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Where Cuonzo Martin went wrong

Cuonzo Martin’s time as Missouri Basketball Coach will always be viewed through a lens of what could’ve been with just a few different bounces of the ball.

Syndication: The News-Leader Andrew Jansen/News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK

If you were to build a timeline of events for Mizzou Basketball starting with the moment Cuonzo Martin was hired to the moment he was fired, what would be the moments that stood out to you the most?

I’m asking this to the readership at large since we all look at things from a different perspective. Over the course of five seasons Martin and his staff made a multitude of decisions about their basketball roster and those decisions impacted the success and subsequent failure of the program. Enough at least to warrant a change this past March.

Given the benefit of hindsight we can look at roster moves in a different way, and there are several key moments that didn’t even warrant much discussion at the site, where as we spent far more time and attention looking at things that ended up having little to no impact on the trajectory of the program. The spring of 2017 felt like a possible sea change, the addition of Michael Porter Jr and his subsequent recruiting of other high level players made things feel like maybe it was Mizzou’s chance to change the narrative.

But what followed was Martin dragging a band of (mostly) Kim Anderson misfits along with some young bigs to an NCAA Tournament bid. Where a beleagured roster was easily shown the door by a surging Florida State squad. Where it felt like MPJ might’ve been the most important player to sign with Mizzou in the last 10-20 years, it turned out that a transfer guard from Canisius was a more important signing that offseason.

So what were the make or break moments over the last 5 years?

We’re going to pick one to start, since it’s easy to point to recruiting misses, right? Just point at guys like Courtney Ramey, E.J. Liddell, Caleb Love and others as examples of “if only...” they had chosen Mizzou things would’ve been different. And while yes it’s true that if you recruit and sign your top targets you’ll probably be better than if you don’t. For a program that’s been in the middle or bottom of the SEC for the better part of a decade like Missouri, it’s not quite realistic to think every recruiting battle is going to go your way.

Sometimes it’s whether your plan B or plan C is a good one, rather than if you miss on plan A or not.

Which brings me to what I think is one of the more pivotal moments, when Isiaih Mosley committed to Missouri State.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri State at Loyola-Chicago David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The date was March 17th, 2019. Missouri was coming off it’s second season under Martin, having just lost in the SEC tournament despite a valiant effort from Senior Jordan Geist. With Geist and Kevin Puryear graduating, plus Jontay Porter likely heading to the NBA Draft despite an ACL Injury, Mizzou had two scholarships available. Maybe wing wasn’t a big priority for them since Javon Pickett was coming off a solid debut season, and Torrence Watson began to look the part down the stretch of his freshman year. But Mosely was flying under the radar. He hadn’t played well in the summer before his senior year and his stock fell a bit, but he led his high school team to a State Championship and looked good doing it. Missouri had hung around in his recruitment but never fully pulled the trigger. Minnesota was interested, and Mosley quietly committed to Missouri State.

At the time it didn’t seem like a big loss. Few fans were up in arms. But Mizzou finished the spring by chasing transfer Eric Williams (who would land at Oregon), and signing Kobe Brown to join Mario McKinney and Tray Jackson in the 2019 recruiting class. KJ Santos would transfer out of the program and Mizzou would eventually add Axel Okongo to bang on Jeremiah Tilmon in practice. Okongo took the final 13th scholarship, and while fans bagged on the move it made sense from a strategic standpoint of having a backup big man who could foul Reed Nikko and Tilmon a lot in practice. Still, the roster flexibility was there and Mosley was the one thing Missouri needed in subsequent seasons... and outside shot maker.

Mosley went on to star at Missouri State as a freshman, while Missouri’s wing play suffered with inconsistency and a lack of shooting. Watson struggled to find the groove he had as a freshman, Pickett played a large role but wasn’t a floor spacer. Any attempts to fix the issue through the transfer portal came up empty.

All those issues at shooting from the wing might’ve been solved had Martin and his staff just taken a flier on the wing from Rock Bridge.

So this is the opening salvo for an offseason where there won’t be a whole lot to talk about. But I’m curious about your opinion here. I do think most people were excited about Martin at the start, and even towards the end there were still believers. But what would’ve been enough, within that timeline to do more than just keep Martin employed, but also push Mizzou out of the middle class and into the top half of the SEC?

Maybe it’s Mark Smith & Jeremiah Tilmon staying healthy in year 3. Maybe it’s simply signing Justin Turner to buoy them two years back. Maybe it’s simply shooting better in one game or another. Either way, there’s a lot of different moments and moves which led to the coaching change. I’m curious what are your top picks?