Running, If Not Yet Gunning

West Virginia's men's basketball team might be able to offer a more pressing defense to go with its symbiotic offense this season, just one more asset better athleticism can add should it be accompanied by a high basketball IQ.

Head coach John Beilein said the Mountaineers will be more likely to utilize the 1-3-1 set this season because they are both a longer and more athletic team. He believes his younger players can get into the passing lanes and cause disruptions, which might trigger more breakout opportunities, leading to points outside the cut ‘em-up set offense. Especially adept at this could be 6-7 frosh forwards Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith. Joe Alexander also shows flashes.

"I think defensively we will be able to get our hands on more balls, be able to run a bit better," Beilein said. "But if we throw the ball to the other team while we are running, we are not doing as well. I think we will create more deflections and opportunities to advance the ball without setting our offense."

That means easier points, a must with a youth-infused squad which lost five of its top six players last season, senior forward Frank Young being the lone returning starter. The WVU offense is designed to get shooters open while taking advantage of any overpursuing of passing lanes or man-to-man defense with backcuts off screens or ball fakes. Those elements come together slowly for players, so open-floor scoring could offer much-needed premium points.

"With an open floor that we have, you can score a little more with quickness off the dribble," Beilein said. "Right now, we have tweaked the system way down just to keep it simple. I don't think it will be simpler than it was last year, and I think the defensive scheme can be more aggressive than it was last year so we can generate more points. We would actually be be more likely to play more 1-3-1 and do more of it because we are longer. I think we have a better pressing type of defense than we have in the past, if their IQ can keep up with it.

"And no, you will not see the full court press. I am just a coach who does not like it. I don't think we are that athletic, like we will be 40 minutes of hell or something. We are recruiting to our needs, though, to right what we want on offense and defense."

West Virginia has shown flashes of running, if not the University of Houston Phi Slamma Jamma days, then at least enough to convince Beilein, even early on, that he could tweak the sets a bit to try to trigger breakouts. The other focus is on steady improvement, which is best done by letting players play within the system, then instructing about mistakes later, rather than stopping practice with each miscue.

"You almost have to let drills go on, let them make mistakes and then show them on film the next day. Otherwise, you'd be stopping practice every minute," Beilein said. "But (Monday) I thought we had our best workout so far. There were some glimmers there as far as light bulbs going on as far as understanding what goes on. There is a process. There is osmosis going like crazy. It takes awhile for them to get it. Then they really understand how it works. That look in their eye, like they understand, that is why I coach. To see a kid achieve by learning a little more about how, and really, it's not my way, it is how basketball should be played."

West Virginia also showed played footage of the offensive and defensive sets, to add to the instruction. That's proof the system does work, and it shows why players are asked to do something, and not just how. That generates a better overall understanding of exactly what West Virginia is trying to do, how it does it, why it does it, and how successful it can be when done correctly. The lone caution, especially early, is to avoid the overload and allow the freshmen to settle in some.

"Now, with classes and three hours of practice counting film tonight, they have a full day," Beilein said. "They have already done a lot. It has not burned them out yet, but it could do that eventually, so we have to watch that."

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