In A Match-Up Of Quickness vs Length, West Virginia Must Handle Baylor's 1-1-3 Zone In The Halfcourt

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's battle against top-ranked Baylor is a clash of diametrically opposed approaches.

The Mountaineers want to utilize their quickness, their full court pressure and the relentlessness of pace to force the Bears into an up-and-down game. Baylor prefers a halfcourt style, one in which it can play to its sheer size on the interior while allowing Jonathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. to protect the rim and alter shots on the defensive side. At 6-10 and 7-0, respectively, the two forwards anchor the back end of head coach Scott Drew's 1-1-3 zone defense, which has limited foes to an average of 58.3 points per game.

This isn't Virginia's pack line, or Syracuse's 2-3 under Jim Boeheim. Baylor, in fact, extends its guards well beyond the perimeter in picking up an opposing offense early. It also moves the wings up in in the paint in the look, making it difficult for opposing teams to get the ball to the interior. The idea is to force contested shots farther away from the hoop, thus lessening the percentages for made field goals while also putting their big men in prime rebounding position for longer caroms. The battle will be whether the Mountaineers can first, assert their will and play quickly to avoid the halfcourt game as much as possible, and then if it can get the ball to the open areas of the floor, like the corner, which will stress the zone look and force defensive movement to open better shots on both the interior and exterior. 

"They keep their wings high, so it makes it difficult to get the ball down low," said forward Nate Adrian who figures to play a prime role in proper distribution for West Virginia. "You have to be careful with the ball an make the right passes. You have to get them all on the same side of the court so (with a reversal) you can get numbers on the other side. You gotta be careful (in the corner), but you have to get it there because that opens up lanes. Just have to be smart with it. They have two almost seven-footers playing in the back of their zone, so that really helps. They get their arms up and it makes it difficult to make passes, but as long as you can find (teammates) you can attack it."

Unlike against some other teams, the No. 10 Mountaineers (13-2, 2-1 Big 12) won't have the luxury of a numbers edge against No. 1 Baylor (15-0, 3-0) in terms of bench. The Bears use nine players every game, with all playing between 10 and 29 minutes. Drew has shortened the minutes a bit after getting into Big 12 play, but BU faced such a rugged slate in the nonconference, it isn't as though they enter conference play untested. Baylor, which didn't receive a vote in the preseason poll, has beaten then-No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 Xavier, No. 10 Louisville and No. 24 Michigan State, among others. BU received 55 of the 65 first place votes in the poll released Monday.

"They are big, they're tall, they're long," WVU guard Tarik Phillip said. "They play a tough zone. They key is ball movement, making the ball move back and forth. They are not going to want to guard for very long, so that's key. We just have to look and know where to attack in the zone. If it's the middle that's open, we have to make sure the middle is occupied (by a teammate). Short corner, occupied and a big man in the middle. We have to rebound the ball as well. We can't let them get second-chance opportunities."

Baylor has four players averaging double figures, including Motley's team-high 15.8 points per game. Lual-Acuil Jr. hits at a clip of 10.7 points per game, while both average more than seven rebounds per game on a team beating foes by more than eight boards per contest. Point guard Manu Lecomte has a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and swingman Ishmail Wainright is as versatile as any player in the conference. The 6-5, 235-pound senior is a solid defender and passes effectively from all over the floor. He's intelligent in his decisions, and won't force his hand in the points column. Wainright, in fact, averages just 5.5 points per game in more than 26 minutes, but has piled up 81 rebounds, a team-best 25 steals and turned the ball over just 13 times against 57 assists. 

"I think what they have is a team with a bunch of guys who know their roles," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "They are so long is the biggest thing. It makes that zone really good. When you can pretty much touch hands across the floor, you are going to cover ground. They are going to cover ground. You can simulate their length."

Baylor enters ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history; the Bears are two wins away from their best start ever, but must also play at Kansas State this week following the contest in Morgantown on Tuesday. Tip is set for 7 p.m.

"I knew they were going to be a really good team," Adrian said. "From what they got back from last year I knew they were going to be a really solid team. Did I think they would be No. 1? No, but I'm glad they are."


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