Profile of a Possible Savior: Cuonzo Martin

Sixth in a now more-than-occasional series.

Given the huge disappointment of today's game (again) and the fact that a coaching search has a high probability of happening, I think we need to start ramping up these profiles.  This is a name that I haven’t seen tossed around at all, but it is interesting: Cuonzo Martin.  He is the 39-year old head coach at Missouri State.  A Purdue alum, Martin had a brief NBA career before returning to the bench at his alma mater in the waning years of the Gene Keady era and the transition into Matt Painter becoming HC.  Martin is currently in his third season at Missouri State.

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:


1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?




2. Has he built a program from the ground up?


No.  The Bears failed to make the Big Dance in the 9 seasons under previous coach Barry Hinson.  They did have some 20-win seasons and NIT appearances, but did not break through.  Martin has yet to get to the Big Dance, though his team last season registered a 24-12 (8-10) record and a CIT Championship.


3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?


No, but things are looking up.  As noted above, his team last year did decently well after an 11-20 (3-15) first year.  So far this year the Bears are 18-6 (10-3), sitting at second in the MVC and a game behind Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State team. 


4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?


Given he has only had one job…no.  As for that current job, define success at Missouri State. I think if the Bears can win the MVC or get to the Big Dance (currently around 50 in the RPI), looks like they have a decent shot at right now, then he will have done something that hasn’t been done in over a decade at Missouri State.


5.  Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?


Yes.  As noted above, he was an assistant at Purdue to both Gene Keady and Matt Painter for 8 seasons.  During this time, the Boilermakers went to 4 NCAA tournaments including one Elite Eight appearance.


6.  Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?


Yes.  As noted, above his team is currently in second place and has a 10-3 record.  They are in the conversation for both the MVC Title and a NCAA Tournament bid.


7.  Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?


Well, once again, I’ve picked a guy with a somewhat spotty defensive record.  This year, the Bears rank 167th per Ken Pom.  For context, this is 6th in the MVC (out of 10).  Last year they were 127th.  It looks like they don’t do a good job of forcing turnovers (currently ranked 308th).  That number looks pretty consistent with last season as well.  It also looks like their 3-point D has been lacking but their 2-point D was pretty good last year and is decent this year.  They don’t do a great job of crashing the defensive boards (ranked 241st nationally right now at 22.7 DRPG), which is slightly worse than last year.


Not great, given their league though, probably a so-so defensive team.  We don’t have a full season of evidence yet from league play for this year.  According to Ken Pom, man-to-man is the D of choice for Martin.


8.  Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?


Well let’s consider that he helped Matt Painter pull in some of the guys that are currently playing for Purdue or played for them in the past few years, and I would say he has some experience in that regard.  The Boilers have been a Top 25 staple under Painter and have had a decent number of highly touted players (Moore, Hummel come to mind, I know I am forgetting others).  Since being at Missouri State, his recruiting classes have not impressed on a national level, but he has done a good job beating out peer programs (Butler, Wichita State, Creighton, St. Louis, etc.) for recruits, which is a good sign.  It should be noted that Missouri State does have a fairly new basketball facility that is pretty state of the art, so that helps, but given Martin’s experience and Purdue, I would feel pretty good about his recruiting ability.


9. Does he run the Princeton offense?


From what I can tell, no.  The Bears don’t play very fast paced (300th in adjusted tempo right now, 250th last season), but they seem very efficient.  A typical, Big Ten, grind it out and get high percentage, smart shots style.  The Bears are ranked 37th in offensive efficiency, 38th in effective FG%, 19th in turnover percentage, and in the top 100 in 2 point, three point, FT, block, and steal percentage on offense.  About 53% of their shots are twos, though it appears they have trouble getting to the line.  The offensive rebounding is respectable (33% ranked 159th).  These numbers match up pretty well with last year’s numbers.  From what I can tell, it seems like he runs a style similar to what Purdue does now, maybe with a little less running than the Boilermakers (and they don’t get out and run all that much).


10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?


Nope.  All of his coaching experience is in the Midwest.  Martin also hails from East St. Louis, so he is a Midwesterner by birth.


11. Any other random red flags or positives?


This isn’t a red flag, but it is important to note that Martin was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was 26 (13 years ago), see a link here for the story.   Given the aggressiveness and advanced state of the cancer, Martin is lucky to be alive.  It is a pretty inspiring story.  Martin’s cancer has been in remission since then.  I don’t know much about this kind of cancer, the likelihood of it returning, etc. On the flip side, given our school’s history with coaches and their battles with cancer, and the subsequent fundraising and organizations that have sprung from that, Martin would likely embrace the role of being a spokesperson for the Jimmy V and Kay Yow funds.  He raised funds in the past for the Purdue Cancer Center.





Would he be better than Sid?


Probably.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a ton of evidence to go off of yet, but he does have the coaching pedigree at the college level that makes me think he would be.


Would he be better than Herb?


Hard to say.  He could very well be Herb, as in a guy who has some success at the mid-major level but fails to break through at the next level.


Would he take the job if offered?


Couldn’t see why not.  This guy has only been a HC for a few years, unless he is really tied to that part of the country, I would think he would jump at the chance to coach in the ACC.


How would I feel if he were hired?


Skeptical.  I like that he seems to get the most out of his offense, but his defensive numbers scare me a little.  His team’s inability to crash the boards also scares me, though they are a smaller team.  He has a sparse record so far, so it would be a bit of a risk.  Truth be told, this is a guy that isn’t going to get a legit look unless the Bears make the tournament this year.  And even then, I would think he isn’t getting a look before guys like Marshall, Mooney, etc. who have a longer track record.


But there is something to be said for a guy with that good a coaching pedigree, the high-major experience, some pretty immediate success at a head coaching job, and that is young, energetic, and has a pretty inspiring story.  He is the kind of guy that if given the chance to interview, could blow AD Yow and the others away.


How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?


Similar to the reaction when Jim Valvano was hired from Iona College.  WHO?  The difference is now we have message boards.  Unless the Bears win the MVC this year (probably knocking off savior candidate Gregg Marshall) and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, hiring Martin would be seen as a desperate reach down to someone who could either end up being a wild success or a miserable failure…or Herb Sendek Part Two.  Sunshiners would be throwing around names like Valvano, K, and Prosser.  Everyone else will be throwing out names like Gillen, Shyatt, and Hewitt.  No telling which group would be right.  It would be a risky hire, and after just dealing with five years from another high-risk hire, the fan base might not have the stomach to deal with it.