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Coaching Search Bracket: Dennis Gates vs. Jeff Linder

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At Wyoming, Linder’s carved out a niche as an offensive savant, while Dennis Gates’ comes with experience on a high-major staff and a quick rebuild of his own at Cleveland State.

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NCAA Basketball: Boise State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri’s embarked upon its fourth search for a basketball coach in roughly a decade, and as usual, you can find a listicle of candidates anywhere. We also know every fan has their preference. As does each of us on the masthead for this website.

A thought occurred to us: What would happen if you, me, and everyone else ran the process?

How are we doing this? Over the next four days, we’ll roll out four regions featuring a pair of matchups. We’ve assembled a profile for each candidate: their background, play style, pros, and cons. At the bottom of each piece is a poll, where you have 24 hours to make your preference known. The fan vote will make up 50 percent of the vote.

Who makes up the other half? The Rock M staff.

If the staff is unanimous and the fans make the same selection, easy enough. If, however, there is a consensus amongst the staff, but the fans disagree, we have a tie. To break the tie, we’ve enlisted the services of Jim Root (@2ndChancePoints), who will render the final verdict.

Today, we’re looking at relative young bloods. Here, it’s Wyoming’s Jeff Linder and Cleveland State’s Dennis Gates. The other pairing is George Mason’s Kim English and San Francisco’s Todd Golden.

Happy vetting, and feel free to share your reasoning in the comments after voting.


Houston v Cleveland State Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
  • Name: Dennis Gates
  • School: Cleveland State
  • Age: 41
  • Seasons: 3
  • Record: 50-39
  • Salary: $550,550
  • Buyout: $600,000

Background

July is an awful time to hire a basketball coach. Three years ago, though, that’s where Cleveland State found itself in that predicament. Eleven players, including leading scorer Tyree Appleby, transferred out, and rumors wafted around about the culture under Dennis Felton.

In came Dennis Gates, a trusted consigliere from Leonard Hamilton’s staff at Florida State. So what drew him to a commuter school in the Horizon League? Location, location, location. The urban campus sits along the I-80 corridor, offering access to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. The Vikings could also reach southwest Ohio and further west into Indianapolis.

But that was a longer-term plan.

Early on, Gates needed bodies. But instead of hitting the transfer portal, he turned to the JUCO ranks, where talent had simply been under-evaluated. His debut campaign was predictably awful: 11-21 and 313th in KenPom.

His second season was looking equally grim after a 55-point loss at Ohio, one where the Vikings gave up a 40-0 run. However, several days later, they played Ohio State to the final horn. Then started Horizon League play 9-0. Unsurprisingly, Gates’ squad built that foundation on the defensive end of the floor. It ended with a Horizon League tournament title and its first NCAA tournament bid since 2009.

Gates got more good news this offseason when a pair of starters – point guard Craig Beaudion and forward Torrey Craig – used COVID eligibility to stick around. Meanwhile, the Vikings also returned Tre Gomillion and D’Moi Hodge while extracting D’Shon Hodge from Appalachian State.

Opening the season with back-to-back losses to BYU and Ohio blunted early momentum. They were picking off preseason Horizon favorite Wright State en route to a 10-1 start in league action by December. That’s ebbed a bit, though, down the stretch.

Oakland completed a season sweep last weekend, and the Vikings were closer to .500 down the stretch. And earlier this week, Wright State dropkicked the Vikes in the semifinals of the Horizon League tourney.

Play Style

Gates’ playbook is stocked with stuff you see across the sport: middle pick-and-rolls, chin sets, horns, and Spain pick-and-roll. The only difference is the Vikings play a tad faster this season than they did a year ago. But Cleveland State’s at its best when it’s guarding, and there are elements of Hamilton’s junkyard defense – extreme rotations to help in the middle – built-in. Still, CSU has regressed at that end of the floor, sliding to 239th in adjusted efficiency from 138th last year.

Pros

Gates inherited a program incapacitated on a crash cart and had it in the NCAA tournament within two seasons. That’s impressive. Sure, that team finished 169th in KenPom, but that’s still well ahead of the median in the Horizon League.

What’s interesting, too, is Gates relied on JUCO talent more than traditional transfers. It was also his niche at times for Hamilton. I don’t know whether that becomes a new market inefficiency, but it could help Gates patch some holes at a high major.

Fans will care about his work with elite prep prospects, though. And Gates reportedly played a crucial role in wooing Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon, and Mfiondu Kabengele to Tallahassee.

Now for a wonky bit: He structures his staff in an enticing way. Rob Summers serves as offensive coordinator. Ryan Sharbaugh orchestrates the defense. Dru Summers III handles special teams and heads up recruiting.

Cons

The turnaround Gates orchestrated is undoubtedly impressive. That said, Cleveland State reached 80th in KenPom under Gary Waters. There’s still room for growth under Gates’ direction. Ideally, you’d have another season to gauge what that looks like. Or have him move up and revive an Atlantic 10-level program.

