Mizzou’s Clarkson is proving to be even better than advertised

ST. LOUIS — They own the ninth-best rebounding difference in the

nation. Their shooting percentage is second best in the SEC. They gave

UCLA its first loss by holding the high-scoring Bruins to their lowest

output of the season.

But as efficiently as the Missouri Tigers

are clicking across the board, the No. 1 reason they are 9-0 and have

cracked the Top 25 has been the play of No. 5: junior transfer Jordan

Clarkson.

The 21-year-old from San Antonio is proving to be even

better than advertised, and he came to Columbia with quite a billing.

Clarkson led Tulsa with a 16.6-point scoring average before he

transferred after his sophomore year and turned heads in Missouri’s

practices last season with regular battles against Phil Pressey.

Coach

Frank Haith won’t go so far to admit that even he has been surprised by

Clarkson’s strong start, but let’s just say the veteran coach has been

duly impressed.

“Has he exceeded my expectations?” Haith asked,

repeating a question from the media at his weekly presser Wednesday. “I

knew he was pretty good, but he’s done some really good things, there’s

no denying it. He’s a very talented kid.”

Haith, after all,

sought Clarkson after he left Tulsa and watched him practice against the

Tigers last season. In his share of those sessions, Haith says Clarkson

was the best player on the floor. Still, you know what they say about

practice. Haith wasn’t sure how Clarkson would adjust to competition

that, on most nights, is a cut above what he faced in Conference USA.

Well,

21 points, four rebounds and six assists against UCLA and 25/6/4

against West Virginia are pretty clear indicators that Clarkson has

stepped up nicely. He already has the Missouri media relations

department scurrying for the school record book.

For example, a

20-point game against Western Michigan on Sunday night at Mizzou Arena

and Clarkson will become the first player with six consecutive such

outputs since Anthony Peeler in 1991-92. Seven years have passed since

any Tiger turned in five straight 20-point outings, that being Thomas

Gardner. Keep it up and Clarkson could become the first Tiger to average

20 since Kareem Rush in 2000-01.

Clarkson leads the SEC in

scoring with 20.2 per game and, while he has put up more shots than

anyone in the conference, he also ranks top 10 in field-goal percentage

at 51.5. Those numbers figure to rise if he can lift his 27.6 percentage

on 3-pointers to his career average of 33.8. With such production, who

cares if he isn’t a pass-first point guard like Pressey.

After

going for 17 in the first half against UCLA, Clarkson certainly made an

impression on coach Steve Alford. The Bruins turned their focus to

stopping Clarkson after halftime only to watch the other members of the

big three, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown, take over as the Tigers turned

an eight-point deficit into a 17-point victory.

“Clarkson is

very, very special,” Alford said. “He’s getting a lot of interest, and

he should. He’s a very talented point guard.”

At 6-5, 193,

Clarkson hardly is a banger but he has shown the strength to score in

the paint. Even against zone defenses, he has found a way to slash to

the basket. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, after watching Clarkson

make 9 of 17 shots in a one-sided victory, attributed the effectiveness

to more than talent.

“Guys like him really benefit from the way

they’re calling the game now,” said Huggins, referencing the emphasis

this season on calling hand-checking. “He’s got good length and he’s

very good with the ball.”

He’s been pretty good defending the

ball, too, as have the rest of the Tigers. Haith ranks defense as the

main reason his team has exceeded expectations in the early going,

particularly its effort on closing out on 3-point shooters. West

Virginia and UCLA both came to Mizzou Arena shooting better than 40

percent on 3s but were held to a combined 23.1 percent (9 for 39).

“We’re

ahead of where we were this time last year defensively,” Haith said.

“We can change defenses, we have good length, we’re rebounding and we’ve

taken away the 3-point line. Those numbers are to our liking.”

So, too, has been the play of No. 5.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.