Frank Haith’s big year turned into a big dud.
The third-year Missouri coach finally had his own guys, including several high-level transfers and an impressive freshman class. But instead of taking a step forward, Missouri took one back, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 and making an early exit from the National Invitation Tournament.
Haith blamed a lack of depth for the season’s woes.
“I think something that we need to do as a staff is make sure we have great depth,” Haith said after his team’s season-ending loss to Southern Mississippi in the second round of the NIT on March 23. “We had some guys leave our program that would have played a lot this year. I think Stefan Jankovic and Negus Webster-Chan would have both been great contributors this year. Those things happen.”
The lack of depth caused disparity in scoring totals. The combination of senior guard Earnest Ross and junior guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson scored more than 70 percent of the team’s points.
The guards didn’t distribute, and the big men were inconsistent.
The Tigers finished 13th out of 14 in Southeastern Conference teams in assists, averaging 10.1 per game.
“I thought Jordan made great strides this year, but he’s still got to grow there,” Haith said. “I thought Wes made some great strides throughout the year, but we were never quite fluid in that area this year. That’s something we’ve got to work on.”
Missouri finished in the upper half in rebounding in the SEC, grabbing more than 36 per game. Freshman forward Johnathan Williams III led the team with 6.5 boards per game in his first year of collegiate ball.
But while both Williams and sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg produced in the scoring department, it never happened at the same time. Only twice in SEC play did the duo combine for 15 or more points.
There were also games where they completely disappeared. Against Kentucky, freshman forwards Julius Randle and James Young outscored Williams and Rosburg 38-3.
“I think as the season goes on, I look at our front line of J-Three and Ryan, and going into the year I don’t think we thought they would be our front-line guys,” Haith said. “But, because of circumstances, that’s where they ended up. I thought those guys got better, battled and competed. When you look at the youthfulness of our front line, I think you would say we’re flawed, because those guys are young.”
Ross, Brown and Clarkson were some of the few bright spots for Missouri. Brown led the SEC in scoring, and Clarkson finished seventh in league play.
But all three might have played their last games at Mizzou Arena. Ross will leave due to graduation, and Clarkson announced Monday he will enter the NBA draft. Brown is expected to make a decision on his future shortly.
Missouri did finish atop the SEC in free throw percentage, hitting more than 74 percent of its shots from the charity stripe.
But for Haith, a program of Missouri’s status needs to aim higher than that.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t make the NCAA tournament,” Haith said. “We have to want to make it to the NCAA tournament every year.”