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February 17, 2014

VT Using Zone, Slower Play

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For over the first season and a half James Johnson has been the coach of Virginia Tech, the Hokies have looked to run and play man-to-man defense. But after a 10-game losing streak, something had to change.

On Feb. 8 against Pittsburgh, a slower-paced team, Virginia Tech also played slower and used a 2-3 zone defense. The Hokies fell in double overtime to the Panthers, but using the same approach, finally ended their losing skid in a win over Miami Saturday.

Now, it's more of the same for Johnson and Virginia Tech because of a few positives. First, it allows the Hokies to rest their fatigued players, but also, it's worked.

"We're playing it more, guys are getting more comfortable with different things that teams are throwing at us," Johnson said. "If you look at (Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim and you talk to him about the zone, he'll tell you that there's only certain things a team can do against the zone. But man to man, there's a million sets that you can create. We're getting a little bit more comfortable with what teams are throwing at us, getting a little bit more comfortable with our slides and how we're gonna guard different actions in the zone. And it's just confidence in the zone, too."

For weeks, Johnson has talked about his players being tired and not being able to finish games strong. As the only true point guard, freshman Devin Wilson has routinely played 39 or 40 minutes and will continue to have to do so. But playing slower and in a zone has allowed him to be more revived at the end of games.

If all goes well next season, with players like Malik Mueller reinstated and a trio of incoming freshmen, Johnson will return to the fast-paced style he prefers. For now, though, he's finally found a style that at least gives Virginia Tech a chance.

"Not running on offense and playing a zone, does buy us a little bit of time with our legs and allows guys to play at a higher level a little longer," Johnson said. "Not playing fast on offense is taking away from our transition, trying to get a quick, open look. The one time I think we ran against Miami and Will Johnston got a wide open look. He missed the shot, but those are looks that you can get if you run, we just can't play that style right now."

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