MARK NEAR, ‘BRIFENSE’ KEEPS HUMMING

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As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU's all-time leader.

As of Jan. 28, Briante Weber needs seven steals to become VCU’s all-time leader.

RICHMOND, Va. – There are so many types of Briante Weber steals that it’s hard to pick a favorite.

There are the garden-variety, poke-the-ball-away steals, and the Havoc-induced free safety interception steals. From there, they progress to, things like the blind side, who-was-that-guy steal and the cruise-missile, fast-break-thwarting steal.

“Coach, since my freshman year, he emphasized a no layup rule,” Weber says. “Me having the quickness and the long arms, I just kind of reach in there. Sometimes I’m lucky. Sometimes I get a foul. But most of the time it works out for me. I’ve got a good knack for the ball. It helps me.”

Steals from those subsets have become relatively common, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch something truly special at a VCU game.

For instance, Weber ripping the ball away from Butler’s Roosevelt Jones last year before administering a thunderous tomahawk dunk that set the tone for a blowout VCU victory. For the past year, that play has served as Weber’s seminal steal moment. But his diving theft of a George Mason roll-in pass on Jan. 9 may have been his magnum opus. It had all the markers of greatness: a disregard for personal welfare, a jolt of otherworldly adrenaline, and a pedestrian moment rendered disastrous for the opposition. It was furious art; like a Monet painted with a chainsaw.

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CONTACT RULES HAVEN’T TOUCHED HAVOC

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VCU is turning opponents over on 28.1 percent of possessions this season.

VCU is turning opponents over on 28.1 percent of possessions this season.

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.

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HAVOC HUMMING AT NEAR-HISTORIC LEVEL

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VCU has limited ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Boston College to 52 and 50 points, respectively, in back-to-back games.

VCU has limited ACC opponents Virginia Tech and Boston College to 52 and 50 points, respectively, in back-to-back games.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Watch out, folks. Havoc is humming. VCU’s signature full court pressure is starting to squeeze opponents with the strength of a boa constrictor, and the results are getting more impressive with each passing game.

Saturday night, Boston College felt the Rams tighten their grip until all the life had been choked out of the Eagles’ previously notable offense. VCU beat Boston College 69-50 Saturday at Barclays Center, but it wasn’t even that close. If not for a handful of meaningless buckets in the waning moments, it would have looked much worse. Even so, it was BC’s lowest offensive output in nearly a year. For a while, it looked like the Eagles might not reach 40 points, let alone 50.

When the wreckage was cleared away, all Boston College Coach Steve Donohue could do was shake his head at a season-high 23 turnovers, a season-low three 3-pointers and 39 percent (17-of-44) shooting overall. Boston College scored just 17 points in the first half and finished the game 25 points under its season average. During one particular stretch, BC recorded one field goal in 14 minutes. The Eagles entered the game ranked 63rd nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rating – better than nearly 300 other Division I teams – and left with a duffel bag full of questions.

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STRAWBERRY STREET/HAVOC TIME LAPSE

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We can all agree that Havoc is awesome. He can also agree that Strawberry Street Cafe is awesome. Well, here’s an artist named Bunnie Comer dominating the chalk board Havoc game at Strawberry Street Cafe recently. Color me impressed.

BLACK AND GOLD GAME PRIMERS

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Two days until basketball.

Two days until basketball.

The Black and Gold Game is bearing down on us. If you’ve been hitchhiking across Siberia, let me catch you up. On Sunday, Oct. 13, VCU Basketball will hold an intra-squad game at the Verizon Wireless Arena at the Stuart. C. Siegel Center at 6 p.m. Admission is FREE. Seating is general admission.

I was going to write up a quick preview, but a couple of outlets did a nice job producing their own, so I’ll lead you towards their quality work and go back to making widgets over here at VCU HQ.

Nice job by RVANews, which lays out a list of things to look for Sunday.  You can click HERE for the full article, but here’s a sample:

Are you the type of fan that will be upset on Sunday because VCU has to lose, or are you the type of fan that sees this as a win-win? Let’s be honest, when HAVOC! plays HAVOC!, everyone’s a winner.

Recently, Coach Smart has talked about having a nine to eleven man rotation this season. With Guest sidelined, that leaves each team with seven players. How will the full-court pressure and high octane offense look with such a short bench? How will VCU’s guards handle the full-court pressure?

The piece also includes a list of match-ups to watch. I’m going to add one they didn’t include. I’d love to see Briante Weber matched up on Melvin Johnson. I know Weber’s going to get plenty of burn at the point this year, but historically he’s played a lot of two-guard. I’d love to see VCU’s best on-ball defender checking the Rams’ top dribble-drive-floater guy. Wouldn’t you? I don’t know how the teams will be constructed, so the point might be moot, but I can dream.

