Press Box: Missouri will need more than just ‘Big Three’ to be successful

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Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross have been just that for the Missouri basketball team this season.

The three starting guards have shouldered the load early on, carrying the team to a 7-0 record. Brown, Clarkson and Ross have accounted for 67 percent of Missouri’s field-goal attempts and 65 percent of the Tigers’ points through seven games.

They all average double figures, led by Clarkson’s 19.4 points per game. Brown is just behind with 19.3, while Ross rounds out the group of Tigers in double digits with 13.4 points.

That’s all well and good. But I thought basketball required five players on the court at a time.

Missouri’s frontcourt — to put it bluntly — isn’t very good.

Starting forwards Johnathan Williams III and Ryan Rosburg average 7.3 and 6.9 ppg, respectively, while Tony Criswell chips in 5.8 ppg and Keanau Post adds 1.4 ppg. Ugh.

Some might argue The Big Three is so talented and productive, Missouri just doesn’t need all that much scoring from its frontcourt.

I disagree.

The Three Musketeers, as a group, are shooting just 47 percent from the field. And 35 percent from 3-point range. That’s not all that impressive. They’re getting their points, nearly all of Missouri’s points, but not at the most efficient of clips.

Are The Big Three taking too many shots? Settling for too many 3s or long, contested 2-point jumpers? Do they feel they need to make up for the lack of experience and scoring punch on the inside?

I think it’s a “Yes” to all of those questions.

And unless a capable fourth (or even fifth) scoring option emerges, Missouri is in big trouble.

Sure, that 7-0 mark looks all nice and shiny. No blemishes on the record. That’s something teams like Kansas, Kentucky and Duke can’t say. The discrepancy in the caliber of competition is a story for another time, though.

Forget that those schools are playing somebody besides Sisters of the Poor, Directional University and my fifth-grade basketball team.

Missouri’s best win is against a 4-4 Northwestern squad that’s never made the NCAA Tournament. Ever. A Wildcat team that won’t sniff any sort of postseason this year. Not the NIT. Or the CIT. Or the CBI. Or any other monogrammed playoff experience.

The other victories? Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI and Nevada. Gag me. That might be the worst non-conference slate in the nation to date.

Missouri will finally play a formidable foe when UCLA comes to town Saturday. The other non-league teams left on the docket are West Virginia, Western Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State. None of those five teams are any good this season.

That’s what’s concerning. Missouri is playing an extremely soft schedule, hasn’t looked all that impressive in beating said teams and has been unable to establish any sort of interior scoring presence.

That should definitely throw up some red flags.

Missouri’s Big Three can’t provide all the scoring every game. They’ll have off nights. They’ve already had off nights, but have been able to get by against inferior opponents.

That won’t be the case once Missouri runs into an opponent with talented guards. The Tiger frontcourt will have to step up and knock down some shots to ease the pressure on The Big Three. Missouri needs some big man to assert himself as a legitimate double-digit scoring threat. Otherwise the Tigers are in trouble. This 7-0 start will eventually be a distant memory. Missouri will find itself on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament.

Find a big man, or The Big Three won’t be enough.

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