Ditch the bigs? Haith debates going small to spark offense

Lineup with more guards puts more scorers on the floor, coach said.

Freshman guard Wes Clark (#1) attempts a layup in the second half.

With freshman forward Johnathan Williams III racking up fouls instead of points and rebounds, coach Frank Haith discussed several possible lineup changes Monday, including the possibility of playing four guards more often.

Missouri used a small lineup to turn a 15-point halftime deficit into a three-point loss Saturday at Mississippi. Haith says it’s his best offensive lineup but said the defensive liabilities and a lack of depth prevent him from going to it full time with a critical three-game home stand coming up.

Going small involves putting freshman Wes Clark at the point, keeping juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown at guard and shifting senior Earnest Ross to the small forward position, leaving sophomore Ryan Rosburg as the lone big man.

Ross said that allows him to use his quickness to exploit big men in the post. He also said it provides trouble for defenses guarding screens.

“If I’m setting a ball screen for Jordan or Jabari, whatever the situation is, if they want to help off, it leaves me open for the 3 or to attack the rim, so there’s a lot of advantages to it,” Ross said.

Rosburg said Ross sliding down to the four provides the biggest advantage.

“Obviously he’s a really fast, explosive player, and can really score the ball,” Rosburg said. “I think that, with some of the length of other four men, I think that he’ll be tough to guard.”

Haith said he won’t go small full time, as he did in his first year at Missouri, saying teams need to be smart defensively to do that.

“I don’t think you give teams a steady diet of that. I think we can do it in spurts because teams in this league are long, athletic, and Arkansas can put two big guys out there,” Haith said.

The lineup appears more favorable after strong performances from Rosburg and Clark recently.

After struggling early from long-range, Clark is 4-for-7 from 3-point range in his last two games. Haith said the game is slowing down for him as well, as Clark has posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in the last three games.

Rosburg scored 11 points Saturday, all in the second half. It marked the first time since a Dec. 28 win at North Carolina State that a Missouri player other than Brown, Ross or Clarkson finished in double digits.

“It’s good. It takes more attention off the guards,” Ross said of Rosburg’s outbreak. “For Ryan to be a low post effect, for him to be able to score, I think that’s something big we need in the future.”

Missouri has had the same starting lineup every game this season, with Williams occupying the four and Clarkson taking over for Clark on the point. This seems unlikely to change, with Haith saying who starts isn’t important.

“That’s a fine line. It’s very tentative,” Haith said of pulling Williams out of the starting five. “I don’t think it matters who starts.”

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