HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech men's basketball coach Kevin Luke has already proved his adaptability once this season, successfully transforming from a post-heavy lineup last year featuring GLIAC Player of the Year Ali Haidar to a four (and sometimes five) guard lineup this season.
Luke may have to stretch his comfort zone once again after the sustained success of the 2-3 zone in Saturday's 69-54 win over Grand Valley.
"I wasn't really sure how to react," Luke said. "So I sat down Saturday night and did plusses and minuses for how to move forward with this. There are a lot of good things for doing it.
Michigan Tech head coach Kevin Luke, center, discusses strategy in a timeout during Saturday’s home game against Grand Valley State at the SDC?Gym. The Huskies are at Wayne State tonight. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"We are at least going to explore the possibilities of continuing to do some of it. For the time being, we are going to use both (zone and man-to-man), practice both."
For a coach that has played nothing but man-to-man for 27 years in college, a switch to zone - even just part time - could be unnerving.
But it also might best suit the current Tech personnel.
The Huskies have allowed 67.4 points per game this season (up five points from last season's mark with no noticeable change in pace of play), are allowing teams to shoot 46 percent from the floor (42 percent last year) and are giving up more free throws than they attempt.
The Huskies' 11-3 record has come on the strength of their diverse, efficient offense. In defeats to Walsh, Findlay and Ashland, Tech scored 70-plus each time, plenty enough to win.
The guard-heavy lineups that have transformed the Tech offense may be better equipped in a zone to protect the rim.
"It's entirely possible that we are better suited towards it," senior Alex Culy said.
"I think everybody here would rather play man-to-man, its what we have always worked on. But at the same time, we aren't dumb. It it's going to work, we'll do what works."
Even working sophomore center Kyle Stankowski back into the lineup from injury pushes Luke towards zone defense.
Stankowski offers several distinct advantages with his 6-foot-9 length, as well as distinct disadvantages with just 210 pounds on that 6-foot-9 frame.
A zone likely highlights his attributes - protecting the rim, rebounding out of area - while shielding his struggle with power players.
As Stankowski's diverse offensive skill set could push Tech's scoring ability to another level, it is certainly worth looking at to get him more minutes in the rotation.
"Clearly that is one of the plusses," Luke said. "He doesn't have to stand in there and get pounded by a guy who is three inches shorter but 100 pounds heavier and gets into his legs. That is my job to utilize his talents for our systems. He is effective in the zone because he can use his length."
The compact 2-3 zone worked against Grand Valley last week as the Lakers were uber-athletic but lacked enough outside shooters.
Today's matchup with Wayne State would appear to fill the same mold.
The reigning North Division champs have stumbled this season, falling to a 7-6 record (5-5 in GLIAC play) while losing five of their last seven.
The Warriors attempt just 13.5 three-pointers per game (knocking down a reasonable 35.8 percent) and prefer the penetration abilities of Chene Phillips (16.2 points per game) and Gavin Toma (9.8 points per game) to relying on outside shooting.
Another heaping of zone may help Tech force Wayne away from its preferred style.
"It is going to be a total gut feel," Luke said. "If we can't guard them, we are going to switch."
Of course, even as Luke is taking a serious look at zone defense, he wants one thing to be perfectly clear.
He will not accept lazy defenders in his rotation.
The Huskies have been preaching man-to-man for Luke's entire tenure. They are still going to make use of those principles, no matter the style of defense.
"We are trying to do a lot more than a conventional zone does," Luke said. "I don't like to guard an area. I want to guard people. So if they overload, I'll overload, and then it doesn't look like a zone anymore. We are still going to be guarding people.
"If you really want to be an effective zone, you have to play it like it is a man-to-man."