If defense wins championships, which is what the guys inside my television have been shouting at me for years, VCU has got to like its chances this season.
Assistant Coach Mike Rhoades told me early in the season that while he liked the Rams’ effort, he thought there was definite room for improvement. He said truly great defensive teams are able to string multiple stops together.
Obviously, we had that conversation before a mid-January stretch in which the Rams held, over the course of two games, their opponents without a field goal for 17 straight minutes. On Feb. 11 at Old Dominion, VCU forced its rival into 17 straight misses from the field to start the second half. The Monarchs were 1-of-20 in the period before they got their second bucket.
I think the Rams are getting the hang of stringing stops together.
Statistically speaking, this hasn’t just been a good defensive team, it’s been a great one. The Rams currently rank 15th nationally in points allowed per game (59.0) and are tied for 13th in points allowed per possession (0.89).
Only twice in school history, the 1983-84 and 2007-08 seasons, has VCU limited opponents to fewer points than this year. The Rams have held an opponent to fewer than 50 points eight times this year, including three straight in late January. The Rams had done that just six times in the last three seasons combined. In the mid-70s, VCU once went five straight seasons without holding a team under 50.
It’s a stunning reversal from Coach Shaka Smart’s previous two seasons. Those squads, including last year’s Final Four club, were marked by their firepower on offense. It also fooled many of us into believing that Smart’s brand of “Havoc” basketball was about high-octane offense. It’s not. Smart wants to score points, he wants the Rams to run, but it’s all predicated on defense.
Havoc is about ending opponents’ possessions before they begin and about wearing down the enemy physically and mentally. On those fronts, the Rams have been wildly successful. Led by lightning-quick guards like Briante Weber, Darius Theus and Rob Brandenberg, VCU is turning its opponents over on 26 percent of their possessions, the best rate in the nation. The Rams also lead in the country in steals per game (10.5). Three VCU players, including forward Juvonte Reddic, rank in the top 15 in the CAA in steals per game.
Despite all the fancy statistics, all the Rams really want to know is, do they add up to a championship? We’ll learn the answer in March, but, at this point, it’s fair to say they could steal one.
FEWEST PPG ALLOWED
Avg. Season Opp. < 50
56.3 1983-84 9
58.8 2007-08 8
59.0 2011-12 8
61.8 1980-81 5
62.4 2005-06 4