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Cuonzo Martin a candidate at Marquette; is he a good fit?

Marquette is showing interest in Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, according to a report. (USA Today)

Marquette is showing interest in Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin, according to a report. (USA Today)

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported earlier today that Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin has become a legitimate candidate for Marquette’s head coaching position. This comes after Marquette showed interest in former UCLA head coach Ben Howland and VCU head coach Shaka Smart, the latter of whom rejected Marquette’s offer. Howland is still considered a candidate and reportedly would take the job if offered, though it’s unclear how strong Marquette’s interest in in him is now.

After three seasons in the NBA — including one with the Milwaukee Bucks — Martin took an assistant coaching position with Gene Keady at Purdue. He spent eight seasons under Keady and, later, Matt Painter, helping the Boilermakers to four NCAA tournament appearances — including an Elite Eight berth in his first season.

Martin accepted his first head coaching position in 2008, taking over at Missouri State. The Bears went 11-20 in his first season, but won 50 games the next two seasons, and in 2011  won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship with a 15-3 record. The Bears lost in the conference championship and were knocked out in the second round of the NIT.

He then replaced Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, leading the Volunteers to a pair of NIT berths before this season’s Sweet 16 run. The Volunteers lost to Michigan on Friday night, but the NCAA tournament berth likely saved Martin from the firing line. Still, that shouldn’t necessarily devalue his worth as a potential candidate at Marquette; outlets covering Tennessee reported that Martin lacked the kind of backing from the administration required for him to succeed at a high-major program, including the loss of private planes for the use of basketball recruiting purposes.

At Marquette he would have the second largest budget of any Division I basketball team, the backing of boosters and the support of a school focused entirely on its basketball program — unlike Tennessee.

On the recruiting trail Martin has been a mixed bag, at least as far as rankings are concerned. He has been able to corral two five-star recruits in his time at Tennessee, but only one of his four recruiting classes — 2014 — ranked in ESPN.com’s top-30 team rankings. Both Robert Hubbs (No. 29 overall in 2013) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 18 in 2011) were quality signings, though both were Tennessee natives who opted to stay in-state. Still, that may loom large if Martin has a knack for keeping in-state players at home, as five-star center Diamond Stone is considering Marquette.

Martin’s stock may have peaked this season, as the team will lose seniors Antonio Barton, Jeronne Maymon, Jordan McRae and likely Stokes to the NBA draft. Those four players made up more than 70 percent of the Vols’ scoring this past season, so 2014-15 most likely will be a rebuild. If Martin believes Marquette can still compete in the Big East the time would be now for him to make the move, though it’s unclear if there’s mutual interest.

Given Marquette’s last two coaching hires, the question undoubtedly will arise if Martin is looking at Marquette as a steppingstone gig. Interim athletic director Bill Cords said at Thursday’s press conference that the program views the Golden Eagles as a job that a head coach can win a national championship, but will Martin bolt for Purdue, his alma mater, if Painter is let go? The Boilermakers have gone 31-35 the last two seasons and finished seventh and 12th, respectively, in that span.

 

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