VCU’s high-intensity full court press is hardly the norm in college basketball. A few notable teams run something similar, Missouri and Arkansas come to mind, but certainly no team in the Big Ten, where the Hoosiers reside, does. Other than its game against top-ranked Kentucky – a game IU won, it should be pointed out – did the Hoosiers face an up-tempo press like the Rams’. It’s that unfamiliarity that VCU hopes will keep the opposition guessing.
“There are a lot of reasons we play the way we play,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “But one of the reasons we play that way is because it’s different from what teams are used to practicing in their own practices and playing against. In theory, our style is something that will be new for them tomorrow.”
VCU players agree that when the Rams have to face teams after a short turnaround, as in many NCAA Tournament games, Havoc comes in handy.
“I definitely think it’s an advantage,” sophomore Rob Brandenberg said. “It’s one thing to watch film, but it’s another to get on the floor and have game experience playing through the press and things like that.”
“Yeah, because they don’t have much time to prep for what is really going to happen out there,” added freshman Briante Weber, who leads the Rams with 76 steals.
In addition, as Thursday’s win over Wichita State proved, it’s not always about forcing turnovers. The Rams, who lead the nation in turnover margin, forced a pedestrian 12 Shocker turnovers, but repeatedly disrupted Wichita State’s offensive flow. The Hoosiers have been pretty sure-handed with the ball this season, averaging about 12 turnovers per game.
“Sometimes the press, if you get a quick three out of the press and not a steal and it’s a bad shot, sometimes that’s just as good as a turnover,” Brandenberg said. “It can work by speeding them up and having to play a little outside their comfort zone.”
The results seem to support the argument that when preparation time is short, the Rams thrive. During its Final Four run last season, VCU grinded out tough victories over USC and Florida State and lost to Butler after those teams had nearly a week to prep for the Rams. But when Georgetown, Purdue and Kansas met VCU with just one day between games, the Rams won those three contests by an average of 15 points.
Crean is no stranger to facing the full court press. During his tenure as head coach at Marquette he regularly met Rick Pitino’s press-heavy Louisville Cardinals. However, his players at Indiana have less experience in similar situations.
“A lot of times your concepts can take care of some of the things that you’ll see in a short turnaround, and there are some things, but this is a tough preparation because of their pressure,” Crean said. “They make you get ready for a lot, so we tried to take that time to inundate our players with a ton of information, but try to keep giving it to them in bits and pieces, and then this practice that we have this afternoon will be very important.”
In the past, Crean says he’s run drills of 8-on-5 and 7-on-5 to try to simulate pressure, but even that isn’t always enough.
“We’re not going to be able to replicate it as much, so it’s really about how strong we are with the ball, what our vision is like and what our mindset is like in seeing the press,” he said.