HUNTINGTON — Taevion Kinsey looked to his right, a grin uncontrollably spilling across his face, then burst into laughter.
That response from Marshall University sophomore guard prompted teammates Jarrod West and Jannson Williams to try to stifle laughter, too, after they were asked if they like the Thundering Herd’s 3-2 zone defense used in scrimmage victories over Glenville State College and the University of Rio Grande.
“I don’t,” West said. “We’re so used to man, we have to get used to it. We have to get better at it.”
Marshall likely will use the 3-2 again when it opens the regular season at 7 p.m. Thursday at home vs. Robert Morris University.
The defense features a big man at the top, flanked by a pair of guards in front of two big men underneath. While it might appear unconventional, especially to younger players and fans, the alignment added length to the backcourt and resulted in several turnovers as the Pioneers and RedStorm underestimated MU defenders’ reach.
“Because of our length, it can be good for us,” Williams said of the 3-2. “If we play with our arms out, everybody has long arms, our length could be a difference maker in the game. It kind of reminds me of (Middle Tennessee) my redshirt freshman year when they were in a 1-3-1 with the big guy up top. If we can execute like that, it can be interesting.”
The 3-2 is a benefit the Thundering Herd didn’t have last season when it lacked size. With 7-footer Goran Miladinovic and 6-9 Iran Bennett underneath, Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni has the luxury of moving athletic bigs Williams and Mikel Beyers, both 6-9, out front to present foes a different look.
West said adapting to the defense will take time, but he likes aspects of it
“Iran and Goran, when they were in that zone rim protecting, they both had a couple of blocks,” said West, a 5-11 junior guard from Clarksburg, West Virginia. “They did a good job of that. The zone really comes into play with them on the floor.”
The 3-2 with Bennett and Miladinovic inside doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the fast pace Marshall fans have become accustomed to in D’Antoni’s previous five seasons.
“The pace will naturally slow down just a little bit, especially with Iran and Goran on the court together,” West said. “We have to do a better job of adjusting to that pace. When Jannson, Mike or Taevion are playing big, it’s a lot easier to get out and run because they get up the court a little faster.”
While a turnover might not lead to a fast break as often, the rewards come from setting up on the offensive end with three players 6-9 or larger on the floor.
“We’re not used to posting up often, but with them on the court, we can do that,” West said. “We have to do a better job of getting them the ball and getting them touches in the paint. When they’re on the court, they make a difference inside.”
D’Antoni said he knows his players aren’t fond of playing zone and that he didn’t much care. He said the different look has its benefits.
“So far, so good,” D’Antoni said of how the Herd has performed in the 3-2. “The (opponents’) shooting percentage in both games were in the 20s.”
D’Antoni indicated he enjoys taking advantage of the Herd’s size. Last year, Marshall often played four guards at a time.
“We didn’t have much of a chance last year to be this kind of a defensive team,” D’Antoni said. “The focus was to score to try to beat people. We played hard, don’t get me wrong. We tried to defend, but the focus had to be on scoring a bunch of points because we just didn’t have the size or athleticism we have this year. This year, we have a chance to change from zone to man and have the ability to lock down on defenders. We’re certainly as athletic and, for the most part, will be as big or bigger than anybody we’ll play.”