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When do we start the “Cuonzo for Coach of the Year” campaign?

Mizzou is 18-8. 18-8!

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Part of my fun each morning is going through my timehop.

For those unaware, TimeHop is an app that recalls your social media posts from the same date in previous years. You scroll or page through your previous tweets and Facebook posts, and it’s ... interesting.

My timehop for Tuesday morning included this post about Mizzou’s 2017 win over Vanderbilt.

If you’ve stashed the previous three seasons deep in your darkest memory box, Mizzou had just wrapped up a 2-1 stretch on February 11 last year with wins over Vandy and Arkansas and a close loss to Texas A&M on the road. Before losing to Arkansas, Missouri was obliterated by 39 points to Florida on the road. They followed this stretch up by losing a close home game to Alabama and dropping the following five games to finish their SEC schedule 2-16.

I bring this up because perspective is funny at times. It’s easy to lose track of it.

Missouri was 8-24 last year. Jim Sterk fired Kim Anderson after he went 27-68 over three years. This was the state of the program when Cuonzo Martin was hired.

Shortly after he was hired, he secured the commitment of Michael Porter Jr., and expectations immediately skyrocketed.

But let’s pretend for a moment the last part didn’t happen. Say MPJ didn’t commit. Everything else happened — the arrival Kassius Robertson, Jeremiah Tilmon, Jontay Porter, and even the guards who aren’t here anymore. Say all that happens but Missouri doesn’t land the big fish. Where are the expectations then?

I got a little worked up last night.

Feel free to click and follow the rest of the way. But basically, I had a semi-twitter rant about how Cuonzo Martin has been relatively forgotten in the SEC Coach of the Year talk, much less the National discussion. I quoted Sam Vecenie, but really the bone should’ve been picked with this tweet.

Conventional wisdom seems to be giving the league award to one of two guys. I’ll start easy.

Tennessee’s Rick Barnes deserves a lot of credit and very possibly should be SEC Coach of the Year.

Tennessee was picked 13th in the league, I had them 11th (even though I made the case that they could be the best 7-11 team in the power conferences). Somehow Barnes has gotten them to 19-6 and 13th in KenPom, and without a single top-100 recruit on the roster.

Barnes went out and got his kind of guys and built them into the kind of team he wanted. Even my best predictions might’ve had UT swinging four games to get to 11-7, and they’ve got a real shot at 13-5 and a three- or four-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But now I wanna get a little stingy...

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Auburn Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn’s Bruce Pearl should not be coach of the year. He should be thankful he still has a job.

  • Pearl hired Chuck Person, a man now charged by the FBI in an illegal scheme targeting elite recruits.
  • Pearl has refused to cooperate with investigations from the school so far.
  • Pearl signed multiple four- and five-star players at Auburn, a place that only vaguely considers basketball a sport.
  • Two of those players are not eligible to play basketball currently according to Auburn and the NCAA.
  • Auburn still has seven four-star or higher players, six of whom were in the program last year.

Anyone with a sense to look at what the Tigers had struggled with recently —defense — could see how having Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy sitting out could actually improve the Tigers biggest flaw. Putting Anfernee McLemore on the floor more, along with Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell, has made Auburn a good defensive team.

So, basically by paying players who are now sitting out, Pearl has made his team better defensively.

I’m sorry. I just don’t see any realistic plane of existence in today’s landscape in which Bruce Pearl, a man who made his own mess, is somehow more deserving of coach of the year over Rick Barnes.

Or, for that matter, freaking Cuonzo Martin.

Again, remove Michael Porter Jr. from the equation

Mizzou’s season has been far from perfect. The Tigers have had some dud games and have often fought malaise on both sides of the ball.

But after 26 games Missouri is 18-8 — fourth in the SEC and 36th in KenPom. Barring a collapse, the Tigers are almost assured a spot in the NCAA tournament. This is as miraculous a turnaround as we’ve seen in college basketball this year.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Realistically, Martin should be a contender for league coach of the year along with Barnes. And he should also be in the national conversation.

The top candidates are Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann, Texas Tech’s Chris Beard, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, and maybe Clemson’s Brad Brownell as well. Throw in Barnes and Martin, and I think you have the top six.

In the KenPom rankings, Martin has the Tigers 120 spots higher than they were a year ago. As good as Holtmann has been at Ohio State, he’s improved Ohio State by 62 spots. Beard’s Texas Tech improved by 34 spots, Bennett’s Virginia by 11.

There’s something to be said about taking a team which had won 27 games in three years, none on the road, and turning them into an NCAA tournament team. And he’s done it without a point guard, with roster attrition, and without the prized recruit who was supposed to fix all of Missouri’s problems.

This team is mentally tough because of Cuonzo Martin.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Their ability to absorb huge body blows in a deep and talented league and still win games with a talent deficiency is a damn miracle. Missouri’s current starting lineup consists of a top-50 recruit (Tilmon), a top-100 recruit (Barnett), two guys who were more or less recruiting afterthoughts (Kevin Puryear & Cullen VanLeer), and a grad transfer who played three years at Canisuis after getting only one scholarship offer out of high school (Robertson).

Off the bench come two more lower-rung recruits (Jordan Geist and Reed Nikko) and a guy who should be playing in the upcoming McDonald’s All-America game (Porter). This team gets dominated athletically on most nights, but they fight.

A year ago, some Mizzou fans were trying to make a case that a 2-1 stretch in the middle of an 8-24 season should earn Kim Anderson another year on the job. Now look at where the Tigers are. Cuonzo Martin absolutely deserves to at least be in the conversation for coach of the year.