The seasons may change, and the powers that be can rewrite the rule book, but Havoc marches on, hopefully, deep into March.
Havoc, Shaka Smart’s signature style of play, appeared to face one of its stiffest challenges this summer when the NCAA adopted a new, offensive-friendly interpretation of the block-charge rule and called for additional emphasis on hand-checking and other defensive contact. The NCAA rules committee’s goal was to increase scoring, which had dipped to a 30-year low last season. The committee sought more “freedom of movement” for offensive players.
Havoc is many things. Much like Smart’s swarming defense on the court, Havoc has become ubiquitous; it’s everywhere. It’s no longer just a fancy name for a defense. Havoc has come to define the entire program. But it all starts on the floor. Havoc is 40-minutes of adrenaline-junkie basketball. It’s full-court defensive pressure the likes of which has seldom been seen in college hoops.
Led by its electric head coach and headband-wearing Havoc monster Briante Weber, VCU has led the nation in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage each of the last two seasons. Much of VCU’s success the last two seasons had been predicated on forcing turnovers and turning them into easy baskets. The Rams also used the cumulative effect of their press to transform their opponents’ legs to Jell-O down the stretch.
Given Havoc’s high-intensity properties, it’s an inherently physical defense. Every game, VCU aims to walk a tightrope between sound defensive positioning and excessive contact. Many wondered if the new rules would dull the bite of the Rams’ attack, that faster whistles would mean more VCU fouls and the eventual need to tone down the pressure.
With half a season of data at our disposal, we can declare Havoc alive and well. Its heartbeat has never been stronger. Not only has Havoc been its usual, offensive-terrorizing self, but at times, you could argue it’s been better than ever. For example, Havoc fueled a 37-2 run in an 82-52 rout of Virginia Tech. The Rams scored a school-record 42 points off turnovers that night. While that’s the most fetching example of the Rams’ defensive pressure this season, it is hardly an isolated incident.
VCU currently ranks sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9, enjoyed a stretch where the Rams held nine of 10 opponents below 70 points. VCU ranked 45th in defensive efficiency last season and 19th in 2011-12.VCU is fouling at the same rate (19.7 per game) as last year, and opponents’ free throw attempts are up just slightly, from 20.4 last year to 21.2 in 2013-14.
Meanwhile, Havoc continues to force bushels of turnovers. For the third straight season, the Rams lead the nation in turnover percentage. Heading into Wednesday’s game at Dayton, the Rams were turning opponents over on 28.1 percent of possessions, virtually identical to last season (28.5) and up from 2011-12 (27.3).
Similarly, Weber, the Disruptor-in-Chief, continues to blow up offenses. Although Weber has taken on additional offensive duties this season as point guard, he’s arguably better than ever on defense. Weber is averaging a career-high 3.8 steals per game, and the Chesapeake native leads the nation in steal percentage (7.3) for the third straight season.
So, a word to VCU’s opposition: If it’s Havoc that you fear, you could be in for some sleepless nights. Havoc lives.