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Coaching Search Bracket: Niko Medved vs. Casey Alexander

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Niko Medved’s proven his rebuilding chops at Furman, Drake and Colorado State. Prying Casey Alexander away from Belmont would mean convincing him to leave his alma mater and one of the country’s most consistent mid-majors.

NCAA Basketball: Wyoming at Colorado State Isaiah J. Downing-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.

On Saturday, we looked at the Young Bloods Region, featuring Kim English, Todd Golden, Dennis Gates, and Jeff Linder.

Today, we’re moving on to the Steady Risers Region. Here, it’s Colorado State’s Niko Medved and Belmont’s Casey Alexander. The other pairing features Murray State’s Matt McMahon and North Texas’ Grant McCasland.

Happy vetting, and you can vote for you preferred choice at the bottom of the piece.


WYOMING COWBOYS VS COLORADO STATE RAMS, NCAA MEN”u2019S BASKETBALL
  • Name: Niko Medved
  • School: Colorado State
  • Age: 48
  • Seasons: 4
  • Record: 76-44 (155-132 overall)
  • Salary: $750,000
  • Buyout: $943,750

Background

Look, Niko Medved’s name will be attached to many a hot board this spring.

Rightly so, too.

At Furman, he took the Paladins from sevens to 23-11 – and a spot in the CIT semifinals – in four seasons. During a one-season layover at Drake, the Bulldogs went 17-17, a 10-win improvement. And in his fourth year at CSU, the Rams are tracking toward a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.

He already saw his name listed for openings last year at Marquette, Iowa State, and Minnesota, which happens to be his alma mater. Starting at 10-0 this year – including wins over Creighton, Saint Mary’s, and Mississippi State – put his name on radars once again. It also put CSU in the top 25 for the first time since 2015.

Not that it’s been totally smooth. San Diego State blitzed the Rams by 30. UNLV swept them. And they let a key victory – and potential Mountain West title – slip away when Isaiah Stevens lost track of the shot clock, committed a turnover, and set up game-winning possession for Wyoming.

Still, the folks in FoCO are thrilled.

Last season, the Rams were one of the four teams left on the NCAA tournament stoop, holding a 1-2 record in Quad 1 games after COVID ravaged their schedule. But they returned Isaiah Stevens, John Tonje, and David Roddy, a trio of lightly regarded prospects who are core components of an elite offense.

This season, Roddy earned Mountain West player of the year honors and is tight end running the point at times for a program ranked 17th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Or he can hand the job over to Stevens, who has a 27.8 percent assist rate. All the while, Tonje, a 39.7 percent shooter from deep, keeps the floor spaced.

To Medved, the program is also a second home. He worked on staffs for Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy before taking the job at Furman in 2013. He served as recruiting coordinator and helped turn a program ravaged by APR sanctions into a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament – a group MU fans remember well.

Medved had to clean up Eustachy’s mess this go-around after the coach violated a zero-tolerance policy against emotionally abusing his players. Medved and his staff spent two years trying to reset a culture as much as put a product on the floor that would bring fans back to the Moby Center.

The question is whether Medved’s itching to do it again at a new stop.

Play Style

Tracing the roots of Medved’s hybrid system goes back two decades when he was an assistant at Furman assigned to scout Creighton. Poring over the tape, Medved fell head over heels for Dana Altman’s version of the spread offense. Once he got the head job at the school in 2013, the system gave him a toehold in a tough Southern Conference.

Yet Medved admits he’s steadily moved away from those roots. Today, the Rams rely on a fusion. There are elements of John Beilein’s shuffle series, Lennie Acuff’s retrofitted Princeton attack, and straight five-out. The product is pristine spacing, lots of false motion, big men at the pinch post or in the slot, and a battering ram in Roddy playing point forward.

Pros

Medved works quickly. But he also does so in a sustainable way, preferring to build around prep prospects instead of quick additions from the transfer portal. To Medved, getting old doesn’t count for much if there’s no continuity. On the flip side, the first two years typically require patience.

He also has ample regional ties from Minnesota to his short stint – and awkward exit — in Des Moines. His staff also has connections. Ali Farokmanesh is a familiar name to some Mizzou fans, but he also worked as a recruiting director for three seasons at Nebraska. Brian Cooley has made stops at South Dakota State and Nebraska. Meanwhile, Sam Jones arrived from the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he worked in player development for its G League affiliate.

