Wait till next year: A look ahead for Missouri men's basketball

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 | 10:13 p.m. CDT
Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson goes up for a shot against Davidson College defenders Brian Sullivan, left, and De'Mon Brooks in the Tigers' 85-77 win in the first round of the NCAA National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. Clarkson finished the night with 15 points.

COLUMBIA — Missouri’s 2013-14 basketball season wasn’t quite one for the history books. The Tigers finished 23-12 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

Coach Frank Haith has said that making the NCAA tournament is the standard at Missouri. By that measure, this past season was a failure for the program, which hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since the 2009-10 season. What will next season bring for Missouri? Here’s a look.

Who's gone?

F Tony Criswell (3.9 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game), G Earnest Ross (14.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG)

Forward Tony Criswell and guard Earnest Ross are the only players graduating from this season’s squad. Criswell was suspended on three occasions during the season and made a minimal impact when he was active. Ross was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding.

The biggest question is whether star guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson will return for their senior seasons or enter the NBA draft. Brown led the team and conference with 19.8 points per game. The sharpshooter made 41 percent of his 3-pointers, but MU coaches raved about the improvements Brown made to his all-around game this season. Clarkson was second on the team with 17.5 points per game. The 6-foot-5 guard had his ups and downs this season, playing point guard for the first time in his life. If he leaves for the NBA, he’ll likely return to his natural shooting guard position.

Brown and Clarkson are dealing with personal matters back home, too. Each player's father got a cancer diagnosis in recent months.

Jonathan Givony of the respected NBA draft website Draft Express projects both as second-round picks. Underclassmen have until April 15 to enter the draft. The team’s chances of making a return to the NCAA tournament next season might hinge on Brown's and Clarkson’s decisions.  

Who's back?

G Wes Clark (4.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.1 APG), F Torren Jones (2.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG), F Keanau Post (1.5 PPG, 1.7 RPG), G Shane Rector (0.5 PPG, 0.3 RPG), F Ryan Rosburg (4.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG), F Johnathan Williams III (5.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG)

If Brown and Clarkson both declare for the NBA draft, post players Ryan Rosburg and Johnathan Williams III will be Missouri’s top returning scorers. The two combined for just 10.6 points per game in 2013-14. A four-star recruit, Williams started every game as a freshman and showed flashes of promise. The Memphis, Tenn., native is projected to be a solid all-around paint presence in the future. Reserve forward Torren Jones provided energy and the occasional highlight off the bench but must become a better defender if he wants consistent playing time.

Wes Clark was the only backup guard to crack Haith’s rotation in 2013-14. The four-star recruit from Detroit scored in double figures only once, the season opener, but was solid as a ballhandler. He is projected to be the Tigers’ point guard of the future — a future that may start next season if Brown or Clarkson departs.

Who arrives?

G Deuce Bello (transfer from Baylor), G Cameron Biedscheid (transfer from Notre Dame), F Jakeenan Gant (four-star recruit), F Zach Price (transfer from Louisville), G Namon Wright (four-star recruit)

Another year brings another group of transfers for Haith. The trio is likely to provide depth that the Tigers lacked in 2013-14. Deuce Bello averaged 2.4 points per game as a sophomore shooting guard at Baylor. The Missouri coaching staff spent the 2013-14 season teaching Bello the point guard position. Bello has two years of eligibility remaining and is expected to come off the bench next season. Zach Price also has two years of eligibility. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound center was a four-star recruit out of high school and figures to have a good chance to bolster Missouri’s post presence, something the Tigers need.

Cameron Biedscheid, a St. Louis (Cardinal Ritter) native, left Notre Dame in early January after averaging 6.2 points per game as a freshman in 2012-13. The 6-foot-7 wing averaged 31.7 points during his senior year of high school and was ranked as the No. 28 recruit nationally by Biedscheid will have 2.5 years of eligibility, starting at the conclusion of the fall semester in December. He’ll likely be the team’s go-to scoring option if Brown and Clarkson leave.

Joining Biedscheid in the rotation could be the two freshmen Haith has signed, forward Jakeenan Gant and guard Namon Wright. Gant, a four-star recruit from Springfield, Ga., won the state’s Mr. Basketball award and will compete with Jones and Williams for playing time. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward chose Missouri over Indiana, Marquette, Syracuse and others. Wright, a four-star shooting guard from Los Angeles, chose Missouri over Arizona State, Florida State and Oregon, among others. If Brown and Clarkson leave, Wright will likely start immediately. If they stay, Wright will be an intriguing option off the bench.

All of Missouri’s scholarships for next season are occupied. If a player declares for the NBA draft or decides to leave the program, an extra grant becomes free. One name to keep an eye on in that case is Ahmed Hill. Missouri pursued the 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Augusta, Ga., but Hill committed to Marquette. Recent developments have caused Hill to waver. Coach Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech last week. Hill announced Tuesday that the status of his commitment depends on who Marquette hires to replace Williams. If Hill reopens his recruitment and Missouri has a scholarship to give, the Tigers could be a major contender for the guard.

2014-15 forecast

If Brown and Clarkson return, a three-guard offense with Brown, Clark and Clarkson, along with a more experienced Williams and a vastly improved bench, might be enough to get the Tigers the wins needed for a ticket to the Big Dance.

If Haith’s two star guards do turn pro, the 2014-15 season may be more of a struggle than the 2013-14 campaign. The Tigers will add a number of unknown quantities to their rotation and will need to lean heavily on newcomers.

Even with Clarkson and Brown leading the offense, Missouri was 326th nationally in assists this season.

The Tigers have also struggled defensively since Haith took over. In conference games, Missouri ranked last in the Big 12 in field-goal-percentage defense in 2011-12, ninth in the SEC in that category in 2012-13 and 11th this past season. The Tigers must improve those numbers if NCAA tournament appearances — and wins — are to remain the norm in Columbia.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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