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Monday, September 1, 2014

Column: Looking for positives as Mizzou basketball struggles

It’s sad, but perhaps it’s time to start looking at next season for Tigers’ hoops.

Feb. 26, 2014

The Missouri men’s basketball team has been a disappointment this year, struggling to punch out convincing victories and failing to win even easier games.

Coach Frank Haith sits on the hot seat, as he’s been unable to deliver a deep tournament run. Following the awful loss to Alabama, it doesn’t appear that he’ll get another crack at it this year either.

Despite his contract running through 2016, I’d give him another year at most.

The main problem is that the Missouri backcourt — Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross — has scored more than two-thirds of the team’s points, propelling the Tigers to all 19 of their wins. That’s not exactly a good thing when three players are averaging 55 of a team’s 75 points per game.

A positive that many people have not noticed is the slow improvements made by the freshman and sophomore classes, despite their lack of contribution in the points department.

Ryan Rosburg is in his second year at Missouri. Last season, he played backup to Alex Oriakhi, coming off the bench. This year, he “earned” a starting role. There isn’t a viable backup to challenge his starting spot, but hopefully Zach Price, who transferred from Louisville, can change that next season when he becomes eligible.

I’ve been one of many to bash Rosburg for his poor play on both ends of the court. Aside from the rare transition dunk, he doesn’t get to touch the ball much on the offensive side as every play seems to be drawn up for Clarkson or Brown. This is the sole reason the frontcourt has struggled throughout this season.

Rosburg has shown most of his improvements defensively, especially with his post presence. Last year, he looked like a lost puppy on the floor as he scrambled to set picks or guard the right player, but offseason improvements to his footwork and positioning have helped him work out some of the kinks.

Johnathan Williams III is another player Missouri looked to lean on at the power forward position with the departure of Laurence Bowers. Fans probably had the highest expectations for Williams, who ranked No. 55 in ESPN’s top-100 recruiting class for 2013.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Memphis, Tenn., has failed to contribute effectively on offense, as he’s averaging just under six points per game, which is hardly what the Missouri faithful had expected from a four-star recruit.

He is shooting less than 50 percent from the floor, which is atrocious when you consider that most of his shots are made so close to the hoop. With Haith electing to go smaller with his lineups recently, Williams’ minutes have been limited.

If he really wants to become the impact player he was brought in to be, Williams has to make the most of his opportunities.

Defensively, however, Williams has been a rebound machine, grabbing slightly fewer than seven a game. But his man-to-man defense is far from perfect. With a few minor adjustments to his positioning and jump shot, he has the skills and potential to be a real threat in a power frontcourt, which would also include Price and sophomore transfer Cameron Biedscheid.

Among the entire freshman class, Wes Clark has shown the most potential, flourishing in his so-called sixth man role. While Clark’s stats don’t appear to be all that great, his command on the floor has shown signs of former Tiger point guard Phil Pressey.

While I’d like to see Haith give him a bigger opportunity to run the point, he’s certainly handled the ball well in his combo guard roll. His turnovers have been kept to a minimum, and he’s even been able to improve his jump shot to provide the offense with a scoring boost off of the bench.

With Clarkson potentially leaving for the NBA draft, Clark should be next in line to take over the point guard position. Let’s just hope he elects to pass the ball a little more than Clarkson has this season and pull the Tigers from the basement in the assists category (currently ranked 311).

This season has been embarrassing for Missouri to say the least. Going 7-7 in a sub par conference is nothing to be proud of. With that being said, teams take time to build and develop, and we’ve seen some positive spurts come from the younger guys on this squad.

Who knows — maybe next year will prove more fruitful for the Tigers. Maybe they’ll even make it past the dreaded first round of the NCAA tournament, because barring the unusual, Missouri is headed to the NIT.

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