Master Move

Joe Herber's move to point guard in the last twelve minutes of West Virginia's 83-78 win over Pitt appeared to be for offensive reasons, but it was actually a defensive maneuver that ended up being a big factor in the Mountaineers' win.

With 12:41 to go in the game, and WVU trailing by three points, point guard J.D. Collins forced up a three-pointer that missed badly. Not only was it Collins' third missed three in less than three minutes, but it was a badly forced shot that was outside the rhythm of the offense. Collins was summoned to the bench, but his usual sub, Darris Nichols, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Joe Herber took over the point guard duties, much as he had done for several stretches during his freshman year.

"I felt very confident," a smiling Herber said after the game. "I did it my freshman year, and I think I have enough experience to do it."

However, Herber wasn't being put at the spot for offensive reasons, even though he does a good job at driving and pressing the defense in order to create openings for shooters on the perimeter. Instead, it was for defensive purposes.

That may come as a bit of a surprise, given that Herber, at six-feet, five inches and 200 pounds, isn't the quickest guy in the Big East. Add in the fact that Herber would be checking Pitt's Carl Krauser, he of the lighting fast first step and change of direction, and the idea that the move had defensive motivations seemed radical at best.

However, the WVU coaching staff saw something that many did not. Forced to go to man-to-man due to Krauser's quick trigger on the perimeter, West Virginia began facing a steady diet of Pitt screens that ended up with players such as Chevon Troutman and Levon Kendall matched up against Collins and Nichols. Troutman, who scored 25 points in the game, was having a field day against the diet of shorter defenders, so head coach John Beilein pulled the trigger on the move.

The next time down the floor, Pitt again ran Krasuer through two screens, but this time the results were different. Tyrone Sally ended up on Krauser, while Herber, he of the bag of 1000 defensive tricks, was glued to Troutman. Troutman, now faced with a defender closer to his own size, scored just two points in the final 12:41, which opened the door for WVU's comeback win.

"It was more of a defensive thing," Herber confirmed afterward. "Putting me at the point allowed us to switch all the screens, so we didn't have a mismatch with a short man."

Of course, it also put Herber on Krauser in the initial stages of each possession, but Pitt didn't seem to adjust well to the strategy. While many onlookers were waiting for Pitt to isolate Krauser against his bigger, but less quick, WVU foe, it never came.

"It looked like he was more concerned with throwing the ball inside," Herber said when asked how he managed to stay with his opposite number.

While this strategy worked well against Pitt, it might not against other opponents that do less screening or don't feature their point guard as much in their attack. However, it does give WVU another weapon to employ on the defensive end, and will certainly be something the Panthers will have to prepare for in the rematch just fifteen days away.

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