A blue-collar Missouri team defied expectations, captured the basketball world’s heart and nearly earned a trip to the NCAA Final Four. Now, university leaders are turning their attention to keeping the coach who led the resurrection.

A blue-collar Missouri team defied expectations, captured the basketball world’s heart and nearly earned a trip to the NCAA Final Four. Now, university leaders are turning their attention to keeping the coach who led the resurrection.
Mike Anderson capped his third year coaching the Tigers with a Big 12 Conference tournament title, a school-record 31 wins and a narrow loss Saturday to top-seeded Connecticut in the West Regional final. School officials want to increase Anderson’s $850,000 annual salary to at least $1 million and extend his contract for five more years.
“We want Mike Anderson to be at the University of Missouri for a very long time,” athletic director Mike Alden, who hired Anderson from Alabama-Birmingham in 2006 to replace Quin Snyder, said Monday night.
Anderson has been coy about his intentions. His name had been linked to several vacancies, including the top job in his home state of Alabama. But that position is off the table after the Crimson Tide on Friday lured Anthony Grant from Virginia Commonwealth.
Before the Connecticut game, Anderson offered one of his few public statements about his coaching status — neither acknowledging interest in any other job nor saying anything to quell the rumors.
“I’m excited about what we’re doing at Missouri,” he said. “We are doing some great things. If you look at these kids I have up here, I’m excited about the future.”
Anderson’s future could hinge on the end-of-season coaching carousel, which on Monday saw Kentucky receive permission from Memphis to talk to John Calipari about its vacancy. Amid speculation that Memphis might target Anderson in turn, Alden denied reports from some Tennessee media that Memphis had sought his permission to talk to Anderson.
“Frankly, that flat-out never happened,” Alden said during the weekly Tiger Talk radio broadcast.
Alden did not directly respond to a question by Tiger Radio Network play-by-play announcer Mike Kelly whether Georgia, another prospective Anderson suitor, had contacted him.
Anderson takes part in Tiger Talk for much of the season until the final few weeks and did not participate in Monday night’s broadcast.
The Tigers, who finished with a 31-7 record, lose seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence. The three starters combined for nearly half of the team’s scoring average of 81.5 points this season. Team leader Michael Anderson Jr., the coach’s son, is also gone.
But Missouri will have starting guards J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor returning as seniors next season. They will be joined by three backcourt players who earned valuable experience as freshmen: Miguel Paul, Marcus Denmon and Kim English.
Filling the frontcourt gap created by the loss of Lyons and Carroll will be more challenging.
But after watching sophomore Justin Safford and junior Keith Ramsey more than hold their own against the Huskies in the regional championship’s tense final minutes, Lyons said he expects Missouri’s return to the elite ranks of college basketball to be more than one-and-done.
“A lot of people don’t get to see what those guys can do because they come in the game with the defensive mind-set,” he said after the Connecticut loss. “But this program is going to be the same or even better. ... Now they know success and hopefully they will keep it up.”
Missouri will add at least two newcomers in the 2009-10 season: 6-foot-10 forward Keith Dewitt from Charis Prep in Wilson, N.C., and 6-foot guard Michael Dixon from Lee’s Summit West near Kansas City.
Coming off a 16-16 mark and 10th place Big 12 finish in 2007-08, few expected Missouri to break out as one of the NCAA tournament’s surprise teams this year. Certainly not Anderson’s fellow Big 12 coaches, who before the season predicted a seventh-place conference finish.
All along, Anderson preached that his combination of high-pressure defense, physical conditioning and selfless teamwork could restore Missouri basketball to the lofty perch it occupied under longtime coach Norm Stewart.
The formula succeeded this season beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic of Missouri fans, including a a second-round NCAA win over Marquette in which Missouri built a 16-point lead only to fall behind by six late in the second half before coming back.
Missouri then scored 102-91 third-round romp over favored Memphis, setting a record for points scored against any team coached by Calipari, Anderson’s former Conference USA rival while at Alabama-Birmingham. With a 65-foot buzzer-beater just before halftime, Denmon cemented his place in NCAA tournament lore, even if he never makes another basket in his Missouri career.
The Connecticut loss denied Missouri its first Final Four appearance.
“We came from nothing,” said Lawrence, who under Snyder barely earned a scholarship and saw little playing time. “I have never been part of a team that was more cohesive than this one.”
“The future looks very bright here for Missouri.”