With Phil Pressey leaving school after his junior season for the NBA, Missouri had an important question to answer entering the 2013-14 season: who will grab the reins and lead the team from the point guard position? And with the team boasting an 8-0 record after beating West Virginia 80-71 on Thursday night, it’s become even more apparent that Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson is the correct answer to that question.
Clarkson was seen as the likely answer during the summer, thanks to his offensive skill set, and he’s lived up to those expectations thus far. Prior to Thursday’s game Clarkson led the team in both scoring and assists, averaging 19.4 points and 3.6 assists per contest. Against the Mountaineers Clarkson was able to get into the paint at will, especially in the first half, finishing the game with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Clarkson’s now eclipsed the 20-point mark in four consecutive games, and clearly he’s a different option at the point than Pressey way. Not the best perimeter shooter (Clarkson entered Thursday shooting 22.7% from three and missed both attempts against WVU), Clarkson’s taken advantage of his mid-range game and the ability to get to the basket. And the presence of capable scorers Jabari Brown (18 points) and Earnest Ross (16) on the wings makes it difficult for opponents to cheat too much.
But there are areas in which Missouri needs to show improvement at the point with a game against No. 18 UCLA next on the schedule. Clarkson will need to continue to improve as a decision-maker in the Tigers’ pick-and-roll game, and with teams likely to sag off in such situations he needs to connect at a higher rate from the perimeter as well. And down the stretch the Tigers were a little too loose with the basketball, with their point guards (Wes Clark led the team with five assists) having some trouble with the pressure West Virginia was applying.
The game was essentially decided in the first 11 minutes, with Missouri scoring the first nine points and leading 25-11 with 9:06 to go in the first half. The Mountaineers, one of the highest-scoring teams in the country entering the game, couldn’t make a shot and the margin proved to be too much to make up.
WVU was a good test for Missouri as a team and Clarkson individually, and the result was a positive one on both fronts. But UCLA represents a stiffer test, and it’s one that will be a greater indicator of Missouri’s potential this season.