All things considered, Mizzou hoops team has started strong
NOV 26, 2013 3:12p ET
The Tigers have been without their head coach, are breaking in four new starters, none of whom is a true point guard, and began the season without their most experienced big man ( Tony Criswell). Overcome such challenges and you can overlook -- for the most part, anyway -- Missouri's mostly soft schedule to this point.
Now as the schedule turns firm with a Thanksgiving trip to Las Vegas and coach Frank Haith is reinstated from his five-game NCAA-mandated suspension, here are three reasons for their strong start.
THE WINGS HAVE BEEN HOT
Junior transfer Jordan Clarkson is considered the starting point guard, but he's not a true "1." He's a scorer. An efficient scorer, at that. Though he has yet to find his 3-point shot, Clarkson still is averaging 18.8 points on 52.1 percent shooting. With a knack for slipping past defenders in the lane, Clarkson has been able to get the ball to the rim even against zone defenses.
When he doesn't shoot, his first option is to find junior Jabari Brown at the 3-point line. Brown also knows what to do when he gets the ball. He leads the Tigers with a 19.2-point average, thanks in large part to the fact he's shooting 46.7 percent on 3s. Playing 37 minutes a game hasn't hurt, either.
"I am excited about Jordan and Jabari," said Tim Fuller, who served as interim head coach in Haith's absence. "It gives any coach confidence to finish games when you have two high-powered wings that can play the way they play."
The third member of the terrific trio, senior Earnest Ross, has been struggling with his shot (6 of 22 on 3-pointers) but still is averaging 12.2 points.
PHENOM LIVES UP TO HIS BILLING
Johnathan Williams III, a top 50 recruit coming out of high school in Memphis, is showing why he was worthy of becoming the first Missouri freshman to start the season opener since Jason Horton in 2004.
The 6-9 lanky lefty is adjusting quickly to the physical college game, as evidenced by his team-best rebounding average of 9.2 In his past two games, JIII has turned in a 17-rebound effort and his first double-double. He also is shooting 55.2 percent, though he has taken fewer than six shots a game.
You can be sure his attempts will go up as he gains more experience. About the only weakness Williams has shown is his free-throw shooting; he has missed nine of his 14 attempts.
ANOTHER FRESHMAN MAKES HIS POINT
The Tigers have a true point guard in Wes Clark though, so far, he has not cracked the starting lineup. If he continues to play like he has, it's only a matter of time before Haith figures out a way to get Clark more minutes. (Putting Ross at the power forward and going with one true big man looks like the best option.)
Even if he isn't quite as tall as his listed height of 6-0, Clark looks a bit taller than Phil Pressey. His passing is just as sharp. When Clark is in the game, Missouri's big men have to be alert because they're more likely to get a touch than when he's not on the floor.
"It's crazy how much you see Phil in him," said sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg. "He's a pass-first point guard who sets people up for easy shots, but he can score when he needs to. He brings a lot to the table."
Clark, who has made 6 of 10 3-pointers, looks to be a better shooter than Pressey so far. He displays the same ball-hawking skills on defense and, on offense, he plays very much under control, especially for a newcomer to the college game.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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