Beilein likes man to man defense, so that has been his focal point as he began his rebuilding job in Morgantown. However, with size, speed and depth deficiencies to contend with, West Virginia wasn't, and still isn't, able to go man for forty minutes a game. Therefore, the coaching staff has employed a couple variants of a 2-3 zone defense to combat opposing offenses.
This season, the 1-3-1 defense has been refined, with the Mountaineers playing at least two different versions of the unorthodox look. Some of the differences include when and where traps are set, and in the rotations executed when the ball is thrown across the defense.
Some of those changes depend upon the type of players the opponent has on the floor, and some depend on the personnel that the Mountaineers have in the game. For example, WVU might trap less on the perimeter when Kevin Pittsnogle is in the game at the four position, but might do more when Joe Herber is at that spot. There are a number of different nuances that can be employed as well, such as how much pressure Tyrone Sally applies on the point, or how far the baseline defender (Jarmon Durisseau-Collins or Tyler Relph) extends toward the corners.
Those three defenses have been the base for WVU most of this year, but against the Panthers, the coaching staff unveiled a diamond and one defense, with Durisseau-Collins chasing Pitt point guard Carl Krauser while the other four defenders played a diamond-shaped zone. Although this defense was only run a few times, it did give West Virginia another change to throw at Pitt.
"We were trying to do everything we could just to throw them off a little bit," Beilein said after the game of the new defensive look. "We knew we couldn't go toe-to-toe and man to man and slug it out with them. We're going to lose that one. So, we played two different types of three zone (1-3-1) and two zone (2-3) and the diamond and one. We played everything that we could to make them think a little bit more."
While the plan may not have worked out from a short-term strategic sense (WVU lost the game), it may pay long-term benefits down the road. The diamond and one will never be a WVU staple, but it does give the coaching staff another option to employ, especially against certain teams that might have one dominant player or have strong point guards such as Krauser. It also could be effective out of a timeout as a quick change, to be run just for one or two defensive trips - again, something to throw off the opponent's rhythm. It also will give future foes something else to think about and prepare for, even if the Mountaineers don't employ it in the game.
The diamond is obviously a long way from complete. There hasn't been a great deal of practice time spent on it, and the Mountaineers did yield one easy basket against the Panthers when they appeared to be confused in their rotation. However, it's yet another building block in the restructuring of this Mountaineer team, and shows that both the coaching staff and the players are continually working to improve.