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An inside look into VCU's unmatched Havoc defense


the VCU story that appears in Sports Illustrated




Dayton Daily News


Briante Weber

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Treveon Graham

Juvonte Reddic

's trap: He pounces at the instant Chamberlain starts looking down. [[ ANIMATED GIF: press1.gif ]] Belmont committed a season-high 24 turnovers in that game, which it lost 75-65. Rick Byrd, who's been coaching the


Rob Brandenberg

, who forces an errant pass: [[ ANIMATED GIF: press2.gif ]] III. Location, Location The three elements of a good trap, according to Smart, are the ballhandler's level of control (or lack thereof), the element of surprise, and the location. The Sideline is better than the middle of the floor; and near the sideline, just across halfcourt, is perfect. That's an area of high turnover volume, because the ballhandler is limited to only 90 degrees of passing space. Below is a GIF from VCU's 70-64 win at Rhode Island on Jan. 30, in which URI point guard

Xavier Munford

and forward Nikola Malesevic are running a two-man break against the double fist. As Brandenberg pushes Munford toward the coffin corner, Graham makes a long sprint from Munford's blind spot: [ANIMATED GIF: press3.gif ]] Munford panics and throws the ball away. He was out of control, he was blinded by his own turn, and he was stuck in the coffin corner: for VCU, this was a perfect trap. It required a mad scramble, but that's S.O.P. for Havoc, and this ceaseless commotion is what makes VCU games worth watching. Even at halftime at the Siegel Center, they do not hold a stagnant shooting contest; they strap pedometers on two fans and have them run around in circles for 60 seconds. He who gets in the most steps, wins. IV. The Diamond VCU's diamond press is taken from Smart's old boss at Clemson, Oliver Purnell, who still uses it often in his new gig at DePaul. It works best when the Rams play small, with an athletic four-man -- particularly Graham -- as the "madman" guarding the inbounder, and then the three guards making up the other points of the diamond. The Rams try to force the inbounds pass to the corner, then immediately trap the ballhandler, while the back portion of the diamond moves into pass-intercept position. In this GIF, Rhode Island uses the most common method of diamond-breaking -- a quick pass back to the inbounder -- and then proceeds to work the ball upcourt without excessively dribbling. [[ ANIMATED GIF: press4.gif ]] Because VCU has the personnel to create problems in 1-on-1 situations, it more often goes with the double fist. Its guards prefer to heat up the ball. V. Let Slip The Dogs The Rams' coaching staff refers to ball-combusting guards Darius Theus, Brandenberg and Weber as "Wild Dogs" due to their relentless attack mentality. And while the Wild Dogs are next-to-impossible to prepare for -- before last year's NCAA tournament game against VCU, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall had his team practice against a six-man press, but still lost -- they were willing to provide a self-scouting report. Like most of their steals in the press, it was a collaborative effort. They agree that Weber is the best steal-creator. (As well they should, since he's leading the nation in steal percentage for a second straight season.) Says Theus: "Bri can pressure the ball better than anybody, and his arms are so long that if you try a crossover in front of him, his hands are gonna be right there." Brandenburg: "Bri's anticipation skills are second to none, so with him, he can be more aggressive and go for steals." They agree that Theus is the soundest defender, and the guy they'd call on to get one stop in a crunch-time situation. Weber: "Darius' style isn't about stealing it. It's pressure without reaching or lunging. It's disciplined, beat you to a spot, make you do something you can't do, and then you end up just giving him the ball." They agree that Brandenberg can fly. Weber: "Rob's the roadrunner. He'll beat you to a spot before you think about going there." They do not believe that any team pressures like they do. Given that only one team in the past decade has posted a higher turnover percentage than the Rams' current 29.3 -- and that was Air Force in 2005, at 29.5 -- this is a reasonable claim. Weber: "I don't see anybody matching us. Even when I watch Louisville" -- the No. 2 team in TO percentage this season -- "it's a press but it's kind of laid-back, maybe 80 or 88 feet rather than 94 feet. We press full-court the whole 40 minutes; sometimes they press just a little bit and then fall back into a zone." And they do not believe that Smart will call off the dogs. Theus: "Maybe if we were up 30 with two minutes left, he would stop pressing." Weber: "But it would still be 'fist' -- full-court man, just no trap. I don't think he would say, 'Stop putting pressure on the ball.' I've never heard him say that."