Mike Anderson vs Nolan Richardson (Part Two)

So before we even dive into recruiting, the impact of blue-chip recruits in the "40 Minutes of Heck/Hell" system, and the likelihood of Mike Anderson attracting those recruits, a quick comparison: In the four seasons where Nolan Richardson coached an Arkansas roster that had no McDonald's All-Americans, he went 65-57.  In three seasons with no McD's AA's at Missouri, Mike Anderson has gone 62-34.  Clearly not every non-McD's AA is created equal (which is the reason why Rivals rates players on a 1-5 star scale...or at least 2-5), but the likelihood exists that Mike Anderson is simply a better coach than Nolan Richardson at this stage in his career and doesn't need any 5-star recruits, which would render everything I'm about to say moot. But read it anyway.

Anyway, yesterday we took a look at the similarities and differences in the early parts of Richardson's and Anderson's head coaching careers.  Richardson's teams were successful, but Anderson's were as or more successful to this point.  Today, we look at what information we might be able to draw from recruiting and how the rest of Nolan Richardson's career played out.

Stage 3: What Happened Next for Nolan?

In Year Four under Richardson, Arkansas caught fire.  With a couple of breakthrough recruits (which we will get to in a moment), Arkansas won 25, 30, 34, 26, 22, 31 and 32 games from 1988 to 1995.  In all, they were 200-43 in that span.  They went to three Final Fours and went from being a lively program to becoming the team you least want to play.  Just the thought of going against the Forty Minutes of Hell made you tired, and even when you beat Arkansas (few did), you were dead-legged afterward.

So there are two clear questions here: 1) How did Richardson take that next step, and 2) Can Mike Anderson do the same?

Recruiting

One of the theories about why Mike Anderson might not be able to take the next step is that he can't recruit the big boys to come and play in this system.  As Mizzou proved this year, you can make a nice postseason run without 5-star players, but in theory, to consistently move to the top level of basketball programs, the recruits do need to start noticing and signing with Missouri.

One way to test this theory, of course, is by looking at Nolan Richardson's recruiting hauls and what they may tell us about Anderson's in the future.

First off, the big-time kids:

McDonalds All-Americans Signed by Arkansas
Under Nolan Richardson

1986 - Ron Heury (Memphis, TN)
1988 - Todd Day (Memphis, TN)
1988 - Lee Mayberry (Tulsa, OK)
1992 - Corliss Williamson (Russellville, AR)
1993 - Darnell Robinson (Emery, CA)
1994 - Kareem Reid (NYC)
1995 - Derek Hood (Kansas City)
1996 - Glendon Alexander (Carollton, TX)

While the national-level recruits came later on, once Arkansas had become the nation's dominant program, Richardson's first batch of breakthrough recruits were home-grown.  Memphis and Tulsa are basically the KC and StL areas of the Arkansas program, and Richardson took advantage of a strong backyard and a strong recruiter in Scott Edgar.

Richardson was able to mix a handful of studs with hungry role players to find success.  We know Anderson's got the "hungry role players" part of recruiting down pat.  But the question becomes, how far can Anderson take Missouri without the blue-chippers?

When it comes to top-flight local talent, that which resides within about a 300-mile radius (like Memphis and Tulsa to Fayetteville), Mizzou is at a bit of a disadvantage.  In almost 30 years, the state of Missouri has produced 10 McDonald's All-Americans, and only one in the last seven years (Tyler Hansbrough in 2005).  The well in Memphis has dried up a bit too--whereas Memphis has produced 10 McD's AA's of its own over time, again only one of those has come in this decade (Thaddeus Young in 2006).

Mike Anderson clearly knows the talent Memphis can produce--he landed Laurence Bowers in 2008 and has offered a handful of 4-star Memphis kids (Reginald Buckner, who chose Ole Miss, in '09, Mardracus Wade and Tarik Black in '10)--and now that John Calipari has left Memphis, the odds of landing some of that talent may have just increased a bit.  Establishing something of a pipeline there, a la Richardson, could be a key to Mizzou's success, but the top, elitest-of-the-elite talent there isn't quite at the same level it was in the Memphis area (then again, there are two 4-star Memphis recruits and a 5-star in 2010).  So Mizzou may either have to rely more on the hungry role players or look outside their backyard for the toppermost of the poppermost talent.

