Zoned Out

While it's true that West Virginia's 9-41 shooting from three-point range was the determining factor in the Mountaineers' 64-61 loss to Providence, there were causes for the bad shooting night that went mostly unnoticed.

Chief among those were the 2-3 zone employed by the Friars, which had a good deal of impact on WVU's shooting woes. Providence played the setup a bit differently than it is typically run, and that execution certainly had an effect on West Virginia's accuracy and shot selection.

Typically, the 2-3 is viewed as a pack-it-into-the lane look that dares opponents to shoot from the outside. At first take, that's not the defense to be employed against a West Virginia squad that will fire up threes at machine gun rates. However, by changing the way in which the guards and forwards rotate and defend the different areas of the floor, it can be adapted to contest an outside-dominant squad.

And that's just what the Friars did. PC extended its guards to take on WVU's guards even before they got into shooting range, which put pressure on Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff to give the ball up before they wanted to. When passes went to the wings, a forward would come out and challenge, which often left three Providence defenders at or above the free throw line. That maneuver left them vulnerable to attack in the middle of the lane or along the baseline, but West Virginia was never able to get the ball into those areas enough to force the Friars to try something different.

One of West Virginia's favorite attacks against the 2-3 is to flash its three or four man into the high post. After first swinging the ball to the wing (to help draw one of the forwards out), the ball would go into the high post, where either an open 15-footer, or a pass to a cutter for a close-in shot would develop. Against the Friars, however, this set rarely materialized. Joe Alexander got the ball here a handful of times, but an off shooting night prevented him from taking advantage of the openings. Frank Young also got the ball on cuts across the foul line a couple of times, but Providence's good defensive length and quick recovery kept him from getting open looks.

Faced with an inability to attack the foul line, and an unwillingness to drive the ball into the seams of the defense, the Mountaineers chose to fire away from long range. The problem was, on many of those attempts, they fired away from a bit longer range than usual. While WVU did get a number of open threes, many of them were from just a step further, and taken a little more hurriedly, than their conventional triple launches. That was certainly a result of the extension of the 2-3, which pushed out almost to the three-point line at the point and on the wings. That extra step, that extra bit of distance, certainly had a great impact on West Virginia's shooting percentage.

By pushing its guards and forwards out in those areas, Providence did leave two holes in its defense. One of those, the natural weak area of the 2-3 in the middle of the lane, has already been discussed. The other – the corners – was the one are where WVU really had its chances, and missed. While many of the Mountaineers' shots from the point and wings came from 21 feet and further, there were no such backups from the corners. Almost every Mountaineer had multiple chances to sink threes from the 90-degree angle, but couldn't connect. That allowed Providence to continue to focus its three-point defensive efforts out front, where it continued to push the Mountaineers further and further out. Had just two or three of those shots gone down, the Friars would likely had to have adjusted its defense to cover the corners, which would have given WVU a bit more space where its guards typically operate.

In the end, of course, the game usually comes down to shooting for West Virginia. Even given its woes in this game, it was in the contest until the end. An 11-41 night would have put the Mountaineers in the win column – a stat that probably can't be applied to many other teams in the country. Still, it wasn't all on WVU's head. Providence's defense, even though it didn't contest every shot, pushed WVU out of its comfort zone on a number of attempts. That can be just as effective as a shot blocker intimidating on a drive – and in this game, it was certainly a big factor in West Virginia's poor shooting performance.

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