The Missouri Tigers got bopped again on Tuesday evening night, losing by 19 points at home to a tough Tennessee team. No surprise, there. In losing for the ninth time in the last 11 games, Mizzou flattened to 4-11 in SEC play and are 10-18 overall for this lost season.
This isn’t much fun for anyone involved, which undoubtedly explains home-arena crowds that aren’t as big as what you’d see in my backyard Cold Beer & Smoked Ribs parties in the summer.
There is no point in flogging the Tigers for their performance in 2021-2022, but I’m gonna go back on that because I feel an urge to review this mess one more time. It warms me up.
We all know about Missouri’s cockamamie habit of shooting too many threes when they rank No. 353 in the nation in making them. We know all about the clumsy turnover rate, an uncharacteristically porous Cuonzo Martin-coached defense, and an offense that swerves all over the place with – in the words of the late-n-great Chuck Berry – no particular place to go.
Coach Martin tells his students to prevent an opposing guard from going to his right … and he spends the evening sashaying to his right. Coach Martin tells his students to cut down on their number of three-point shots and work the ball inside to draw fouls … and they heave even more wild threes and make infrequent visits to the foul line.
Coach tells the fellas to zig; they zag.
Watching it makes my eyes hurt.
Mizzou is now 34-51 in SEC during Martin’s four-plus years, and the Tigers have staggered to a preposterous .302 winning percentage in SEC play since the start of the 2014-2015 season.
The collapse of the Missouri basketball program is stunning and sad and infuriating. And it seems to me that all of this failure was and is unnecessary. This isn’t football, with the extra-large rosters and a need to rely on platoons of young men to win football games. In college hoops, you recruit a couple of reliably good players and cultivate depth through normal recruiting and the transfer portal – and boom, you have a fine team to build on.
These turnaround jobs can be done quickly. It happens all the time, in the SEC and everywhere. I don’t care if Martin or any coach inherits a horrible situation – because a quality leader doesn’t need five seasons, or maybe a sixth, to lift the program out of the rubble. It’s absolutely pathetic to view Mizzou basketball as a charity instead of having the minimal guts to be straightforward and call it an unacceptable failure.
I’m not going to waste more time jumping into the debate or discussion over Martin’s future beyond this season. I’m not going to do the usual thing and state up front that this is a good and honorable man who runs a clean program. Yes of course, this is all true …. but that doesn’t excuse or justify all of this losing. It just doesn’t. Martin gets paid. He gets paid a lot. And at some point it’s time to win, and win regularly, and start making a mark in the NCAA Tournament. This is the basic job requirement of every power-conference coach; these men making millions of dollars annually to run seventh-grade boys basketball teams.
Martin is 76-74 as Mizzou’s coach. He’s won only 13 of his last 38 games. At the end of the year he’ll have two NCAA Tournament appearances at Missouri in five seasons – with no tournament victories. I gave Martin the Kim Anderson pass for a long time, but when does that expire? Again, this is Martin’s FIFTH SEASON. He was hired to rebuild Mizzou after the Kim Anderson debacle. He wasn’t hired to rebuild The Great Wall of China.
Frank Martin took over a wretched program at South Carolina and led the Gamecocks to the Final Four in his fifth season. Bruce Pearl had Auburn rolling by his fourth season. Eric Musselman had Arkansas straightened out and winning by his second season. Will Wade turned LSU into a winner in his second year. Alabama had five losing seasons in six years before Nate Oats became coach; the Crimson Tide went 16-2 in the SEC in his second season. Tennessee was a loser in Rick Barnes’ first two seasons; over the last five years the Vols have gone 58-28 in SEC play.
If MU director of athletics Desiree Francois-Reed wants to give the coach a sixth season, that’s her decision. She’ll have a lot of explaining to do to thousands of empty seats at Mizzou Arena.
If the sixth season is granted because Mizzou is too cheap to pick up the cost of making a coaching change, that’s pitiful and would tell us all we need to know about Missouri’s commitment to winning. (Perhaps the Tigers could follow Lindenwood University and join the Ohio Valley Conference?)
And even Martin defenders would acknowledge this: if there’s a sixth season, home games could be played at Rock Bridge High School. At least the Tigers would have a chance to fill the gym to, say, 50 percent capacity.
I’m getting too snarky here and I apologize.
Let’s get serious now:
— From the start of the 1967-1968 basketball season through the end of the 2013-2014 campaign, Mizzou basketball had a superb .650 winning percentage. The coaches over those 47 seasons were Missouri legend Norm Stewart, Quin Snyder, Mike Anderson and Frank Haith.
— Now compare that to this: over the last eight seasons the Missouri winning percentage is .422 under Kim Anderson and Cuonzo Martin.
— Since the 1979-80 season and through 2013-14, Mizzou had three losing records in 35 seasons. But beginning with Kim Anderson, Mizzou has had twice as many losing records – six – in eight seasons.
This disintegration is extreme.
And how is this acceptable to anyone that’s in charge of taking care of this program? How is this acceptable to anyone that says they care about this program?
As of Wednesday morning Mizzou was ranked No. 143 nationally at KenPom – just behind VMI, Texas State and Jacksonville State, and just above Delaware, Abilene Christian and Gardner Webb.
Good grief … it makes ya wanna cry just thinking about all of those exciting, entertaining and big, high-stakes games when Norm roamed Hearnes Center and went toe to toe against Larry Brown, Roy Williams, Billy Tubbs, Johnny Orr, Jack Hartman and all the rest. And for all of the heat they took Snyder and Mike Anderson got the Tigers to the Elite Eight.
If the MU administration is OK with this horrendous decline of a proud and meaningful program, the people with the important-sounding job titles should be embarrassed to appear in public ever again to speak of a commitment to winning.
With so many empty seats at Mizzou Arena, the last thing Mizzou needs is empty rhetoric from the people who have the responsibility to lead.
Thanks for reading …