Young isn't going to be bringing the ball upcourt anytime soon, so he knows that he's not going to match Herber's feat of playing every spot in a game. However, the steady senior has been getting a few minutes at the center (five) position of late – a move which give West Virginia more versatility in deploying different defensive looks.
Coming into the season, WVU was experimenting with Joe Alexander at the five spot. That test, while certainly not totally shelved, was just one of several that head coach John Beilein looked at in trying to get his best players on the floor, and also to give his team the varying defensive looks that have caused opponents problems during his career. As the out of conference season unfolded, Beilein has turned to his most experienced player to provide that versatility on the defensive end.
"From being here so long I know the five position," Young said of the adjustment, "so it's not a big problem for me. It's just different rotations. It gives us five players that are all quick and can make rotations very quickly. It may be a little bit of a disadvantage, but it hasn't show that way so far. When we do go small, it's been helping us."
With Young at the position, West Virginia can play either its signature 1-3-1 or man-to-man. The smaller lineup, which often features Joe Alexander and either Wellington Smith or Da'Sean Butler alongside on the front line, allows the Mountaineers two very different strategies against foes. First, it can help match up against smaller and quicker lineups, such as those fielded by teams such as The Citadel and Savannah State. Second, it could be deployed against bigger, slower teams to provide matchup problems for those foes on the offensive end of the court.
While the first reason is an obvious one, the second might seem a bit counter-intuitive. Putting Young at the five to battle Georgetown's Roy Hibbert or Pitt's Aaron Gray might not seem to be the best way to defend seven-foot towers of power. However, Beilein has long maintained that a matchup that looks to be a mismatch on one end might more than make up for itself on the other. If a Hibbert or Gray is forced to chase Young to the three-point line and defend him in the open floor, they might give up more points than they are able to score against a shortened WVU lineup on the other end.
"There will be times when I have to do that, just like last year toward the end of the year when I had to do it at Pitt," said Young of battling the big guys inside. It might happen a little bit – we'll have to wait and see how that goes."
Of course, West Virginia won't "go small" for long stretches against those big front lines. However, as a change of pace, Young's presence at the five could certainly make for some adjustment problems for Big East opponents. The lineup could also see more time against three-guard teams such as Marquette, so it won't be a surprise to see Young as the man in the middle as conference play unfolds.
For Young, the biggest challenge (other than facing up foes that outweigh him by 60 pounds) is keeping assignments straight, depending on which position he is playing.
"Sometimes when I'm at the five I don't switch [like I do at other positions]," Young said. "I have to remind myself that I'm switching or not switching. [When I'm not at the five] sometimes on ball screens I might switch with Darris, and I have to remind myself when I am at the five that I'm not switching. I just keep going through it in my head – what I'm supposed to be doing at the five."
Offensively, things are a bit easier to keep straight, as sheer repetition of the Mountaineer offense has allowed Young to learn things by heart. Against N.C. State earlier this year, Young became a high post center in the WVU offense, flashing to the free throw line on several possessions for passes that resulted in feathery jump shots or passes to open teammates on the wing. Against teams playing man-to-man, Young could certainly utilize some of the plays designed for Kevin Pittsnogle beyond the three-point line, and force opposing centers to play him beyond the arc. That, in turn, could open paths to the basket for Young and his teammates, and help the offense be a bit more balanced between three-point and two-point shots.
All this isn't going to change Young's primary position, however, or force radical changes in the WVU lineup. It does, however, give Beilein and his staff another weapon to deploy in the brutal conference schedule to come.