That is a notion that made WVU assistant coach Larry Harrison chuckle.
“That is not us at all,” he said. “The 1-3-1 is just one thing that we do. There are other zones that we play, and we are a man-to-man team, basically.”
Try telling that to the pundits that have continually said the key to the Mountaineers’ Final Four game against Duke will be their ability to be as effective in the 1-3-1 zone as they were in the regional final against Kentucky.
Never mind the fact that West Virginia played that defense against the Wildcats largely out of necessity, as UK’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins both presented significant match-up issues.
“We’re going to play whatever will win,” said WVU guard Joe Mazzulla. “It just depends on what the match-up is, and Kentucky was a very difficult match-up because they had so many scorers they could go to. We thought we could kind of interrupt their transition with the zone.”
“It depends on the game and depends on what the match-ups are.”
And while the Blue Devils, champions of the South region after a 78-71 conquest of Baylor at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, are undoubtedly one of the top teams in the nation, the Mountaineers admitted they liked the potential match-ups when watching film.
“They don’t have all that size except for (center Brian) Zoubek, who is 7-foot-1,” said WVU forward Kevin Jones. “We’ve just got to keep a body on their big guys and make sure they don’t crash the glass on us.”
“I think it’s a good match-up,” added Harrison, a third-year assistant in Morgantown after having worked with Bob Huggins for eight years at Cincinnati.
“They have good bulk and size. Where we’re more long and athletic, they’re more bulky. The two will kind of even each other out, and it will come down to who rebounds the basketball and who can make some shots.”
Of course, one of the better ways to combat teams that typically shoot well, like Duke, is to play aggressive man-to-man defense and contest shots.
That will likely be key to slowing down the scoring of the Blue Devils’ “Big Three” of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
“We’ll probably play our man-to-man, just because they’re such a big shooting team,” said Mountaineer forward Devin Ebanks. “We’ll probably just rely on our man-to-man defense like we have this whole year.”
But West Virginia will be prepared to change defenses, both to present different looks to its opposition and to combat a hot start from any of the Blue Devils’ aforementioned sharp-shooters.
Harrison said while the Mountaineers will start out switching defenders off every screen, they could show Duke both the 1-3-1 and point-drop zones, to help combat dribble penetration (which he said is a concern) and to see just how prepared coach Mike Krzyzewski’s players are.
“We’re going into this game prepared to win, so we’re going to throw a bit at them and see how they respond,” Harrison said.
“We want to grind it out, take people out of their comfort zone and make it hard on them. That’s our personality and it’s what we’re about.”
“We’re going to take them out of their comfort zone. (We will do) whatever we can do to get them out of their comfort zone.”