Missouri at Risk of Losing NCAA Bid and Its Two Best PlayersPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 6th, 2014
Once the season is complete, Frank Haith might have just lost out on an NCAA Tournament bid as well as the two players who have kept his team afloat this season. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have been doing their best to put Missouri on the happy side of the NCAA bubble, but 61 combined points against Kentucky and 29 against Florida’s meat-grinder defense didn’t lead to victories. Now the Tigers are out of chances for a sparkling regular season conference wins. With an RPI in the 50s and nine games remaining against mostly equivalent or worse profiled teams, the Tigers cannot afford to drop another “should-win” game. Despite the best efforts of Clarkson and Brown, there’s a better-than-reasonable chance that Missouri will come up empty on Selection Sunday, and to make matters worse, NBADraft.net projects the two guards as top 33 picks in its latest mock NBA Draft.
Are there good reasons for the duo to stay in Columbia past this season? Of course there are. Both are too right-hand dominant going to the rim, and Clarkson’s value stands to skyrocket if he became a more refined distributor with a more consistent outside shot. Then there’s the issue of the abnormally deep draft class this season. Still, the pull of the NBA might be strong for two transfers who already lost a year of real game action, and people have begun to take notice of the pair’s talents: “[Brown] is getting everybody’s attention. Everybody understands what he is doing. He has done it against great defenses and people that have put an emphasis and a focus on him. That is a tribute to him offensively, how good and talented he is,” said Billy Donovan. You can never fault a player for striking while the iron is hot. Brown is quite frankly playing like an ideal NBA shooting guard with his three-point shooting and improved slashing ability. Clarkson is an intriguing point guard prospect with great size and superior athleticism. There may be no time like this spring for the two to throw their names into the NBA pot.
That means that there is a very real chance that Missouri somehow fails to make the NCAA Tournament and yet still loses its best two players. This is a problem for Haith, and it’s compounded by the fact that most of his 2012-13 freshmen class has already scurried out the door. The two scholarship guards in that class — Negus Webster-Chan (Hawaii) and Dominique Bull (George Washington) — transferred out at the end of last season. Since Earnest Ross finishes his eligibility this year, the only upperclassman the Tigers would have on the perimeter is Baylor transfer Deuce Bello, a former prep star who, for some reason, averaged only 10.6 minutes per game during his two seasons in Waco. To be fair, Haith’s cupboard isn’t necessarily bare here. Freshman Wes Clark has been solid over the last four games (22 points and 10 assists, although with seven turnovers), and fellow freshman point guard Shane Rector is at least getting some seasoning by playing an occasional relevant minute or two. Haith also has four-star Los Angeles shooting guard Namon Wright coming in, and Notre Dame transfer Cam Biedscheid will become eligible at midseason.
So Haith does have some pieces to play with if his two star guards do in fact depart early. He doesn’t, however, have an experienced replacement like he did when Clarkson (a two-year starter at Tulsa) stepped into the void left by Phil Pressey’s jump. Experience isn’t a must these days in college basketball, but it sure helps when you aren’t blessed with a bunch of one-and-dones populating your roster. That leaves Haith facing the potentially difficult situation of missing out on the NCAA Tournament and losing the two guys that nearly got him there. The next four weeks will tell the tale on both counts.