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Billy Donlon is making UMKC more competitive step by step

Despite close proximity, the series history isn’t very deep

NCAA Basketball: UMKC at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing like talking basketball as the football season bears down hard on us, but that’s where we are. We’re going to continue to look at each Non-Conference opponent now that the full schedule has been released. In the initial post of this series, we broke down the Central Michigan Chippewas. Since that post last Saturday, Mizzou officially released the entire schedule and if you read Links on Thursday you’ve seen the tweet but here it is again for brevity’s sake:

Last week here’s what we knew:

November 18th — Jacksonville Classic vs Northern Illinois, at Mizzou Arena

November 21st — Jacksonville Classic - vs SMU / then either Florida State or Loyola Marymount on the 22nd

November 26th — vs Wichita State at Mizzou Arena

December 2nd — vs Lib***y Fl*m*s at wherever it is they play

December 7th — vs Eastern Illinois at Mizzou Arena

December 11th — Mizzou vs Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, also Brandon Kiley’s wedding day

December 18th — vs Utah at Mizzou Arena

December 22nd — Braggin’ Rights: Mizzou vs Illinois, ScottTrade Center

January 29th — Big 12 / SEC Challenge vs Iowa State, at Iowa State

Missing in the “what we knew” was a November 15th matchup against the exceptionally mascotted UMKC Kangaroos, and nothing else. I figured Mizzou would try and sneak in a game after Braggin’ Rights as a tune-up before the SEC season starts but that was left off and only UMKC was added. So let’s talk about the…

UM-Kansas City Kangaroos

Head Coach: Billy Donlon

NCAA Basketball: UMKC at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Donlon’s past is an interesting one. He’s, of all things, a Brad Brownell disciple who took over Wright State when Brownell took the Clemson job. While at Wright State, Donlon was actually pretty good. He was the Horizon League Coach of the Year in 2013, had a down year in 2015, rebounded in 2016 to tie for second in the league and was summarily fired by an Athletics Director named Bob Grant. Bob Grant is still at Wright State. The Horizon League, by the way, has since gotten worse, so while the record for the program has been better, the overall program and outlook is probably only moderately improved, if at all. But Donlon had the one failure of — in a single bid league — not making the NCAA tournament in his tenure.

After being fired by Bob at Wright State, Donlon accepted an assistant position with John Beilein at Michigan, and then moved to Northwestern under Chris Collins before taking the job at UMKC. In two years coaching the ‘Roos, Donlon is 27-27. Which doesn’t really sound inspiring but considering the program hasn’t been very good and only above .500 three times in the last 15 years in league play... and once in the last two years under Donlon... that’s an achievement.

So is the program making progress under Donlin? They were 203rd in KenPom last year, but a big component of their success was Brandon McKissic, who has moved on to play for the Florida Gators. But Donlon isn’t replacing all that much else, so the ‘Roos could be dangerous in the Summit league this year.

You heard that last part right; UMKC is back in the Summit League after a brief salvo into the Western Athletic Conference for 7 years. The WAC is a better league than the Summit, but the Summit makes 1,000,000 times more sense. Instead of playing New Mexico State, Seattle, UT-Rio Grande Valley, and * squints * Chicago State, UMKC is facing off against Nebraska-Omaha, Oral Roberts, some Dakota schools, and Western Illinois.


Yes, these two teams have played in the past. And yes, the last time they played it was a stone cold wake up call for the start of the Kim Anderson era of Mizzou Basketball. Missouri lost that game in 2014 by 8 points. If you remember the game at all, it was a train wreck. UMKC Sophomore Martez Harrison, a KC Native, shot 16 free throws and made 15 of them. Meanwhile Montaque Gill-Caesar took 23 of the 63 shot attempts, and Wes Clark attempted 14. So Missouri had two players take nearly 60% of the shot attempts.

In brighter moments, Mizzou played the ‘Roos in 2005 and won by 18. Again they played in early 2008 and the Tigers won by 20. Then they played in 2009 and the Tigers took it by 34 points.

Beyond the two basketball teams and their head-to-heads, UM-Kansas City’s history is... well, it exists. They’ve been a Division 1 program since the 1989-90 season and have never played in an NCAA tournament, and have just one 20 win season in 1992. The same year this happened in the NCAA Tournament. And I don’t mean to bag on the program, but I do think there is some untapped potential at UMKC. It’s just mostly failed to capitalize at any point over the last 20 plus years. There’s been little capture of local talent, and it does appear Donlon at least has some things working to get the ‘Roos going a little bit, and the conference fits them far better than the WAC.

What about the team now?

The good news is that absent McKissic, UMKC has a chance to make a little noise this season because they’re returning so many other important players from a year ago. Josiah Allick is back after averaging 15 points a game a year ago. Marvin Nesbitt is back and he averaged double figures. Overall, Donlon had some issues with availability, mostly due to COVID, so it’s hard to judge this team completely. But there are some key players coming back to a team that wasn’t awful last year.

How do they adapt to a season without McKissic? It’s hard to see. This is a game Mizzou should win and likely win by double digits. But there’s a clear path for UMKC to make some noise and at least put an early scare into the Tigers.