Davidson presents challenge for Missouri basketball in NIT

Monday, March 17, 2014 | 9:46 p.m. CDT; updated 6:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 18, 2014

*CORRECTION: Missouri is playing in the National Invitation Tournament. A previous version of this article misstated the name of the tournament.

COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Frank Haith's yearlong experiment using Jordan Clarkson as point guard has been, from a statistical standpoint, a success.

That experiment could involve a new variable Tuesday when the Tigers host Davidson in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament* at 8 p.m.

Wes Clark, the reserve point guard who occasionally takes the ball-handling load off of Clarkson, might not be available after a weekend arrest for suspected marijuana possession. If he doesn't play – Haith would not declare Clark active or inactive during a press conference Monday – Clarkson's purported development as a point guard will be even more visible.

"I think he's made great strides at the position," Haith said Monday. "He's had some really, really good moments, but I can't sit here and say we've been in disbelief of Jordan at the position. He's done a fine job at the position. I look at his assist/turnover ratio. He's still plus in that category. So I think he's done a nice job."

Clarkson, a junior transfer from Tulsa, was one of the Southeastern Conference's best scorers at 17.7 points per game. He's also averaged a career-best 3.4 assists per game, while committing 2.7 turnovers per game — the same number he averaged as a sophomore shooting guard with the Golden Hurricanes in 2011-12.

Missouri missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 while Tulsa reached the field as the Conference USA champion. But Clarkson was one of the Tigers' few bright spots, along with guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross.

The 6-foot-5 San Antonio, Texas, native has been one of the Tigers' most dynamic performers while averaging 35.0 minutes per game.

"I'm still getting better and growing," Clarkson said.

To ease Clarkson's transition to point guard, Haith has allowed him to drift back to his natural off-guard position at times. That won't be easy to do if Clark and fellow freshman guard Shane Rector — also cited for marijuana possession — are unavailable. Their absences would leave Clarkson, Brown and Ross as the only guards on the active roster.

Haith said he spoke to Clark and Rector and said he will speak to them again when the decision has been made.

"But to be quite blunt with you, my focus is to get our guys ready to play Davidson," Haith said.

Clark averaged 20.4 minutes his freshman season and usually brought the ball up court when he and Clarkson were in the lineup simultaneously.

Davidson is a No.7 seed in the second-tier tournament, but Haith has stressed to his players that they should not look past their opening-round NIT opponent. The Wildcats won the Southern Conference regular season title with a 15-1 league record before losing a 99-97 overtime game to Western Carolina in the semifinals of their conference tournament.

Despite residing in a small mid-major conference, the Wildcats have plenty of experience against upper-echelon opponents, including Wichita State and Virginia — a pair of No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Davidson also played Duke, New Mexico and North Carolina, which the Wildcats pushed into overtime before losing. Davidson beat Wofford — the Southern Conference's eventual tournament champion — in both meetings. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, which dropped Missouri twice.

"They won't be fearful playing against us," Haith said. "They've played everybody. ... You name it, they played them. We're going to have our hands full, for sure."

Davidson starts three seniors, led by De'Mon Brooks (18.7 points per game). The Wildcats stand in the top 30 in the country in both points per game and field goal percentage.

"They're a very talented team," Haith said. "They're an experienced team. They can shoot the ball. We have to be really good defensively."

Where Davidson struggles is on defense and in rebounding.

The bigger Tigers should possess an advantage on the boards. But Missouri might need top scorers Brown and Clarkson to enter into a shootout without getting much rest.

"We gotta come out and play," Brown said. "Its disappointing (missing the NCAA Tournament). I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. But we don't want to be one and out in the NIT."

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