In 2010-11 Missouri State University was able to win its first and only Missouri Valley Championship behind Cuonzo Martin’s leadership. I was at JQH Arena storming the court as we took down the mighty Creighton Blue Jays and their star Doug McDermott on ESPN2. The Bears fell short of making the NCAA tournament despite an RPI of 44, Martin was able to transition his success to a job at the University of Tennessee, then University of California, finally ending up at his current position as Head Coach of University of Missouri. With Martin gone, Missouri State hired Purdue Assistant Paul Lusk, at the time a hiring made sense as Lusk came from a similar coaching tree as Cuonzo Martin. The results however have not been as favorable.
Paul Lusk entered the 2011-2012 season with lofty expectations as the Missouri Valley Player of the Year, Kyle Weems was returning for a senior season. The team did not live up to expectations finishing a feeble 15-16, highlighted only by their victory over 21 ranked Creighton. It was understandable that a first year head coach can have struggles out of the gate, but the struggles continued. Entering the 2012-2013 season Lusk had begun to rebuild his team, a roster of six incoming freshman and one returning senior made the Bears the youngest team in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears played like a young team, taking until December 30th to get their first Division 1 victory.
In Lusk’s third year at the helm, he lead the Bears to a 20-13 record and an invitation to the CIT (losing in the first round). That highlighted Lusk’s coaching career as over the next three season the Bears finished middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley.
As Missouri State entered the 2017-2018 season hopes were high. Missouri Valley’s last powerhouse team Wichita State had moved on to the American Conference, leaving the door open for the conference title. The Bears entered the season as the preseason favorites, winning their first game against a strong Western Kentucky team, beginning the season 15-3 (3-0 MVC). They then proceeded to take major steps in the wrong direction, finishing the season tied for 7th place. This marked the first time in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference that the team picked to win the conference in the preseason finished any lower then 5th place.
Lusk’s inability to even live up to the most modest of expectations has to be the final straw at Missouri State. Blessed with a roster that includes the only real NBA prospect in the Missouri Valley, forward Alize Johnson, he was unable to build around this superior athlete. Lusk will enter the Missouri Valley tournament on Thursday against Valparaiso, if this is anything less then a blowout, it has to be the final straw. As Missouri State continues to grow, exceeding previous years enrollment every year for the last three years, the sports programs have to grow with the university. Missouri State has made a commitment to improving itself it is time to stop settling in it’s athletic programs. Lusk’s time in Springfield has to come to an end unless he can make a miracle happen and get this team to play to it’s preseason expectations over a week in St. Louis. Missouri State is not Mizzou, the alumni and the fans understand that but 7 years with a combined record of 88-106 shouldn’t be acceptable. The time has come to fire Paul Lusk.