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Kevin Keatts is the mid-major coach you didn’t know you needed

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From Hargrave Military Academy to championship assistant, Keatts checks a lot of boxes.

NCAA Basketball: CAA Conference Tournament - UNCW vs Northeastern Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri’s head coaching job opening up, it’s time to talk about some potential candidates. Thus far, we have discussed Gregg Marshall, Tom Crean, Chris Holtmann, and Cuonzo Martin. Next on the list is one of the only mid-major coaches who could get a look, Kevin Keatts.

PROFILE: Kevin Keatts

  • Current Salary: $500,000
  • Buyout: $200,000
  • Career Win%: .727 (77-27)

I’m going to cheat because I don’t like repeating myself. From “Four Mid-Major Coaches who will be on everyone’s list”:

Kevin Keatts seems to be at the very top of every coaching list you can find and with good reason. Keatts took over a good program in the dumpster (sound familiar?). Benny Moss and Buzz Peterson both ran UNC-Wilmington into the ground after Brad Brownell had a nice run of success. Wilmington is a beautiful small town on the coast of North Carolina, so if there’s a place you might want wait things out, you could do a lot worse than Wilmington.

The history on Keatts is a former prep school coach at Hargrave Military Academy, who took a job as an assistant at Louisville and helped them win a National Title in 2013, and took the head coaching job at UNC-Wilmington in 2014. In 2013-14, the Seahawks were 9-23 and finished last in the CAA. Keatts took over and lead the Seahawks to a share of a conference title and an 18-14 record. The next season Keatts went 25-8 and won the CAA, including the Seahawks first trip to the NCAAs since 2006. This season they’re 21-4 and in 1st place in the CAA. Currently ranked 55th in KenPom, the Seahawks have been turned around and done so quite quickly.

Keatts will be tied to pretty much every college head coaching opening this offseason. He’s got everything you could want in an “up-and-coming” coach. His resume is nearly complete, a Power Conference Assistant, experience in the prep school recruiting area, and a successful mid to low-major head coaching job. The next step will be Keatts picking the right Power Conference job and probably at the end of this season.

There’s been a lot of smoke from the Mizzou administration about wanting somebody with proven power conference head coaching experience. That’s one box that Keatts very much does not check.

Every other box though?

  • Power conference recruiting: ✔︎
  • NCAA Tournament experience: ✔︎
  • Program rebuilding: ✔︎
  • Accomplished winner: ✔︎

I’m not sure how many boxes you have, but that seems pretty accomplished to me. Keatts is the name most brought up with jobs on the east coast, and with good reason. He’s a Virginia guy. He played Division III basketball at Ferrum College in western Virginia. He built up Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, took a job at Louisville, and ended up in North Carolina.

If Missouri can somehow talk this East Coast guy into moving to mid-Missouri, it would be an accomplishment.

Being on staff when a team wins a national championship helps build your profile, and Louisville won with several recruits for whom Keatts was the lead recruiter. Being a hot-shot assistant doesn’t always translate into wins as a head coach, of course, in Keatts’ case, the experience has translated well.

UNC-Wilmington finished this season 60th in KenPom with a final record of 29-5. Take a look at this progression:

2014: #290 (9-23) —> 2015: #174 (18-14) —> 2016: #83 (25-8) —> 2017: #60 (29-5)

2014 was before Keatts. His one-year turnaround of 116 spots is miraculous, and he followed that up with a 91 spot jump. Just jaw dropping.

NCAA Basketball: CAA Conference Tournament Finals- Hofstra vs North Carolina-Wilmington Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Keatts’ teams play mostly man defense and like to pitch some full court traps when they can. Offensively, they do what a lot of teams do these days — ball screen motion.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Keatts team this year is the Seahawks’ 13.9% turnover ratio while playing a relatively quick tempo. But their No. 286 ranking in FTA/FGA says they probably settle for a few too many jumpers.

The case for Keatts is a simple one: catching a star on the rise. It’s possible that if you hire somebody like him, he moves on after a few years. If things improve in the sort of manner everyone would hope, and he’s able to land the kind of job he wants, maybe he takes something closer to home. Or maybe he finds a home in Missouri and is the guy who sticks.

You can probably pay him a little less than one of the other more established candidates, but the savings could be inserted back in to the program and establish a level of support for Keatts that entices him to stay for a while.

There’s no denying Keatts will be a target of just about every athletic director in need of a coach — one unwilling to play the “retread” game, anyway.

I don’t see Jim Sterk turning to Keatts. Indeed, it appears Sterk wants power conference head coaching experience. But I would certainly do due diligence on him. You’d want to make sure he was clean in the issues Louisville had with the NCAA a few years back, though he was seemingly absolved. But his ability to turn a program around, coupled with an eye for players (and the ability to woo them), makes him an incredibly attractive candidate.