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Mike Anderson vs Nolan Richardson (Part One)

I've had this ready to post for a couple days now, but I was afraid to jinx the chances of Anderson signing an extension--nothing would be worse than talking about Mike Anderson's bright future with Missouri and watching him sign with another school moments later.  Clearly I was underestimating Anderson.


Every time you see a national story on Missouri Basketball, there's about a 98% chance that Nolan Richardson's name will be dropped.  Those odds increase to 1000% if he's in the stands for a Mizzou game, wearing his Hawaiian shirt and Panama Jack hat.  Even though Mike Anderson calls his system a name that is a bit more tame (no "hell" in "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball"), it is still Richardson's system.  Many, many basketball fans were having Razorback flashbacks last Thursday night as Missouri was running an athletic Memphis team off the court, and Saturday afternoon, as Missouri as almost doing the same to a UConn team that had been considered the best-playing team thus far in the NCAA Tournament.

Over Anderson's first couple of seasons here, the question surrounding Anderson (and Richardson) was simply, can the 40 Minutes of Heck system work in the Big 12?  The answer was unclear.  Now, after 31 wins, a Big 12 tourney title, and an Elite Eight run in just his third season at the helm, there is nothing but clarity in that regard.  Yes, this system can win here.  The question now becomes, how much?  Richardson won a national title in Fayetteville and went to three Final Fours.  Is that a legitimate goal here, or was the Elite Eight as good as it's going to get?

The best way to answer that question is to compare Anderson and Richardson at this stage in their respective careers.

Stage 1: UAB/Tulsa

Nolan Richardson took over a Tulsa program that, under Jim King, had struggled.  In five seasons under King, the Golden Hurricane had gone just 45-90.  Richardson stepped in and engineered an immediate 18-win turnaround (thanks, in part, to a JUCO-transfer point guard named Mike Anderson).  Richardson coached in Tulsa for five years, racking up 119 wins.  After winning the NIT in 1981 with a series of dramatic wins over UTEP, South Alabama, West Virginia and Syracuse, Richardson went to the NCAA Tourney in 1982 (losing by 4 to eventual regional champ Houston in the second round*), 1984 (losing by 2 to Louisville in the second round*) and 1985 (upset by UTEP in round one).  He landed the Arkansas job in 1985 after five seasons.

* In both tourneys, they lost in the second round after receiving a bye in Round One, so they didn't actually win an NCAA Tourney game either year.

Anderson engineered a similar turnaround at UAB.  After Murray Bartow had taken over for dad Gene, the Blazers had slowly begun unraveling as a program, falling from 20 wins in '98-'99, to 17 in '00-'01, to 13 in '01-'02.  Anderson took over after almost two decades with Richardson, and he engineered an immediate 8-win turnaround.  UAB made the NIT in '03 and beat UL-Lafayette and Siena before losing in the quarterfinals to eventual champ St. John's.  In 2004, he upped the ante, not only making the NCAA Tournament (just like Richardson did in his second season), but making some noise.  After winning one of the decade's most entertaining tourney games (UAB 102, Washington 100), they upset the Midwest Region's #1 team, Kentucky, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.  In 2005, more noise--the 11-seeded Blazers thumped 6-seed LSU by 14 before losing to Arizona.  After a third straight trip to the NCAA's in 2006, Mizzou snatched Anderson up.

(AP Photo/Brian Bahr)

First Jobs
Nolan Richardson Mike Anderson

Tulsa's 5 previous years:
45-90 (0.333)

1980-81: 26-7 (5-0 NIT)
1981-82: 24-6 (0-1 NCAAs)
1982-83: 19-12 (0-1 NIT)
1983-84: 27-4 (0-1 NCAAs)
1984-85: 23-8 (0-1 NCAAs)

119-37 (0.763)
0-3 NCAAs
5-1 NIT

UAB's 5 previous years:
85-69 (0.552)

2002-03: 21-13 (2-1 NIT)
2003-04: 22-10 (2-1 NCAAs)
2004-05: 22-11 (1-1 NCAAs)
2005-06: 24-7 (0-1 NCAAs)

89-41 (0.685)
3-3 NCAAs
2-1 NIT

Richardson took over a program in much worse shape than what Anderson inherited and produced a better win percentage, but a) Anderson likely played tougher schedules (remember when Conference USA was pretty good?), and b) Anderson had greater NCAA Tournament success with worse seeds.  Pluses to both records, but at worst, Anderson's success was extremely comparable to Richardson's.   At best, his wins in the NCAA Tourney make him more successful at this stage.