It will be interesting to see what kind of recruiting bump Missouri gets from this successful season.  The early list of 2010 offers includes three pretty big-time kids--Wade, Black, and Phil Pressey, to name a few.  Obviously no one knows if any of them will be All-Americans, or if any other names might emerge on Mizzou's radar as they take their "We just made the Elite Eight" pitch out for a spin, but for now the main question is simply, how much big-time talent would it take for Missouri to establish themselves as a consistently great program like Arkansas was from about 1989 through 1995?

Keeping in mind that, again, Anderson has already done more with less talent than Richardson did, let's look at Richardson's season-by-season results in comparison to the number of McD's AA's on the roster.  Clearly, I wish Rivals went far enough back to look at star ratings (instead of just McD's AA's or nothing), but this is what we have to work with.  If somebody has a better way of looking at degrees of quality in 1980s recruits, feel free to pass it along.

Arkansas Year-by-Year Results under Richardson
Season # McD's AA's Yrs of Exp. from AAs Record Postseason
1985-86 0 0 12-16
1986-87 1 (Heury) 0 19-14 1-1 NIT
1987-88 1 (Heury) 1 21-9 0-1 NCAA
1988-89 3 (Heury, Day, Mayberry) 2 25-7 1-1 NCAA
1989-90 3 (Heury, Day, Mayberry) 5 30-5 4-1 NCAA (Final Four)
1990-91 2 (Day, Mayberry) 4 34-4 3-1 NCAA
1991-92 2 (Day, Mayberry) 6 26-8 1-1 NCAA
1992-93 1 (Williamson) 0 22-9 2-1 NCAA
1993-94 2 (Williamson, Robinson) 1 31-3 6-0 NCAA (Champs)
1994-95 2 (Williamson, Robinson) 3 32-7 5-1 NCAA (Runners-Up)
1995-96 3 (Robinson, Reid, Hood) 2 20-13 2-1 NCAA
1996-97 3 (Reid, Hood, Alexander) 2 18-14 3-1 NIT
1997-98 3 (Reid, Hood, Alexander) 3 24-9 1-1 NCAA
1998-99 2 (Reid, Hood) 6 23-11 1-1 NCAA
1999-00 0 0 19-15 0-1 NCAA
2000-01 0 0 20-11 0-1 NCAA
2001-02 0 0 14-15

 

Now let's look at this breakout in a couple of different ways.

# McD's AA's Avg Win % Avg Postseason Wins
0 0.529 0.00
1 0.662 0.83
2 0.814 3.20
3 0.707 1.90
Correlation to AA's: 0.75 0.75

And one more way...

# Yrs Experience from McD's AA's Avg Win % Avg Postseason Wins
0 0.567 0.42
1 0.806 3.00
2 0.650 1.50
3 0.774 3.00
4 0.895 3.00
5 0.857 4.00
6 0.721 1.00
Correlation to AA Experience: 0.54 0.31

(Now, something could be said for the fact that Arkansas made back-to-back trips to the finals when they had McD's AA big men and were only really good when they had McD's AA guards.  There might be merit to that argument, but we're not dealing with the biggest of sample sizes here.)

So what this says to me is one major thing: All-American talent in this system can make a big difference (Richardson never really did much when he didn't have at least one blue-chipper), but it really doesn't take much.  When Richardson's teams were technically at their most talented and experienced (1992-92, 1998-99), they were good but not great.  When they had 1-2 blue-chippers and the right combination of lengthy, athletic role players with chips on their shoulders, they won big.  It doesn't take much of that breakthrough talent.  One big stud every class or two may be enough.

