What's realistic for Martin?
Cuonzo Martin hasn't even formally been introduced at Missouri yet. Nobody who covers the Tigers has so much as asked the new head coach a single question. That will all happen later this afternoon.
But the pomp and circumstance of a rah-rah introductory event isn't really the story. They're all pretty much the same. There will be some lines about bringing a lunch pail and going to work every day, talk about a dream job where the coach can see himself staying forever, etc. If we're lucky, maybe we'll get to talk about some bear wrestling. But the important stuff isn't coming out of this afternoon's 4 p.m. event at Mizzou Arena.
The important stuff is this: Can Cuonzo Martin turn Mizzou hoops around and how quickly can he do so?
I said a number of times during Mizzou's ten-day coaching search that you are never more than three years away from the NCAA Tournament. I stick by that. Baylor made the Dance two years after being barred from playing a non-conference schedule. It took Indiana four years to make the tournament after hiring Tom Crean--who took over a roster with one scholarship player--but when the Hoosiers got back, they got back with 27 wins, a Big Ten championship and a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Cuonzo Martin doesn't take over anything nearly as dreadful as those situations (although the results on the court have actually been far worse).
What does he take over? He takes over a program off the worst three-year run in SEC history, with 68 losses in 95 games. But he also walks in--and this is not so much about him as it is about a fresh start of ANY kind--able to start over and erase the last three years from the memories of players and fans relatively quickly.
Jordan Barnett looks like a senior that can lead a team. Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips are pieces for Martin. They're not cut out to be the second and third best players on a tournament team, but they can absolutely be contributors to one. K.J. Walton showed flashes of being a very good player and after a mid-season drought that was highlighted by having to be talked out of heading back to Cleveland, Frankie Hughes showed some fight and promise at the end of the year. This roster isn't completely barren.
What Martin has to fight, more than a lack of talent or ability, is a culture. Missouri has lost a lot for three years because Missouri expected to lose a lot for three years. The first game the Tigers played under Kim Anderson was a loss to UMKC. There were other benchmarks along the way, all of them negative. Every game, Missouri players (and fans) were simply looking for the sign of the other shoe dropping. They knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when and how.
Winning breeds winning and losing breeds losing. Winning teams expect to win every time they take the floor. Losing teams expect to lose. Both usually happen.
In any given year, about 75% of Big Six conference teams go .500 or better in major college basketball. And that should be (without addressing the Porter brothers sized elephant in the room, which we will do in a minute) the goal for Missouri next year. If Martin simply brings back everyone on the current roster, adds C.J. Roberts and two non-Porter players in the spring, the goal should be a .500 season. Because the goal should always be, at a minimum, a .500 season. It is, honestly, pretty difficult not to have one, much less three.
The goal in year two (when the APR and potential problems resulting from it are off the books) should be to add enough guys to play in a post-season tournament of some kind. Probably not the NCAA Tournament (but maybe). At least the NIT. Then in year three, you're either in the tournament or you have a legitimate argument that the Selection Committee screwed you.
Those expectations aren't about Cuonzo Martin. Those with a good memory might recall those are the exact same guidelines I laid out at the beginning of the Kim Anderson era. Obviously Missouri lagged far behind every checkpoint in those three years, which is why we're having this conversation again. But I don't think they were unfair expectations then and I don't think they're unfair expectations now. I'm not going to judge today whether Martin was a good or a bad hire, but if Missouri isn't back at least on the bubble by 2019-2020, I'll absolutely tell you it wasn't a good hire.
There is, of course, a way to greatly speed up the timetable on these expectations. That way is named Michael Porter Jr. The same day Martin was hired, Lorenzo Romar was fired. Porter has since erased "Washington commit" from his Twitter bio and will almost certainly be headed elsewhere to play his college basketball (The Huskies hired Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins on Sunday, who is not to our knowledge Porter's godfather and would not seem to have a great shot to keep the Porters in Seattle). Porter's younger brother, Jontay, has officially reopened his recruitment already. Reports came out last week that Martin had already offered Michael Porter Sr. a job on his staff and the two reportedly met in Oakland late last week.
To this point, nothing is official with any member of the Porter family. It will likely be a few days--if not a few weeks--before anything is. Missouri is considered the heavy favorite to land all three (Jontay Porter may or may not reclassify to 2017 and be a college freshman next season).
The cynics will say that LSU had Ben Simmons for a year and didn't make the tournament. Washington had Markell Fultz and was nearly as bad as Missouri this year. Getting Porter is no guarantee that you're dancing next March. But it gives you a chance. It's a chance Missouri doesn't have without him.
So if indeed this grand orchestration to bring the Porter family in its entirety back to Columbia comes to fruition, the goal becomes an NCAA Tournament bid in year one. Without a legitimate college ready big man and another shooter, I wouldn't view the Tigers as a threat to make any sort of a deep run once they're there, but if you sign Michael Porter Jr., make no mistake, the timetable for a return to the postseason has been accelerated. Then you capitalize on the spotlight and take off from there.
Monday afternoon will be full of hope. It is the culmination of a six-day period that has made Missouri basketball fans care again and has offered a glimpse of light at the end of a long, dark, three-year tunnel. How much hope there should be and how close that light is will be determined over the next few weeks.