Sunday, January 26, 2014

Missouri may want to try four-guard lineup

Missouri got a win it had to have last Saturday, defeating Alabama 68-47 at Mizzou Arena. It was a nice recovery from another bad loss, this one at Vanderbilt Thursday. That 78-75 loss is another mark against the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament resume and raised more questions about how good this team really is. But Missouri did all they could do after such a setback; they went out and played hard in their next game, against Alabama.

Missouri (14-3, 2-2 in SEC play through Sunday) showed more energy and hunger than it has in weeks. It was especially evident on defense, where Missouri held Alabama (8-9, 2-2 in SEC) to 29.2 percent shooting and 25 percent on three-pointers.

The crowd at Mizzou Arena, the biggest of the season, also seemed louder and more energized than it has been most games this year.

With guard Jordan Clarkson forced to sit out with foul trouble for a big chunk of the first half, that defense and some hot shooting by Jabari Brown kept the Tigers in the game, taking a one-point lead into halftime. Then with Clarkson back in the second half and playing iron-fisted defense, Missouri pulled away, holding the Crimson Tide to 17 second-half points.

Johnathan Williams III pulled down 14 rebounds, continuing to prove he is Missouri’s best big-man option.

As this team gets deeper in conference play, coach Frank Haith may take a look at what he has and decide to channel his first team at Missouri, going small but fast by playing four guards and just one forward. Backup Wes Clark showed poise at point guard in extended minutes against Alabama, so start him there along with Clarkson, Brown, Earnest Ross and Williams in the post.

Only sub if a player gets into foul trouble or collapses from exhaustion like a marathon runner at the finish line. Depth is nice, but so is having your best players play as many minutes as possible.

Maybe this wouldn’t work, but with Missouri on the bubble, it might be time to try something different. Haith has shown he can coach a four-guard lineup. This team isn’t as talented as the 2011-12 team that won 30 games, but they could give its blueprint a try.

Whoever starts, Missouri will have another must-win game on Saturday at home against last-place South Carolina (3 p.m. on SEC TV, check listings for local channel). The Gamecocks (7-10, 0-4 in SEC through Sunday) don’t have a lot of firepower, ranking outside the top 200 nationally in points per game and field goal percentage. They do have an interesting freshman guard in Sindarius Thornwell, who is averaging 12.0 points per game to begin the week.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin, formerly the coach at Kansas State, does own one of the two wins against Frank Haith in Mizzou Arena, but this is a game Missouri should win comfortably.

Missouri needs all the wins it can get heading into its toughest four-game stretch of the season, which comes after the South Carolina game.

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