Stylistically, too, there’s not a distinct imprint. Again, it’s not a dealbreaker, but it just stands in stark contrast to some other coaches you’ll see on the list.

Yet Gates seems marked as a fast riser, interviewing for openings at Boston College and DePaul last year. He has high-major experience and in part of the country where MU might want to mine for talent.

That said, Georgia is open. Clemson might also have a vacancy. Gates might find it easier to draw prospects to those campuses than pulling northward to Columbia. Both of those programs also have larger athletic budgets to boot.


WYOMING COWBOYS VS SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS, NCAA MEN”u2019S BASKETBALL
  • Name: Jeff Linder
  • School: Wyoming
  • Age: 44
  • Seasons: 2
  • Record: 39-18 (119-68 overall)
  • Salary: $510,000
  • Buyout: Unknown

Background

Jeff Linder works quickly.

Two years ago, Wyoming had flatlined under Allen Edwards and looked south to Northern Colorado. The Bears were coming off a third-consecutive 20-win campaign, a miracle considering the program was hit with sanctions for academic fraud by its former staff.

The folks in Laramie hoped Linder, a Denver native and former assistant at Boise State, might resurrect the Cowboys just as quickly. Now, as Selection Sunday closes in, the Cowboys are riding toward an at-large bid with style that defies Linder’s preferences.

To Linder, his team’s rim-and-3 rate is a barometer appropriate shot selection. He covets shooting but abhors long 2s. And his first team embraced that mentality, launching 44 percent of its shot from behind the 3-point arc and hitting at a 36.3 percent clip.

But last spring, the transfer portal hoovered up point guard Marcus Williams, the Mountain West’s freshman of the year, and fellow veteran Kwame Marble.

What did Linder do? Two words: post up.

Linder doesn’t covet just any 3. Like many coaches, those taken after a paint touch please him. But without Williams, who returned to his home state to join Texas A&M, how would he split defenses open? Fortunately, his roster offered a solution.

At 6-foot-7, Hunter Maldonado is a point forward, while sophomore Graham Ike is a burly big who can jostle on the block and do more than crab dribble. So, the Pokes leaned into an old-school method of rim pressure. Counting passes out, almost 40 percent of their possessions flow through post-ups – or 15 percentage points more than Purdue.

By trading out 3-balls for high-value 2s, the Cowboys are up to 38th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Quietly, though, the Cowboys have seen a dramatic improvement defensively, rising to 76th in adjusted efficiency from 301st.

Play Style

The Cowboys are still hunting switches like crazy this season and kicking the ball out to shooters. But instead of using ball-screens, Linder reoriented his offense to create interior mismatches.

Sometimes, Wyoming doesn’t even action. They just clear out a side of the floor and let Maldonado or Ike go to work. Shooters creep into the slot to keep help from sliding down toward the bucket. When help comes across the lane, the decision is easy – dump the ball off.

Watch where Linder has his players set screens, too. Often, they’re near the nail instead of the top of the arc. For example, UW might call 77 – double staggers – at that spot, with Maldonado exploiting the second defender who switches on to him. If it’s a smaller guard, it’s a bully post-up. When it’s a big, he can glide by. Sometimes, Ike serves as a screener and will slip against a small defender to bury them inside.

Is Linder married to this style? Not at all. But it’s a testament to how adept he is at adjusting his scheme to match the strong suit of his roster.

Pros

For wonks like us, Linder checks a ton of boxes: a devotee of analytics, watches Euroleague, and has worked with guys like Grant McCasland, serving as his offensive coordinator back in the day at Midland College in Texas.

Linder’s also got a keen eye for talent as he roams gyms in the summer. At Weber State, he handled the in-person scout of a guard named Damian Lillard. Next, he identified a pair of second-rounders – Chandler Hutchison and Justinian Jessup – for BSU. Linder’s secret: find players who are young for their class or may have questions about their body type.

He’s also blunt about his approach to player development – playing time. He spells it out clearly for recruits, and if they need 600 minutes of action early on, he’ll commit to that.

Also, early indications hint at relative stability in the Pac-12’s coaching ranks. Would Linder want to wait for a job closer to home? Or is it time for him to cash out while his stock is high?

Cons

Linder lacks obvious regional ties. He’s spent the bulk of his career out west, and his current staff has deep ties to Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado. Can he assemble a staff that will have the relationships to get him up and running in a different footprint?

There’s also the matter of defense. This year, Wyoming is doing the job, but Linder’s next best group finished 94th back in 2018. No doubt, he puts a fun product on the floor, but can it thrive at both ends.

Moreover, if you’re going to gamble on a coach from out west, where does Linder sit in the pecking order? Niko Medved has a longer track record. Todd Golden is holding his own at San Francisco. And if you’re looking for a potential high-major coach to swipe, Washington State’s Kyle Smith has compiled an intriguing resumé.


Poll

Which coach would you prefer to see leading Missouri next season?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Dennis Gates
    (129 votes)
  • 79%
    Jeff Linder
    (511 votes)
640 votes total Vote Now