Bruce Pearl has Auburn in the top 10 nationally, with an SEC regular-season title looking likely, as is a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Rick Barnes has Tennessee playing its best basketball since Pearl was in Knoxville.
While the turnarounds for those two programs have been surprising and the two head men deserve credit for what they have achieved, neither has accomplished more than Cuonzo Martin at Missouri this season.
The Tigers were downright awful the previous three seasons, floundering to a dreadful 27-68 under the leadership of Kim Anderson. Mizzou Arena was quieter than Ellis Library; the atmosphere matching that of a pickup game at the local YMCA.
How did Missouri, seen as another basketball school in a football-heavy conference when it joined in 2012, fall so far? More importantly, how long would it take for the Tigers to recover?
The answer was quickly, and Martin is exactly why.
Once Martin joined the program in March 2017, the 247Sports composite’s fourth-ranked recruiting class came with him. That included a pair of 5-star prospects in Michael Porter Jr., and his brother Jontay Porter. All of the hype was on the former, who was ranked the No. 2 player in the 2017 signing class and had decided to de-commit from Washington to join his brother and father, who was hired as an assistant on Martin’s staff in Columbia.
Michael Porter Jr. lasted two minutes into his collegiate debut before suffering a back injury that required surgery, and immediately critics began to write off the Tigers’ season as over, a failure after so much hope.
Martin wouldn’t let that happen.
The Tigers (18-8, 8-5 SEC) scrambled to a 10-2 record to start the season, gaining valuable leadership from seniors Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett. They had been through the lows of the previous seasons and stepped up, making sure that the past was in the past.
A three-game skid in late January could have doomed the Tigers, as well, but a five-game winning streak followed with wins against Kentucky and Texas A&M serving as exclamation points.
All of this with a team that could have been destroyed and folded early in the season, much like seasons before. The one big difference is Martin.
While Pearl has had four years and Barnes two to put their respective stamps on their team and get exactly the personnel that they see fit, Martin is doing a lot of this on the fly with a team without its stud freshman and a collection of veterans recruited the former staff.
That last part is the most important, as it is common for a new coach to come in only to see his style and philosophy of coaching not mesh with those who have been around. That’s especially true when bringing in several hot-shot recruits. Martin has managed that beautifully, though, and the winning record is a product of that.
In less than one year, Martin has rejuvenated the Tigers program and Mizzou Arena is hopping once again. Those accolades should earn him SEC Coach of the Year.
Apologies, Bruce and Rick.
The post Sorry Bruce Pearl and Rick Barnes, but Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin deserves SEC Coach of the Year honor appeared first on SEC Country.
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