Crowding the Line

West Virginia has played a pair of foes who have challenged it defensively -- one at the three-point line, and the other by taking away dribble-drive penetration. How can the Mountaineers counter these defensive tactics?

WVU missed chances to get good wins over both Wisconsin and Missouri in the past couple of weeks, and that failure was mostly due to the defensive efforts of the Badgers and Tigers. West Virginia helped both teams by not being as patient as it should at times, but one of the biggest keys was its inability to attack the defenses where they were vulnerable, or in a manner that avoided their strengths.

Wisconsin is always a tough nut to crack defensively, as it employs many principles of the pack line defense. That set emphasizes pressure on the ball and cutting off penetration with help from multiple angles. UW did that well against the Mountaineers, and was able to rotate and close out on those occasions when the ball was moved around the perimeter. It employed the principles of help and recover on defense to keep WVU away from the basket.

Two games later, Missouri used its tall array of guards to apply pressure everywhere on the perimeter, and didn't allow WVU's three-point shooters to get comfortable. West Virginia forced up shots and was as impatient as it has been all year. The result was a horrendous start for the Mountaineers and a 23rd straight home win for the Tigers.

While the philosophies and points of emphasis differed in both games, West Virginia's shortcoming were the same. To counter ball pressure and tight defense outside, WVU (or any team) needs to be able to get the ball into the lane or to the blocks, but the Mountaineers don't have a consistent offensive option that it can throw the ball to on the post just yet. Devin Williams, for all of his abilities and potential, isn't a polished scorer when receiving an entry pass with his back to the basket yet. There's little doubt that he will continue to develop that part of his game, and at some point in the future he'll have a more varied array of moves to go to down low. For now, however, that's not a huge part of his game.

That's not to pick on Williams, though. West Virginia's other bigs are even less able to score from the post, which eliminates one weapon to go to when defense is tight or outside shots aren't falling. Remi Dibo has the ability to drive from the perimeter and put up short shots in the lane, and he needs to enhance that skill as teams continue to close out him tightly at the three-point line, but other than that West Virginia's classic post options are nil.

With its tall array of forwards, West Virginia should be able to take advantage of teams that play three guards, especially if they play man-to-man defense. Even those that employ the pack-line or other help and recover schemes can be attacked by posting up a big on one side and a tall wing (Dibo, Nathan Adrian) on the other. Again, that supposes that the wings have at least those rudimentary posts skills, but they also will have a four or five inch height advantage that should allow them to get shots away. Still, that's likely a work in progress as well that won't see immediate results.

While solutions to that problem might be further down the road, fixes to the lack of patience and forcing of shots don't have to be. Missouri's defense smothered WVU through the first 25 minutes of the game, and the Mountaineers compounded the problem by forcing up shots, driving the ball into traffic and not passing it effectively. The Tigers got their hands on a number of passes, and while their length was a factor, so too was WVU's impatience and lack of ball fakes and crisp counters. After the game was effectively over, West Virginia did show more patience, more ball movement and better decisions, and while Mizzou may have let down in its efforts, the last 15 minutes should have proved to WVU that if it runs offense for 30 seconds, not just 15, it will have a chance to compete even with its most talented foes.

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