Missouri men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s press conference after his team’s 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday started with a neat little tidbit.
Monday marked the first time the Tigers had held their opponents to 63 points or fewer in four consecutive games to start a season since 1951-52, and Martin made sure to point it out immediately as the press conference started.
But perhaps what this streak also means is that MU is more bought in to the high-intensity, in-your-face defensive style of Martin more than ever before. That means it’s justified for Martin to give his team some props when it deserves them.
“The biggest key is simply taking pride and what it means to be the lead defensive team, because that’s our goal,” Martin said. “I always need to do a better job of acknowledgement. We’re always consumed with the moment of just trying to be special, which you have to acknowledge the fact that they take in pride in defending.”
But just how does this four-game streak compare to other Martin-coached teams of the past, not just at Missouri but also at his other coaching stops?
The only other Martin-coached team that opened its season with four straight games of holding opponents to 63 points or fewer was his Missouri State team of 2009-10, his second season with the Bears. Even then, that streak’s best result was probably a win against an Auburn team that would finish 15-17.
MU’s streak has already featured two teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season, plus a Top 25 opponent on the road. Against Wofford, it even included a stretch where the Tigers didn’t allow the Terriers to score a field goal during the game’s final 14:35. Not bad.
“We practice so much defense in practice, it’s like second nature,” MU center Jeremiah Tilmon said after the win. “We do so many defensive drills, it just comes second nature like I said. I didn’t even realize that we had did that (held Wofford without a field goal in the final 14:35), but I mean, that’s good.”
At all the schools that Martin coached before MU (Missouri State, Tennessee and California) — all of which were three-year stops — those teams all ranked the highest nationally in points allowed per game in each of Martin’s final years. Currently, even with a small sample size, the Tigers are on pace to do the same.
MU currently sits 16th out of 353 schools in Division I in points allowed per game with an average of 54.2. Once the nonconference schedule beefs up and Southeastern Conference play begins, that mark could easily change, for better or for worse.
Still, it’s a good start. Martin’s attention to detail — he had a complex, well-detailed sermon about how the Tigers forced the Terriers to go away from their favored 3-ball to dribble-drives — is especially keen, and it seems that his players are listening.
“We played the percentages,” Martin said. “We just talked about ‘get into the legs, get into the legs, get into the legs,’ make those guys drive, and it becomes a one-on-one game. We like our chances of just one-on-one defense. With the amount of hours we spend defending one-on-one, we’ll take our chances.”
Supervising editor is Rajdeep Barman.