The state of Missouri men’s basketball doesn’t make me angry. I’m not bitter. I don’t click out of Mizzou games on TV and switch to Netflix in a fit of disgust.
I like coach Cuonzo Martin. I respect him. I was happy when MU chose him to lead the program. I’d be happier if he put a consistent winner on the floor, and could develop a team that’s capable of making a run in the NCAA Tournament instead of being a one-and-done tourney participant every other year.
More than anything, this makes me sad. Worse, it makes me want to do something else with my time when I have many choices that are more appealing than watching Mizzou play hoops. Apathy is a terrible repercussion for any team, and here we are.
Like many of you, I’m frustrated by the play of his basketball team in just about every area, and almost perpetually exasperated by his offense. I’m puzzled by Missouri’s collapse this season; how can a team go from being solid to this sad in one year? My expectations for the season were lower – but I didn’t expect the sewer level.
Missouri was humiliated in Fayetteville on Wednesday night, demolished 87-43 by an Arkansas opponent that signed in with three straight losses in SEC games. How bad was this? The Razorbacks led 49-15 at the half. The Tigers made THREE field goals in the opening 20 minutes, missing 22 of 25 shots. Mercy me.
As one sharp observer noted on Twitter, Arkansas could have gone scoreless in the second half last night and still won the game by six.
Saturday’s 92-86 win over Alabama in CoMo came out of nowhere – and disappeared just as quickly. It wasn’t a game; it was a hallucination. Reality returned on Wednesday, when the Tigers suffered a trouncing of 20 or more points for the sixth time this season. Starting with the 102-65 catastrophe at Kansas on Dec. 11, Missouri’s last four losses have been by an average of 33.25 points.
Is this a return to Kim Anderson basketball? Well, the answer depends on your level of uncapped rage right now.
– The more level-headed souls would reject the comparison – politely of course. Martin was hired to succeed Norm Stewart, or Mike Anderson. MU turned to Martin after Kim Anderson won 28.4 percent of his total games over three seasons, and that includes only 8 wins in 54 SEC games. Martin made the NCAA Tournament in his first and fourth seasons at Mizzou. And 15 games into his fifth season as the leader of the Tigers, Martin has a .532 overall winning percentage and a 31-42 mark in the SEC. And even with the debacle in Arkansas, the Tigers are 7-8 overall this season including 1-2 in the conference. No one should be satisfied with those numbers, but the digits don’t match the “He’s Kim Anderson” narrative.
If nothing else, Martin made two NCAA Tournaments in his first four seasons after Mizzou had failed to make the NCAAs over four consecutive years preceding Cuonzo. A .500 batting average is better than a .000 average. Assuming that Martin’s team misses the NCAA Tournament this year, it still would leave him with a .400 average (2 for 5) in participating in March Madness – even if the Tigers were immediately booted out in their opening tournament game in 2018 and 2021. And I agree that making two NCAA dances in five years isn’t the goal – and shouldn’t be applauded. And I would also agree that this isn’t baseball … so enough of that.
– The impatient, fed-up, fire-Cuonzo-now! fans will have none of that. When you’re getting destroyed on a regular basis by 20 or more points and have been punched out by an average of 33.2 points in your last four losses – that’s Kim Anderson stuff. When your last four true road losses have been by an average of 34.2 points, that’s Kim Anderson stuff. And after last night’s no-show at Arkansas, the Tigers dropped to No. 171 nationally in the KenPom ratings. That’s pathetic.
In order, here’s where the Tigers finished in the KenPom ratings in Martin’s first four seasons: 40, 68, 97, 47. And now, all the way down to 171.
In Kim Anderson’s three seasons as Missouri coach, the Tigers (in order) ended the year ranked 156, 159 and 192 at KenPom. That’s an average ranking of No. 169.
So to stretch out the point, Martin wasn’t Kim Anderson for his first four years in charge – Missouri, after all, had an average final KenPom rating of No. 63. (Not great, but not as hideous as Coach KA.) But this season? So far? Yeah, Cuonzo Martin is having a Kim Anderson season.
Of course, we’re all debating the wrong thing by making it all about Martin and if he’s just as bad as Kim Anderson. I’m sure we’d all agree that we want to see Mizzou play at a much higher level, and stay there, and be mentioned with the top 20 programs in the nation. And make a push into the Top 10.
That’s what Brad Underwood is doing at Illinois. After taking the job and putting in the work for two slow rebuilding seasons, Underwood had Illinois No. 30 at KenPom in his third year, jumped to No. 4 last season, and is 13th so far this season. Underwood hasn’t had NCAA Tournament success, which is definitely a blemish. But Illini fans are pleased to have him as their coach. And they’re confident about having better results in future NCAA Tournaments.
I don’t know what the Mizzou administration will decide to do with Martin after the season. First of all, just play the season out and see if this team improves in a way that justifies a sixth season for Martin. There could be a case for keeping Martin – as case that shouldn’t be made on the cost of buyouts. (More on that later.) But I’m not in the mood to make a case for the coach right now. After Arkansas gave Mizzou their worst loss under Cuonzo Martin, it would be stupid for defense counsel to address the jury.
I’m not going to do the media grandstand thing and holler for a firing. Near the end of the season, it’ll be time to register our opinions about what Mizzou should do. And I won’t apologize for rooting for Martin to turn this sad-sack season around. Candidly, I don’t believe a turnaround will happen, and the pressure will intensify to sack Martin and hire a new coach.
But if you’d like me to go on a rant about something, no problem. I’m ready.
I do not want to hear about a $6 million buyout that would go to Martin as part of the removal process before MU hires a new coach. I don’t want to hear about Mizzou not having enough money to do this, or do that, or hire this new coach, or that new coach – and come up with all the cash to pay assistant coaches that are going or coming.
If Mizzou’s administration wants a new coach and believes it’s the right thing to do for the growth of the program, then money shouldn’t be a factor. You’re in the SEC. You’re supposed to think big, act big, and set higher standards. With all of that SEC revenue is flowing in, and Missouri fading into irrelevance in men’s basketball, a $6 million buyout is NOTHING.
If the top obstacle in changing coaches is money – and the reason why MU would not make a move with Martin after the season – then we’ll know all that we need to know about Missouri’s desire to win … and we’ll know if there’s a reason to take Mizzou seriously.
At the more prestigious SEC athletic departments – all but Vanderbilt – the goal of coming up with $6 million to fund a necessary coaching change would take a few emails and text messages and less than an hour. The money people would step up and make it happen in minutes, and they’d probably laugh at Missouri for being cheap and timid and having a minor-league mentality in the biggest and strongest conference of them all.
At Missouri, a decision to hold off on resetting the men’s basketball program is based on finances, that would lead me to an unfortunate conclusion: Cuonzo Martin isn’t the real problem. No, if this happens, the No. 1 problem is the administration.
Y’all want to compete in the SEC or not?
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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