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The good, the bad, and the in-between of Cuonzo Martin

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Cuonzo Martin is on Missouri’s coaching search list for the third time. What might Missouri fans expect if he actually ends up the guy this time?

NCAA Basketball: California at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri’s head coaching job opening up, it’s time to talk about some potential candidates. Thus far, we have discussed Gregg Marshall, Tom Crean, and Chris Holtmann. Next on the list is Cuonzo Martin.

PROFILE: Cuonzo Martin

  • Current Salary: $1.9 million
  • Buyout: $1.1 million
  • Career Win%: .608 (186-120)

If there’s a job opening, you can’t escape Cuonzo Martin’s name popping up. Martin has been called a job-hopper because he’s taken three different jobs in nine years. And this is the third time he has been considered for the Missouri job

In 2011, Missouri was chasing Matt Painter, and Cuonzo took the job at Tennessee after three strong seasons at Missouri State. The Painter-Mizzou marriage flamed out, and Missouri hired Frank Haith.

In 2014, Tennessee fans were calling loudly for Martin’s job despite him making the Sweet 16, so he jumped on the job at California. A few days later, Frank Haith took the job at Tulsa, and Missouri was in need of a coach.

Had Martin not been so quick to jump at the Tennessee job, it’s possible Missouri makes its way back to him instead of Frank Haith. And if Frank Haith had left a few days earlier, it’s possible Missouri would have snuck in to land Martin before he took the job at Cal.

It’s also possible Mike Alden would have never really considered Cuonzo Martin at all. Who knows?

Either way, there are a lot of reasons why Martin is an attractive candidate. First and foremost: his ties to the Midwest. An East St. Louis native, Martin recruited the area while at Purdue as an assistant and again as a head coach at Missouri State. He stuck to more regional recruiting while at Cal and Tennessee, but his relationships and the respect for him in the St. Louis area are as high as ever.

He’s a proven recruiter who has landed multiple five-star recruits and a handful of four-stars as well. He got both Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to commit to Cal in 2014, which was a pretty big recruiting coup at the time.

While the “unlock St. Louis” thing is probably overplayed with Martin, he’s certainly well-liked around the circles that matter, and he would have a better chance of keeping St. Louis players in state than any Mizzou coach before him.

Martin raises the floor for every program he runs, but the big question is about his ceiling. He’s only had one season where his team has lost fewer than 10 games and that was his last season in Springfield. He’s a career 61-45 in conference play, which is a 0.575 win percentage — good, but you think it could be better.

It seems as though his teams are perpetually on the bubble, which probably sounds great to Mizzou fans right now, but what about in five or six years?

NCAA Basketball: California at Washington Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

His teams at Tennessee started slowly and finished strong, while his teams at Cal have had to deal with midseason slumps.

  • Tennessee 2011-12: 3-6, then 7-6, then 8-1
  • Tennessee 2012-13: 11-10, then 8-1
  • Tennessee 2013-14: 6-4, then 10-7, then 5-0
  • California 2014-15: 10-1, then 1-8, then 6-5
  • California 2015-16: 12-3, then 2-5, then 9-1
  • California 2016-17: 18-6, then 1-5, then 2-1

He’s recruited well at each stop but has seemed to struggle to get everyone on the same page at times. His teams rebound well and usually take care of the ball, but it’s not exactly exciting. And if you’re into pace of play, Cuonzo’s highest Adjusted Tempo ranking was 115 his first year at Cal. Everything else is in the 200s. His last year at UT: 322. Slooooow.

The duality of his teams at Missouri State (good on offense, below average on defense) versus his Power Conference teams (average on offense, good on defense) makes you wonder what’s missing.

For those who don’t see Martin as the answer, there is plenty to hang onto. Poor offensive teams who underachieve their talent levels at times is frustrating to watch. Ultimately, either you believe he is who he is, or you believe he is still growing as a coach. He has yet to fully reach his ceiling due to taking so many jobs in a relatively short term, and he has not been able to fully establish his roots with a given program.

If Missouri is indeed going after martin, there will be competition to lure him back to the midwest. Illinois has opened up its coaching position, and the prevailing belief is that, should Martin return, he would rather be in the Big 10 and at Illinois than in the SEC again at Missouri.

Martin at Illinois would present a problem for Missouri if the Tigers were hoping the next hire would have better success in St. Louis. The same might go for the southwestern part of Missouri

Either way, Cuonzo Martin is a candidate for the jobs at both Missouri and Illinois. We’ll see if he ends up at either.