(And again, Missouri just won 31 games and made the Elite Eight with no blue-chip talent, not even a Rivals 4-star recruit.  How much of this big-time talent they need is unclear consider Mike Anderson may actually be a better coach than his main coaching role model.)

Can Mizzou land a big-time kid?  Well, with no proof that Mike Anderson was going to succeed at Missouri, he still almost landed two McDonald's All-Americans this year.  Michael Snaer chose Florida State over Mizzou, and DeMarcus Cousins listed Mizzou as a finalist before choosing John Calipari U.  Melvin Watkins may not be what Scott Edgar was in his prime, but he's a solid recruiter, and having some proof of success in his back pocket might be all he needs to land a big kid or two.  With the success of this season, don't be surprised if Mizzou shows up on the list of favorites for a few of the 2010 class's top players (Memphis' Joe JacksonCasey Prather from Jackson, TN?  Ralston Turner from Muscle Shoals, AL?  They're all from areas Anderson has recruited in the past...), even beyond Pressey, Wade and Black.  Just remember this--it won't take much.  One great big man or a couple really good guards, and this program could soar.  It's taken off already.

(And of course, this big man still floats out there as a big 2009 name...)

Conclusion

It's ironic that Nolan Richardson was the one who delivered one of this year's classic quotes (“Lots of guys have agents and cousins that want them to go to the NBA. They complain about not getting enough touches.  Mike doesn’t want that. He doesn’t need to go out and sign a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans. He just needs to go find a few Burger King-type guys and he’ll get it done.") considering Richardson himself never had much success with a roster full of only "Burger King-types."  Even he seems to acknowledge that Anderson doesn't need as much top-flight talent as he did to succeed.

Basically, the whole 'blue chip' debate comes down to one thing: Mike Anderson took Mizzou to 31 wins, a Big 12 tourney title, and the Elite Eight with no players who even resembled blue chip recruits.  If Anderson were to start landing a few, would it hurt the underdog, blue-collar chemistry of the team, or would it launch Missouri into the top tier of college basketball programs?  People have different opinions, and there's no way to prove anybody correct or incorrect, but that's pretty much the center of the debate.

As I've mentioned many times regarding football recruiting, the star ratings and blue-chip concept revolve around margins for error and probabilities for success.  A 5-star recruit has a pretty high probability of success, while each progressive star down has less.  You can succeed with 3-star kids, but can you always succeed with them?  Or do you need the occasional big-time recruit?  Does Mike Anderson have such a great grasp of his Fastest 40 Minutes style that he really simply does not need any blue-chippers?

My official (waffling) answer: maybe, but probably not, and for one simple reason: we did try to land Snaer and Cousins this year.  We have offered Pressey, Black and Wade for 2010 (and those are only the ones we've heard about).  We do go after at least some top names (the ones we think would fit into our system, anyway), which suggests that we think we could succeed as much or more with them than with a team full of lunch-pail types.  And the fact that Nolan Richardson did succeed more with them than without them does make a pretty viable case (as does the fact that Mike Leach's system--the football equivalent to Anderson's in some ways--won more games with 4-stars Harrell and Crabtree at QB/WR than without them aids the argument).

Make no mistake, though: I'm cool either way.  There's nothing better than succeeding with a bunch of likable underdogs who play with a chip on their shoulder against schools that didn't recruit them.  If Mizzou never lands a 5-star recruit and fields a roster of JUCO transfers and 3-star players with ridiculous athletic ability and unique skill sets, I'll never stop enjoying watching them play, even if they're not quite as good as they were in 2008-09.  (And besides, Mizzou only landed Kim English because they missed out on Travis Releford and/or Scott Suggs.  Recruiting successes aren't always successes, and failures aren't always failures.)  I know that Anderson will squeeze every drop of talent out of every player he's got, and chances are Missouri will be a pretty damn good team no matter what.

But if they did want to go out and land their own Todd Day (man, I was frightened of that guy) or Corliss Williamson, I'd take my chances with them too.

(This is why you read RMN, right?  For tough stands like "I'm cool either way"?)

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