MU basketball team adjusting to unusual schedule

Tigers get plenty of rest in between games

In this file photo, Missouri head coach Frank Haith tries to get a call during the Tigers' basketball game against West Virginia Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Columbia, Mo.

In this file photo, Missouri head coach Frank Haith tries to get a call during the Tigers' basketball game against West Virginia Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team must feel like it’s playing football.

The 24th-ranked Tigers (9-0) are in the midst of an odd portion of their schedule that sees them play just once a week for a month.

It started Dec. 7 against UCLA and continues at 6 p.m. today (ESPNU-TV) against Western Michigan (5-3) at Mizzou Arena. The Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis against Illinois is Saturday, a road trip to North Carolina State comes a week later and Missouri concludes the non-conference slate against Long Beach State seven days after that.

“I like how the schedule’s played out,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “… It gives us some really good time as coaches to hone in on some really good improvements.”

Don’t tell that to the players.

“I don’t like these long gaps between games,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “You start itching to get back out there and play. You just have to dial in and focus. We’re adding new things here and there, and tweaking things. You have to pay close attention to detail and get better.”

Added point guard Jordan Clarkson: “With all this practice and stuff it kind of almost feels like the beginning of the year again. We just have to stay focused. We’ve got two big games coming up. We can’t take Western Michigan for granted. Then you’ve got Illinois next weekend. We’ve got to prepare for both teams like it’s a championship game.”

Missouri is looking to start the season at 10-0 for just the 10th time in program history and third time in the past 32 years.

“We’ve got to be really pleased with where we’re at,” Haith said. “What this team has accomplished so far, you’ve got to be pleased with it in terms of how we played. I like what we’re doing on the defensive end. I think we’re ahead of where we were last year at this time defensively. I think that was a big part of what our focus was as a coaching staff. Would I give them a letter grade? I don’t know. As coaches we’re never really always satisfied. I think we’ve done relatively well.”

Standing in the way of that 10-0 start are the Western Michigan Broncos, the Mid-American Conference West Division champions last season. Missouri and Western Michigan share a pair of common opponents — Hawaii and Northwestern. Western Michigan lost both, 78-68 and 51-35, respectively, while Missouri owns 92-80 and 78-67 victories.

“We just can’t get complacent, we’ve got to stay paranoid,” Clarkson said. “Everybody’s always going to come after you whenever you’re ranked. We just have to keep grinding and do what we’re doing.”

Western Michigan ranks 234th in the nation while averaging 70.6 points per game. There are a trio of Broncos to keep an eye on, though. It starts with junior guard David Brown and his 20.1 points per contest.

“Any guy averaging 20 points at any level of Division I is definitely somebody you have to respect, so I’m looking forward to having the challenge of trying to slow that down,” Brown said.

Then you have a monster in the middle in 6-foot-11, 245-pound center Shayne Whittington. The senior averages 15.8 points and 11 rebounds a game. Sophomore forward Connar Tava adds 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Missouri is still led by the Big Three of Clarkson (20.2 ppg, 3.8 assists per game), Brown (19.4 ppg, 5.8 rebounds) and Earnest Ross (14.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg).

“We still have a lot of stuff to work on,” Clarkson said. “It’s still early in the year. I think there’s still a lot of stuff to fix in these next games before we start the second half of the season. There’s still room to get better.”

Missouri will have plenty of time for that now.

“It’s pretty much just basketball for four or five weeks,” Brown said. “I feel like it’s time for guys to get in on their own and work on the little things they think they can improve on.”

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