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How do Cuonzo Martin teams perform versus expectations?

Many will look at last season as a year in which the Tigers overachieved. What about this year?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason expectations for the Missouri Tigers last year were much higher than they would have been had we known what they’d actually get from Michael Porter Jr. Without MPJ, though, Missouri held serve for its preseason expectations, in a way exceeding them.

Expectations are a funny thing, often driven from some weird combination of recent history, returning production, and guesswork.

We’re still some months away from official prognostications on the forthcoming season, so maybe it’s only time to prepare for the expectations.

Cuonzo versus History

Year Team Record KP Preseason KP Finish Net Difference
Year Team Record KP Preseason KP Finish Net Difference
2010-11 Missouri State 26-9 63 69 -6
2011-12 Tennessee 19-15 108 63 45
2012-13 Tennessee 20-13 38 73 -35
2013-14 Tennessee 24-13 33 10 23
2014-15 California 18-15 65 113 -48
2015-16 California 23-11 47 28 19
2016-17 California 21-13 52 62 -10
2017-18 Missouri 20-13 81 40 41

In a lot of ways, Cuonzo Martin is still a young coach, one still learning and adjusting. We saw early evidence this season when the Tigers changed their offensive approach from what Martin has been known for in the past. Missouri shot 45.6% of its field goals from behind the arc, and no previous Martin-coached team had even come close to 40%.

So he’s capable of adjustment, and this next version of the Tigers is going to need some adjustment, as they’re looking to replace not only nearly 50% of their overall production, but also 65% of their 3-point makes with the loss of Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett. With Jontay Porter returning, it saved Cuonzo’s bacon a little bit.

So with our understanding of how the Ken Pomeroy rankings, pre- and postseason, fit into Martin’s history, how do we factor in returning production?

Does Martin fare better or worse when he’s got something he can rely on?

Cuonzo Martin and Returning Production

Year Team Record Net Difference OV% returning
Year Team Record Net Difference OV% returning
2010-11 Missouri State 26-9 -6 61.84%
2011-12 Tennessee 19-15 45 32.77%
2012-13 Tennessee 20-13 -35 64.14%
2013-14 Tennessee 24-13 23 58.64%
2014-15 California 18-15 -48 45.24%
2015-16 California 23-11 19 79.96%
2016-17 California 21-13 -10 44.07%
2017-18 Missouri 20-13 41 75.54%
2018-19 Missouri ??-?? ? 52.90%

Again, I’m not sure you can really glean any patterns from this. For those who aren’t familiar, OV% is a rudimentary stat I use in my previews. It’s basically a player’s points and assists minus turnovers as a percentage of the overall team production.

I find it interesting that Martin seems to perform well against lower expectations, and doesn’t always meet expectations when they’re there ... historically.

  • Last season Missouri returned a lot of production, but it was from a horrible team that only won eight games. So the 75% returning OV% is a little misleading as an overall statistic. Still, the Tigers went from eight wins to 20 and improved their preseason KenPom rating by 41 spots.
  • This was only bested by Martin’s first season in Tennessee, where the Vols returned just 32% of their overall production following the ouster of Bruce Pearl. Martin took that team and improved its KenPom rating by 45 spots.

Yet when there was an expectation to be good, Martin’s teams basically fell short.

  • Tennessee returned nearly 65% of its production the next season and won only one more game, while tumbling in the KenPom ratings by nearly 50 spots.
  • His third season at Missouri State was a crowning achievement from a lot of angles, but the the Bears were basically who they were expected to be, if only a little bit worse.
NCAA Basketball: Utah at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The exception to this rule is Martin’s second Cal team. They returned nearly 80% of their production and added two five-star freshmen and proceeded to earn a four-seed in the NCAA tournament. They dropped only a couple games they should have won, but most remember them for their first-round NCAA exit to Hawaii, ignoring the fact that the Golden Bears were missing Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird while Jaylen Brown struggled with fouls. So three of their top five scorers were M.I.A. — that certainly puts a cloud on the end of that season.

Still, that was actually Cal’s best seed going into an NCAA tournament, so I would say the expectations from before the season were pretty spot on. A preseason No. 14 ranking turned into a protected seed and a top-25 finish.

So where does that leave Missouri next season?


Probably the wrong conclusion, but it’s really hard to say. The data above seems to say lower expectations might help Cuonzo Martin and allow him to surpass them. Don’t expect Missouri to be rated higher than maybe eighth in the league in the preseason. Porter’s return increases expectations compared to where they would have been, so the team should be hoping for another NCAA bid.