With all the hand-checking fouls that have been called and the rule changes, it’s hard to press. Say that to coach Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams who are predicted to dominate the Atlantic-Ten Conference with a full-court press nicknamed the Havoc defense. Despite having fouled Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers squad 27 times, they beat a ranked opponent in Virginia. In fact, the Rams had three guys with four fouls with four minutes to go in the game, not a good sign for a team that relies on pressure in the opposing team’s backcourt. This game was just a calling card of foreshadowing for VCU’s season: it could be a long year.
However, as the hand-checking fouls get tougher and tougher, how is Smart going to adapt? He might have to play at a slower pace. Read that again, Smart might have to have his VCU Rams play slower on defense. He might need to develop some of Bennett’s tendencies; slow the pace and make the other team make dumb decisions in shooting when you should not. The Cavaliers’ dominated the boards and dictated the game from a defensive standpoint; however, it was not enough as the Rams beat the Cavs on a game-winning three-point jumper with one second left.
The boom-or-bust potential of the Rams’ defensive scheme diminishes offensive efficiency. The Rams want to run, and it’s shown by how many turnovers they commit (13) and produce (20). The Havoc defense does just that: creates havoc on both sides of the court for the Rams. Without a solid offensive plan, the Rams will look clueless against defensive-minded teams like no. 25 Virginia.
As we all watched in the NCAA Tournament, a veteran team with a smart point guard (i.e. The Michigan Wolverines) can kill VCU in transition and in the half-court pieces they run. Virginia guard Joe Harris did just that; he led all Cavaliers with 18 points and shooting 7-12 from the floor. Harris proved that a smart, savvy point guard can dictate VCU’s defensive plan — to try and get you into pressured situations and make bad plays.
The Rams shot 41% from the floor; they simply settle for jumpers. The Cavaliers pounced on that opportunity and out-rebounded the foul-laden Rams by 13. The boom-or-bust potential of the Havoc defense is great for the tournament and fun to watch; but is it feasible with the new college rules? It will just be a matter of time until a) the NCAA changes the rules on hand-checking or b) Coach Smart changes his ways and plays a more traditional defense.
A 13-1 run in a matter of three minutes sealed the victory for VCU and the Havoc defense, including a deep three-point, cold-blooded jumper by junior guard Treveon Graham in the final second of game play. I’m concerned with VCU’s aggressive defensive plan, but it creates pressure for other teams that is hard to prepare for.