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Profile of a Possible Savior REDUX: Cuonzo Martin

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Only one of us will make it out alive...
Only one of us will make it out alive...
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Spring 2011, after years in the wilderness, NC State parted ways with Sidney Lowe and were in the business of finding someone to save us. The media portrayed us as being rejected numerous times, so eventually Mark Gottfried ended up answering the call and has experienced positive-to-mixed results over his 5 year tenure. This series will take a hop in the TARDIS and theorize whether or not we would have been better (or worse) with another candidate from Backing the Pack's famed, award-winning* Profile Of A Possible Savior series or POAPS for short.

*validity of statement under question

(All stats & figures from Wikipedia, KenPom, & Scout.com)

Mark Gottfried's tenure at NC State:

Layman Stats

Overall Record

108-69 (.610)

Conference Record

44-44 (.5)

NCAA Appearances

4 (2 Sweet Sixteens)

Conference Titles

0

4/5 Stars Signed

13

Geek Stats (KenPom)

Average National Rank Overall

48

Average Adj O / Avg National Rank

112.6 / 24

Average Adj D / Avg National Rank

100.1 / 115

Next Up

California Golden Bears Head Coach Cuonzo Martin

In The Beginning

Sometimes there are mid-major guys who are future high level head coaches. Superstars like Brad Stevens, Gregg Marshall, & Shaka Smart are recognized easily by the casual fans, those who pay attention can identify names of possible stars on the rise. Cuonzo Martin wasn't a household name in 2011 but college basketball analysts knew it was only a matter of time before he got a bigger job. State had one open, and our POAPS saw some positives in a guy who recruited well as an assistant among good coaches at Purdue and had a team that was one of the best in its conference at the time (winning the regular season of the conference that year). Doubts emerged as Cuonzo had never been in the South, had no experience as a head coach besides 3 years at Missouri State, and hadn't improved a program from the ground up. It was determined that he'd definitely be better than Sid while evidence shows that he may be what NC State needed at the time.

5 Years Later... (All stats compiled from time at University of Tennessee in the SEC & California of the Pac-12)

Layman Stats

Overall Record

104-171 (.61)

Conference Record

75-15 (.58)

NCAA Appearances

2 (1 Sweet Sixteen)

Conference Titles

0

4/5 Stars Signed

4

Geek Stats (KenPom)

Average Rank

56

Average Adj O / National Rank

107.8/ 89

Average Adj D / National Rank

95.9/ 54

The obvious caveat here is Cuonzo took over two programs that had been struggling prior to his arrival. Tennessee with its NCAA concerns and Cal with its being mediocre at basketball worries. Yet Cuonzo was able to effectively keep both programs from sinking. In three years he got Tennessee to a Sweet Sixteen and in two, returned Cal to the NCAA tourney. His in-conference record is very respectable and his overall record is solid as well. Also impressive is his teams pretty much have been finishing in the top half of the conference even coming as close as second at UT. No titles to speak of in the Power 5 as of yet, but a pretty good showing overall.

Would He Have Recruited Better Than Gottfried?

Belief was that Cuonzo would be able to recruit well once he got to a Power 5 job. His experience as an assistant at Purdue showed that he knew what Top 25 classes looked like. Also its important to recognize that Tennessee and Cal have both been programs that could pull in top players with the right steward. Problem with Cuonzo is that he only seems to be hitting his recruiting stride now. Three years at Tennessee produced only 1 4-star player while the last two years at Cal shows that he could pull elite 5 star talent, including the number 3 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jaylen Brown. All that is great...but if you notice the information about Gottfried I post above continues to change. The number of 4/5 stars signed keeps going up especially after our recruiting victories of this past month. Gottfried is plainly one of the best recruiters in the game today and nothing Cuonzo has shown can surpass that as of yet.

Advantage: Gottfried

Would He Have a Better Offense Than Gottfried?

Cuonzo's offenses just cannot keep any consistency. His last year at UT, Cuonzo maintained a Top 20 offense on a team that was one of the best in the country by advanced statistics. And that's all folks. Over the past 5 years his offenses have primarily been in the 60s at best and in the 100s at worst. That just isn't a sign of a reliable offensive trend over time. It appears that Top 20 finish at UT was an outlier as opposed to a sign of things to come. Gottfried, even with a bad 2015-2016 weighing down his average, is consistent which is what we haven't seen from Martin in these past few years.

Advantage: Gottfried

Would He Have a Better Defense Than Gottfried?

Defense was considered a mixed-bag during our previous POAPS on Cuonzo, but it seems that he has mostly righted the ship. Three times in the past 5 years Cuonzo has had a Top 30 defense by advanced stats. Notably, he was able to reach the Top 20 at two separate universities which shows his philosophy isn't just about personnel. While his second year at UT was abysmal on that side of the ball, just like his offense that appears to be an outlier as opposed to a precursor.

Advantage: Martin

Conclusion

Upon reflection Cuonzo Martin wouldn't have been a bad hire for NC State. His leaving UT after 3 years was more a commentary on how he was handled there, than it was any sign of quick opportunistic career advancement. Martin could've brought a level of stability to the program and, after a little while, begin to recruit at a high level in this area. The media seems to respect him so the hire would've received nodding approval although it likely wouldn't have moved the needle for our national perception. Interestingly, as the original POAPS noted, choosing Martin could have parallels to to Herb's as this was a Midwestern guy who comes from a highly regarded coaching tree, had some success at the mid-major level, and was coming to take over a program that had been in the wilderness for a long time. Safe & solid hire. Mark Gottfried was the risk...and in this case he was the right risk. While Cuonzo has shown to be pretty average in the advanced stats, Mark Gottfried can hang his hat on his phenomenal offenses. The consistency Gottfried has shown on O makes one believe that if State can surprise in having an above-average defense one season that team can be really special. Martin's numbers seem to imply that the stars have to align perfectly in order for one of his teams to make significant breakthrough. Ultimately, Gottfried was able to come into a bad mess, bring back that national recognition to State while also convincing 4/5 star kids to come play at a school that hasn't even seen a conference title since 1989. Cuonzo may have shown that he could do that eventually...but he would not have been a better hire than Mark Gottfried.

Next Time

Nebraska Head Coach and Steven's Best Friend, Tim Miles