Doubling Down

West Virginia's improved execution of the double team paid big dividends in their conference season-opening basketball win over Miami.

Doubling down, of course, doesn't have anything to do with West Virginia's recent trip to Las Vegas. Instead, it refers to the practice of a second defender, usually a guard or smaller forward, dropping toward the basket to double team an opponent who has the ball in the post.

West Virginia has been working to perfect this art all year. As a team not blessed with a great deal of height, the Mountaineers can't go one on one with many of the bigger players in the Big East on the blocks. The double team, therefore, is one of their primary weapons against teams that like to get the ball inside.

"We knew they were good down on the blocks, so we tried to make it frustrating and hard for them. We tried to get up in their face," said sophomore forward Tyrone Sally after the Miami game.

Frustration was definitely evident from the Miami players as they attempted to solve WVU's double down gambit.

"I thought they got a little frustrated," freshman center Kevin Pittsnogle said of Miami stalwarts Darius Rice and James Jones. "They're great players, and they'll probably be in the league (NBA) next year, but we just tried to keep them from getting good shots."

At center, Pittsnogle is the starting point of many doubles. He has to hold the opponent up until a teammate arrives, which often isn't as easy as it looks.

"We've been trying to do that all year. We haven't been doing too well in previous games, but this game we did real well," Pittsnogle explained. "We actually got a couple of steals out of it, we got a couple of deflections, and we also forced them to take some bad shots. It helped us out a lot."

There's more to the double team than just two defenders running to an opponent on the post. The double teamer has to time his move so that he doesn't arrive too early, which would allow a quick pass back to his now unguarded man. And of course, if he arrives too late, he gives the offensive player time to make a move and get to the basket against only one defender.

The best doubles come when the second defender is able to quickly slide down and get a shot at the ball before the offensive player knows he's there. Failing that, both defenders must get their hands up in passing lanes to obstruct their foe's vision and block his view of teammates, especially the one that is left open by the double team. That's where rotation and switching comes into play, which only adds to the complexity of the defense. Make an execution mistake, and a wide open shot or a dunk is the most likely result.

While the ideal double team might seem to be two bigger defenders against the offensive player, WVU often executes doubles with point guard Jarmon Durisseau-Collins as half of the trap. In a man to man defense, which WVU played a great deal against Miami, JDC can drop down off his man and help in the post as the second defender.

However, in West Virginia's 1-3-1 set, Durisseau-Collins is often the first guy to trap, either on the blocks or in the corner. How does a sub-six footer execute against players he gives up a foot or more to?

"I just try to get my body on them," Collins said. "I'm pretty strong, so I try to get my forearm on them and give them something to deal with. They can be taller, but if you've got two guys all over you you have to get rid of it, and that's when the turnovers can happen."

The Mountaineers made great strides in improving their trapping and double teaming against Miami, but they know they still have work to do. Foes such as Georgetown don't figure to be quite as intimidated by the doubles, which they see in just about every game. However, as West Virginia becomes more proficient at trapping in the post, their defensive efficiency is likely to rise.

"I think we're starting to feel the defense a little better and get more used to it," Pittsnogle said. " Everything is a new concept for us, but we want to get more comfortable with it and get it put together. It's a good defense."

For WVU, the double team just may become the equivalent of hitting that Vegas jackpot.

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