Changing Gears

Rutgers' defensive scheme against West Virginia on Saturday threw the Mountaineers almost completely out of their offensive system, but the team was still able to score 76 points in what turned out to be an up-tempo, free-flowing contest. That performance disproved one of the theories about head coach John Beilein's system, and also served as a confidence builder for the streaking team, which has won six of its last seven games.

The Scarlet Knights, desperate to change the game and take WVU out of its comfort zone, employed a unique starting lineup and some different defensive tactics. Head coach Gary Waters started four guards and pressed WVU the entire game.

It wasn't your garden variety press, either. Rutgers picked up man-to-man full court, and double-teamed the ball at almost every opportunity. That tactic had the effect of getting West Virginia out of its set offense, as doubling the ball made it difficult for the guards, the main target of the defense, to start plays and get the ball to the proper location.

"They pretty much took us out of our offense all night," guard Patrick Beilein said. "That was their game plan."

Center Kevin Pittsnogle echoed that sentiment, noting "they made it an up-tempo game, because they trapped us so much".

If all that sounds like a good thing to try against WVU, well, it's time to drop that notion. A popular line of thinking among those who hack on West Virginia and head coach John Beilein's system is that it's inflexible and won't work in high pressure, up-tempo situations. However, as was the case on Saturday, Beilein again showed that his offensive scheme will work against anything, if it is run correctly. And this time, "running it correctly" equated to "dropping it almost entirely". The Mountaineers, faced with a helter-skelter style game, ceased running set plays almost entirely.

"We've been working on that in practice lately," Pittsnogle said. "We've been playing five on five, and not really running an offense. Right now, that is helping us. We're getting used to just playing and having fun. Today we didn't really run much on offense, because they pressed and trapped us so much. It was a lot of fun. We probably only ran two or three plays the whole night. It was a lot of run and gun."

Patrick Beilein agreed, saying that he and his teammates now see opportunities against pressing teams.

"We like teams that do that to us, because it does give us the opportunity for some easy buckets," the junior bomber noted. "We like to play like that, because it's fun."

His father, talking about preparation for such a scheme, noted that it came as a surprise. However, the groundwork for playing against it was laid back in the preseason.

"We didn't prepare for it, because they hadn't done that one bit," the elder Beilein said. "You prepare for those kinds of things in October and November. We do drills where the goal is not to score a basket, but to try to make 10 passes against six defenders. You do that, and you win the drill. And if you can do that in a game [against a press or trap], you are very likely to get a good shot."

That the Mountaineers got good looks against the Scarlet Knights' scrambling approach is something of an understatement. WVU likely got more open looks from beyond the arc than in any other Big East game this season, and they converted on enough of them in the first half to build a lead that was never seriously threatened in the game's final 20 minutes. The Mountaineers drained seven of their first 11 three-point chances, and shot 57.7% in the opening half, and only a sub par 3-13 performance from beyond the arc in the second stanza kept the game from being a major blowout.

The only problem that West Virginia seemed to face was when to slow the pace versus continuing to fire away from downtown in transition. With Rutgers desperately going for steals and overplaying the ball, the Mountaineers often found themselves at the three-point line with 28 seconds left on the shot clock and an open look at the hoop. And therein lay the dilemma – back the ball out and run some clock, or take a wide open three, which is something the offense strives to achieve anyway?

"You want to set up sometimes, but you can't because they were trapping so much," Pittsnogle said. "We ran our zone plays a couple of times against the traps, but that was about it."

Patrick Beilein again concurred, noting that it's difficult to resist a shot that the team might work 25-30 seconds off the shot clock to get.

"When you have a two on one, it's hard to pull out. Even with two minutes to go, it's hard not to take that shot," Beilein analyzed. "We learned over the first two years, from our experiences against the press, what a good shot is and what isn't," he continued.

John Beilein, seemingly running against the grain of his reputation as a conservative coach, has no problem with his team taking those three-pointers and open shots early in the possession.

"We can't turn down those wide open shots. We encouraged them to keep taking them," he explained. "I thought we shared [the ball] well, and I think we still shot the three-ball well. We were 10-24. We still want to take those. That's something we absolutely have to do."

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