By The Associated Press
COLUMBIA —Frank Haith saw too many off-target free throws, blown layups and turnovers in Missouri’s opening exhibition men’s basketball game.
Coach Frank Haith
A team that has four new starters will have to get better without their head coach in the early going.
Haith is suspended for the first five games of the season after the NCAA found he inadequately monitored his former assistants’ interactions with a disgraced Miami booster during his time as coach of the Hurricanes, and then tried to cover up a payment intended to keep potential violations hidden.
The games he misses don’t appear particularly challenging for the Tigers, with four at home and a fifth on a neutral court. The opener is Nov. 8 at home against Southeastern Louisiana with other home dates against Southern Illinois, Gardner-Webb and IUPUI, plus a Nov. 16 matchup against Hawaii in Kansas City.
But there are things for the Tigers to work on.
“When you’re practicing against each other you think you’re better than you are,” Haith said. “I do think we have a good ball club, but we need to have some tough moments, which we did.”
Although Jabari Brown is the only returning starter, Earnest Ross was among the SEC’s top backups. That gives the Tigers two returning players who averaged in double figures the previous season, along with the same head coach, for just the second time since 2003.
The lineup lost 63 percent of the points 65 percent of the rebounds and 76 percent of the assists.
Missouri was 23-11 and tied for fifth in its first SEC season and was picked to finish fifth again. The school has made five straight NCAA tournament trips.
Five things to watch for:
NEW KIDS: Johnathan Williams III and Wes Clark are top recruits and could be the first Missouri freshmen to start a regular season opener since Jason Horton in 2004-05. Haith drew comparisons between Williams and Laurence Bowers, a four-year starter who was a reliable scorer on the baseline and an aggressive rebounder, too. “He’s a kid who will get better and better because he works his tail off,” Haith said. “I think he’s going to have freshman moments. We’re going to get him out there early and let him play through mistakes.” The 6-foot Clark led Romulus High School to a Michigan Class A title and 27-1 record, averaging 12.8 points, 6.5 assists and four rebounds. “We have a lot of young guys,” Brown said. “It’s a tough thing transitioning into the college level, the different defensive rotations and where you need to be.”
HOME COOKING: Haith is 33-1 and has an 18-game winning streak at Mizzou Arena, fourth longest in the nation. The Tigers were 17-0 at home last season and are 84-4 the last five seasons. In non-conference play, they’ve won 73 in a row since losing to Sam Houston State in the 2005 Preseason NIT.
ONLY ONE: For the second straight season, there’s just one returning starter. Brown was a reliable scoring threat, averaging 14.6 points in SEC play. Bowers will be missed most after four strong seasons. Phil Pressey left early for the NBA draft and also gone are Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell.
MY TURN: Ross was a highly productive sixth man with starting playing time, averaging 25 minutes his first season since transferring. He averaged 10.9 points with 49 3-pointers and had three double doubles. This year, he’ll be in the lineup. That means even more chance to produce. The same goes for productive backups from last season – forwards Tony Criswell, Ryan Rosburg and Stefan Jankovic, and guard Danny Feldman.
FIRST LOOK: Tulsa transfer guard Jordan Clarkson is the new point guard after a backstage year in the system, proving himself on the practice floor. Clarkson was first-team All-Conference USA as a sophomore averaging 16.5 points and 3.9 rebounds. “He has great instincts and he’s only going to get better,” Haith said. Two new transfers, Deuce Bello (Baylor) and Zach Price (Louisville), must sit out this season after arriving from high-profile programs, and will have two years eligibility remaining. Bello was among the top recruits out of high school and the 6-10 Price was a member of Louisville’s NCAA title team.