Stage 2: First 3 Years at Arkansas/Missouri

Anderson may have inherited a healthier program at UAB than Richardson did at Tulsa, but Richardson definitely inherited a healthier program at Arkansas than what Anderson found at Missouri.  From 1974 to 1985, a pre-scandal Eddie Sutton had turned the Arkansas program around 180 degrees.  In 11 seasons, he had won 260 games and made the Final Four in 1978.  When he moved on to take the Kentucky job (a move he probably regretted a few years later, ahem), Arkansas replaced him with Richardson.

Richardson's first team experienced quite a few growing pains, and the Razorbacks sank from 22 wins under Sutton in '84-'85 to 12 under Richardson in '85-'86.  But that was only a momentary setback.  Arkansas went from 12 wins to 19 in '86-'87 to 21 to '87-'88.  Eight years into his head coaching career, Richardson had still not won an NCAA Tournament game, but Arkansas was clearly on the rise.

Meanwhile, Anderson showed up in Columbia as Mizzou was working off the last of the probation they had received as punishment for some minor transgressions under Quin Snyder.  Mizzou had just experienced back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1977-79, and Athletic Director Mike Alden was in danger of getting fired.  With a team of mostly Snyder holdovers and a couple JUCO recruits, Mizzou caught immediate fire under Anderson, starting his first season 8-0 and wrecking (ironically enough) Arkansas by 22.  It seemed the turnaround had already begun, but after that 8-0 start, the Tigers went just 26-28 over the rest of the next two seasons.  Most of Snyder's holdovers didn't fit into the system, plus there were character issues with both a couple Snyder recruits and a couple of the JUCO transfers Anderson brought in.  Anderson issued quite a few suspensions over those two seasons, and heading into his third year, it really didn't appear that the program had good traction.

And then 2008-09 happened.  Ten of Anderson's 12 scholarship players were his own recruits (or transfers), he was able to completely implement his own style, and the wins started coming in, hand over fist.  The team was a perfect mix of experience and precocious youth, and in one year, Mizzou almost doubled its wins from the previous two combined.

First Three Years at the Second Job
Nolan Richardson Mike Anderson

Arkansas' 5 previous years:
120-38 (0.759)

1985-86: 12-16
1986-87: 19-14 (1-1 NIT)
1987-88: 21-9 (0-1 NCAAs)

52-39 (0.571)
0-1 NCAAs
1-1 NIT

Mizzou's 5 previous years:
90-70 (0.563)

2006-07: 18-12
2007-08: 16-16
2008-09: 31-7 (3-1 NCAAs)

65-35 (0.650)
3-1 NCAAs
0-1 NIT

So Anderson took over a program in worse shape and led them to more immediate success than Richardson did when he took over a much more healthy Arkansas program.  Richardson did lead his team to the NIT in Year #2, and Anderson did not, but that's picking nits.  Mizzou was eligible for the NIT in both of Anderson's first two years.

Let's take a closer look at some of the stats to which we've grown accustomed through this basketball season.

Nolan Richardson's First 3 Seasons at Arkansas
Arkansas Opp
Points Per Minute
1.84 1.72
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.03 0.96
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.26 1.22
2-PT FG% 48.2% 45.5%
3-PT FG%** 35.9% 37.1%
FT% 67.7% 66.4%
True Shooting % 53.4% 51.3%
Arkansas Opp
Assists/Gm 13.2 13.9
Steals/Gm 8.6 6.2
Turnovers/Gm 15.7 17.0
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.39 1.18
Arkansas Opp
Rebounds Per Game*
36.4 36.2
Differential +0.2
* Offensive rebound stats don't exist for the mid-'80s Arkansas stats, so I wasn't able to do my typical look at "Expected Offensive Rebounds".

** The 3-point shot didn't come around until 1986-87, one year into Richardson's term.

Mike Anderson's First 3 Seasons at Missouri
Mizzou Opp
Points Per Minute
1.98 1.76
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.10 0.97
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.28 1.25
2-PT FG% 51.7% 47.6%
3-PT FG% 35.3% 32.9%
FT% 68.0% 69.0%
True Shooting % 55.6% 52.8%
Mizzou Opp
Assists/Gm 17.1 12.4
Steals/Gm 9.6 6.5
Turnovers/Gm 13.2 18.1
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.02 1.04
Mizzou Opp
Rebounds/Gm 35.6 37.3
Differential -1.7

Anderson's teams have been better finishers and better at the BCI style of game, but Richardson's teams were better at rebounding and a hair better at defending shots.


Tomorrow we look at how the rest of Richardson's career unfolded, and what it may mean for Mike Anderson at Missouri.