In this past week's print edition of the Blue & Gold News, I hailed the move back to 1-2-1-1 press (also called the diamond and one) as one of the many demonstrations of head coach Bob Huggins making the right move at the right time. Huggins intimated, without coming right out and saying it, that West Virginia Mountaineers might have become a bit passive in playing the less aggressive 2-2-1 or straight man, which featured less trapping and less ball denial. The benefits of that earlier move were demonstrable, including lessened foul trouble and the ability to sidestep some of the negative effects of the absence of Jonathan Holton, but the return to the all-out Press Virginia tactics seemed to energize the Mountaineers against the Horned Frogs.
Of course, we are talking TCU here – the team that will finish last in the Big 12 again. They are simply outmatched against most teams in the league, so WVU might have been able to line up in the amoeba defense and get a home win against the Horned Frogs on most nights. Now the question is, will WVU be able to harness the positives of its in-your-face defense without suffering the drawbacks of foul trouble?
The Mountaineers must first do so on the road against Texas, a team it has had a ton of trouble matching up with physically during its time in the Big 12. We'll have more on this in the game preview, but UT has a lineup that can beat the press by utilizing its big men, along with the crafty nature of tenth-year senior Javan Felix. Then comes the home doubleheader of Oklahoma and Iowa State – two teams that spread the floor and pass it well enough to get shots before WVU can recover. Add in the foul concerns, along with the potential absence of Daxter Miles with a hamstring injury, and West Virginia can't simply rely on the fact that its going back to its roots from the start of the year to produce wins.
That doesn't mean that West Virginia shouldn't continue this arc, however. There are always down sides to any tactical or strategic decision, and the Mountaineer coaching staff is well aware of the positives and negatives of each choice. Too, it's not as if WVU has to stay married to this approach. What works against Texas may not work against Iowa State, and although Huggins and company are big advocates of “doing what we do” and not making huge adjustments, there are differences, such as the types and number of traps or the offensive attacking points, that can be varied for different opponents. And the Mountaineers do have Holton back, as well as great play from Nathan Adrian, who not only has been hitting shots but has been very good defensively and his usual dependable self in the passing game.
If it seems like all of this is a bit of a circular argument, I'll plead guilty. It's easy, in analyzing tactics, to come back around to the same point and find yourself arguing opposite of where you began. Coaches, too, can fall prey to that at times, but that's one trap that this staff appears to avoid. They lay out game plans and make calls, reevaluate when necessary, and then move on to the next game. That's the approach the team as a whole has been able to implement, and it's resulted in 20 wins so far – a total that many thought might be WVU's ceiling for the entire season.