While Medved inked an extension in July 2021, his buyout terms are still more than affordable for an SEC program. Moreover, it’s a reasonable sticker price for a coach who executed three rebuilds and is considered an innovator at the offensive end of the floor.

Given that MU athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois arrived from UNLV, a fellow Mountain West member, she’s likely familiar with Medved and his circumstances in Fort Collins.

Cons

Medved told Doug Gottlieb on a podcast in the preseason that watching Miles, his former boss, flameout at Nebraska imparted a lesson.

“Why mess with happiness?” he told Gottlieb. “I’m envious of coaches that are able to go to a place and have long-term success, to really establish a culture, and have a family that becomes entrenched in the community.”

You might scoff at that, but Medved also has another year left with a core that’s poised to make the NCAA tournament. CSU just upped his assistant pool. And the coaching carousel might not spin so fast this offseason. So, he could wait another year, and it’s unlikely his stock price would take a hit.

Basically, would Medved move to a high-major program whose resources are in the lower-third of its conference?

For MU’s part, it might also be hard to sell a coach that’s won only 54 percent of his games and made just one NCAA tournament trip. But, right or wrong, there’s clamoring for a more proven commodity. Right or wrong, the fanbase is putting a premium on name recognition.


NCAA Basketball: Belmont at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
  • Name: Casey Alexander
  • School: Belmont
  • Age: 49
  • Seasons: 3
  • Record: 73-16 (205-134 overall)
  • Salary: $543,000
  • Buyout: Unknown

Background

You place this call expecting a polite rebuff. Alexander played at Belmont. He spent 16 years on Rick Byrd’s staff. And he was the legend’s (practically) anointed successor. Only Alexander took Byrd’s template – namely his four-out offense – and assembled a more than credible CV of his own with turnarounds at Stetson and Lipscomb, which sits less than two miles from Belmont’s campus.

Since taking over in 2019, Alexander’s kept one of the nation’s best mid-majors humming along. He’s steadily cultivated one of the nation’s best inside-out tandems in Nick Musyzinki and Grayson Murphy. His alma mater, which already leads the Ohio Valley Conference in spending, also shoveled in more resources, opening a $30 million athletics facility last year with top-shelf amenities for its front-porch program.

Soon enough, Belmont will leave the Ohio Valley Conference behind and join the Missouri Valley Conference next season. That move may help the Bruins avoid the plight they face this season: missing the NCAA tournament after losing in the semifinals of their conference tournament.

Play Style

Terminology was slightly tweaked, but Alexander kept 80 percent of his system in place after he took over. Alexander’s built a reputation for running action that slices opponents up with backdoor cuts like his mentor. Watching Belmont is a throwback experience, too.

The Bruins’ offense embraces pace-and-space but practically shuns pick-and-rolls. (They run them 6 percent of the time.) Purists will appreciate how fluidly Belmont screens and cuts. And the post-up isn’t dead in this offense. Bigs master seal plays, and guards toss pinpoint entry passes.

Shooting is a must, but what stands out about the Bruins are its bigs. They need to be sturdy enough to get deep position and agile enough to screen, slip, and pop. Oh, and be competent enough handling the ball to run some handoffs.

Pros

You won’t have a problem grasping Alexander’s offensive identity, and Alexander’s last four teams finished in the top-40 nationally for raw efficiency. If nothing else, he might put an entertaining product on the floor. The respective OVC and A-Sun footprints also have substantial overlap with the SEC. It also helps that Alexander faced half of the SEC membership in non-conference play over the years, including a 1-1 record against MU. He knows the landscape.

Cons

Why would Alexander leave? He inherited a sturdy program, makes good money, commutes a mile to work, and has an administration backing him to the hilt. So, aside from a higher salary, what’s the allure of a rebuild in Columbia?

There are also the inevitable questions around staffing and recruiting. Rick Ayers, the man coaching Belmont’s bigs, has been at the school 23 years and never worked anywhere else. Tyler Holloway, who Alexander also retained, started as a grad assistant and worked his way up. Meanwhile, Sean Rutigliano followed Alexander up the street from Lipscomb.


Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Niko Medved
    (290 votes)
  • 28%
    Casey Alexander
    (117 votes)
407 votes total Vote Now