Interior Assistance

West Virginia will utilize a fronting approach inside, something that should help Joe Alexander when he faces bigger bodies.

The 6-8, 225 pound forward will at times be playing foes three to four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. Alexander, arguably the team's best athlete, will become the center when WVU's only true five man, Jamie Smalligan, is not in the game. For the Mountaineers to succeed in its man and zone looks, Alexander will need to at least stalemate his opposition. That's a major task against Big East counterparts like UConn's Hasheem Thabeet (7-3, 233 lbs.) and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert (7-2, 278 lbs.), the main reason head coach Bob Huggins is supplying help inside.

WVU will drop another player down with Alexander whenever possible, a common defensive move in any defense. It will also front the big men to take away lob opportunities, something that was an Achilles Heel in the 1-3-1 utilized last season. The hope os that the double teams, combined with the increased raw talent on the floor with Wellington Smith and John Flowers getting time, will enable West Virginia to limit inside touches and rebound more effectively to stave off second-chance points.

"We front them, so it won't be a problem getting around them using foot speed," Alexander said. "That's it. If they try to lob it over, we will have help and we can sandwich them, so it's not that big of a deal. I still move pretty good (despite gaining 20 pounds)."

Like the rest of the team, Alexander is experiencing initial soreness over the first week of drills. Huggins' practices are running a full three hours, as opposed to the 90 minutes to two hours of last year. Add in the increased physicality and the inside work, the vast majority on defense, and the practices are wearing on players' legs. Wellington Smith said he is soaking in hot water each evening, along with taking an over-the-counter medication when practice ends to ensure more comfort.

"It's taxing," Alexander said. "Right now, I am focusing on doing everything right all the time. That's something Huggins is emphasizing right now. Not just for the first 30 seconds, but doing it right for the whole drill. I am a lot more sore and a lot more tired because of the running and staying in a defensive stance and hitting people at full speed. It's the skinny guys on the team. You hit elbows with them. I remember the old guys telling me I had sharp elbows. I didn't really realize it until now. Everyone is sore now."

The junior noted that he felt freeer to operate and create on his own in Huggins' motion offense, as well as more ability to make plays on defense. Under the former coaching staff, the 1-3-1 zone called for very rigid execution, as did the cutting, largely outside-based offense. Now, athletes are asked to make plays and utilize their basketball intelligence to both create for themselves and teammates.

"It's not all new; we did have a short amount of time at the beginning of summer to work with Huggins, too, so we learned a lot of it then," Alexander said. "I do feel free now. I just need to work hard and hustle. We are emphasizing different things. I still know the things we emphasized last year, and now we are adding more things to it. So far it has been fun. The summer was fun, too. We hope we have a winning team and the future is bright, too. It will be even more fun."


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