VCU Ram Nation also waded into the Black and Gold Game mix:

The other familiar face with an unfamiliar game comes in the form of a 6’6 260lb physical machine, Mo Alie-Cox. Cox’s size alone (including a 7’1 wingspan) make him an intriguing front court option for the Rams. Take it for what it’s worth, but one VCU insider I spoke with said Cox isn’t just size, but can really play as well (drooling yet?).

We’re all looking forward to Sunday. We hope to see you and about 7,000 other friends there. In the meantime, here’s a great Tumblr of brides throwing cats.

THE YEAR IN VCU ATHLETICS, FROM A TO Z

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Wrong A-B-C...whatever, close enough.

Wrong A-B-C…whatever, close enough.

June marks the conclusion of the college athletics calendar, and July’s arrival effectively signals the beginning of the 2013-14 season, at least for those of us in the biz, anyway. It all makes this week a good time to reflect back on the year that was in VCU Athletics.

A – is for Atlantic 10 Conference, in which, according to our slogan, the Rams were ‘all-in’. We were also all-in for another season of “Arrested Development” and Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches, so we’re having a good year. VCU competed in the A-10 for the first time in 2012-13, a move that has elevated the program’s national profile. The Rams’ first A-10 title came via the women’s tennis squad, followed by a men’s tennis crown days later. Meanwhile, several other sports (men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer) reached the league’s championship final.

B – is for the Ball family, one of the driving forces behind the VCU Golf program. They’re like the Kennedy’s of VCU Golf, but with a better short game. Matt Ball may have just completed his 14th season with the Rams, but this one was surely different than the others. That’s because 40 percent of his starting lineup was occupied by sons Adam and Matt Jr. Son Adam, a freshman, led the Rams in scoring average (73.53) this year, while Matt Jr., a junior, placed seventh at the A-10 Championship and was named to the league’s All-Academic Team.

C – is for Courtney Conrad, the alliteratively named star of the women’s soccer team. Conrad led the Rams with 11 goals, including five game-winners, and received All-Mid-Atlantic by the NSCAA.

D – is for Daniels, Troy. If you are a fan of basketball players who score three points at a time (and the signed, obscure Mark Price picture in my dining room proves I am), then you would’ve enjoyed Daniels’ 2012-13 season. In 36 games, Daniels bombed a school-record 124 three-pointers, including games of 11, nine and eight.

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THIS DAY IN VCU HISTORY: HAVOC IS BORN

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Four years ago today, near mid-court of the Verizon Wireless Arena – underneath where a Final Four banner would soon hang – Havoc was born.

On April 2, 2009, Shaka Smart was introduced as head coach of the VCU Men’s Basketball program, to which we all answered, “who is Shaka Smart again?” Four years later, the man has a higher Q rating than RGIII (okay, slight embellishment) and could run for mayor of Richmond tomorrow (probably not an exaggeration). The Rams are 111-37 under Smart with three straight NCAA bids and a Final Four appearance. Meanwhile, Havoc, Smart’s trademark full-court press defense and opportunistic, up-tempo offense, is an integral piece of the Richmond lexicon, right up there with BBQ and Brown’s Island.

Happy Havoc Day.

YOUR DAILY SPIKE LEE UPDATE

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Yup. He’s ready.

TRACKING THE SPIKE LEE BEAT

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – If Kentucky can have Ashley Judd and Duke can have Dick Vitale, we here at VCU are certainly entitled to our own superfan. It doesn’t get much better than Spike Lee. After meeting Shaka Smart and the Rams at practice a few weeks ago, Spike has morphed into a VCU backer faster than you can say, “Do the right thing.”

Friday, he sat center court wearing a lime green sweatshirt. He was occasionally vocal. But Saturday, he returned wearing a gold “VCU Rams” longsleeve tee. He was at his Reggie Miller-heckling best, too. At a couple of points, after VCU steals, Lee could be heard shouting “Havoc! Havoc!” It was terrific.

Let’s catch up on the Spike Lee beat, shall we?

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FEAR NOT, COLLEGE HOOPS COLUMNISTS, HAVOC CAN SAVE US ALL

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If you can't have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

If you can’t have fun watching Havoc, check your pulse.

RICHMOND, Va. – College basketball is broken? Scoring is down? The game is boring? Soft bubble? Too many upsets? I think some of these stodgy columnists need some Havoc therapy.

This year, more than any in recent memory, college basketball has faced parroted calls for a fix.

“Make this game more fun! Entertain us! Too many upsets. Too many guys leaving college early.”

Maybe I’m not qualified to assess the state of Division I basketball. I drive a Pontiac – a car brand which no longer exists – and own a total of two suit jackets, so, probably not. Maybe hoops is “broken”, maybe it’s not. I’m just wondering if these guys are watching what I’m watching. Have you seen VCU? Have you sampled the fruit of the breakneck, devil-may-care style of play that is only churning out turnovers and entertainment value at a faster rate than it is producing victories?

From where I’m sitting, college hoops looks better than ever.

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