Anderson’s first season. Four players — Cam Biedscheid, Johnathan Williams III, Montaque Gill-Caesar and Deuce Bello — left the program after the start of the 2014 fall semester and could hurt Mizzou’s APR to varying degrees. It’s going to make it difficult to buoy that 851 and the player defections continued into this season.
Martavian Payne signed a scholarship with the Tigers but never suited up, Wes Clark was dismissed in January and D’Angelo Allen has decided to transfer. Those situations will deepen the Tigers’ APR hole. If the program doesn’t manage a 931 this spring, it’s likely headed for another postseason ban next season, which could seal Anderson’s fate. It also would be a brutal circumstance for any incoming coach.
3. National perception of Mizzou
The Southeastern Conference ranked sixth in RPI behind the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, Big East and Big Ten. Unlike in football — there are more attractive destinations for basketball coaches than the SEC. The Tigers’ football boycott in November, administrative upheaval and continued protests on campus could paint the university in a poor light for a potential coaching candidate. More time might help repair that image.
4. Anderson’s staff
Perhaps the biggest change Missouri might make this offseason involves Anderson’s staff. There was perhaps too much faith put in former associate head coach Tim Fuller, who was basically forced upon Anderson. The move helped retain of Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright, who signed with MU in November before Haith’s departure.
Still, Fuller’s role in the NCAA infractions (and subsequent recruiting restrictions before leaving Mizzou) further decimated the program. Anderson has some Division I recruiting experience, but it was decades ago and his other two assistants, Brad Loos and Rob Fulford, were new to the D-I level.
The addition of Steve Shields as a special assistant last offseason helped rectify that, and he helped, especially after Loos’ daughter fell ill. It’s unclear what Fuller’s replacement, Corey Tate, has added beyond a connection to Texas transfer Jordan Barnett.
Don’t be shocked if there’s staff turnover among the suggested changes in the coming month as Anderson and athletic director Mack Rhoades continue to discuss the program’s future.
5. Personnel concerns
Missouri’s roster is thin, especially at point guard and in the post. It also lacks a big-time wing scorer, unless Barnett can handle that role when he becomes eligible at semester. The Tigers hope incoming freshmen Willie Jackson, an uber-athletic wing, and two new big men, Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko, can make an impact. History suggests relying too heavily on too many freshmen is a recipe for more struggles. There are no quick fixes coming among graduate-student transfers either, which Mizzou is barred from accepting for a few seasons after Hawaii transfer Keith Shamburger failed to complete enough credit hours in his year on campus.