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.
GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Michigan State vs. Providence, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
Two Player of the Year candidates lock horns on Sunday night as Michigan State senior Denzel Valentine battles Providence’s Kris Dunn. Both players are strong threats to record a triple-double each time they take the floor and both are key reasons why their teams are 6-0. The Friars could probably use this game a bit more than Michigan State since they enter this game unranked and could use another confidence-boosting win for a team filled with newer players. As for the Spartans, winning the Wooden Legacy would mean another great accomplishment before December even started for a team that has national title aspirations.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 23 Xavier vs. Dayton, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
These two 6-0 teams from Ohio will meet in Orlando in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational. The Musketeers have six different players averaging at least 9.7 points per game this season as they’ve received great balance on the offensive end. As for Dayton, Charles Cooke as emerged as a go-to player early this season while guard Scoochie Smith has also been outstanding. This will be the first time these two schools have played since Feb. 16, 2013.
SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- One of the fun teams to watch this week has been Monmouth and their amusing end-of-bench antics. On the floor, the Hawks knocked off Notre Dame and gave Dayton a scare and they’ll face USC for the second time this season to close out the AdvoCare Invitational. The Trojans won the first one 101-90, but this is a 12:30 p.m. EST tip, so that could benefit Monmouth the second time around.
- Wisconsin visiting No. 7 Oklahoma is an intriguing Sunday matchup. The Badgers could certainly use a true road win here as they’re off to a 4-2 start. The Sooners get more of a real test after only playing Memphis as a notable opponent their first three games.
- Also going on in the AdvoCare Invitational is No. 20 Wichita State facing Iowa and No. 17 Notre Dame battling Alabama. The Shockers are going without senior starters Fred Van Vleet and Anton Grady as they try to escape Orlando with a win. Notre Dame is hoping to close out the event strong after its surprising upset to Monmouth.
- Action also continues in Anaheim at the Wooden Legacy as No. 11 Arizona will take on Boise State, while Boston College plays Santa Clara and UC Irvine faces Evansville. Arizona will look to get back on the right track after the close loss to Providence in the semifinals.
- No. 6 Duke gets an afternoon tilt with Utah State at home before they face Indiana during the week. It’ll be interesting to see if Blue Devil freshman wing Brandon Ingram keeps his strong play going from earlier in the week.
- UCLA returns home and could badly use a win against Cal State Northridge. The Bruins went a disappointing 1-2 in the Maui Invitational and need to get back on the right track before the face No. 1 Kentucky next week.
TOP 25 GAMES
- Brown vs. No. 25 SMU, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Jackson State at Marquette, 12:30 p.m.
- Rider at Rhode Island, 1:00 p.m.
- Savannah State at South Florida, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- South Carolina State at Kansas State, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
- Northern Colorado at Colorado, 2:00 p.m. (PAC12)
- UC Santa Barbara at Arizona State, 4:00 p.m. (PAC12)
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics