RICHMOND, Va. – Parenting is an immersive culture. It seems like only yesterday you were planning your buddy’s insane-but-can’t-talk-about-it bachelor party, and then one day you wake up and find yourself half awake, unknowingly singing the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” song in the checkout line at Target with dried Gerber’s beets on your collar.
It’s from this frame of mind that I come to you today. It’s why when I thought about VCU and UMass trying to match each other’s energy, aggression and tempo Thursday night at the Siegel Center, the “Little Einsteins” came to mind. Folks, this how I’m living these days, large and in charge.
Basically, the kids in the Little Einsteins cartoon fly around in a rocket that is fueled by beats. The faster they pat their legs – while calling out tempo words like “moderato”, “allegro” and “presto” – the faster the jet soars through the sky. If you’ve never seen it, this probably doesn’t make sense to you. Actually, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Let’s move along, allegrissimo, because I sense I’ve crossed over into the ridiculous.
Anyway, it gave me a vision of UMass Coach Derek Kellogg patting his quads to spur on rocket point guard Chaz Williams, who averages 16.1 points, 7.1 assists and has ripped 45 steals. Behind the play of its athletic catalyst, UMass ranks 22nd in the country in adjusted tempo and second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring (72.6 ppg).
Meanwhile, down the sideline, there’s Shaka Smart shouting, “allegro!” and “presto!” as the VCU student section smacks it’s legs furiously to fuel VCU guards Darius Theus, Briante Weber and Rob Brandenberg, who scorch their way from one side of the court to the other. The Rams lead the country in turnover percentage (29.3) and love nothing more than to speed up the competition. There’s no such thing as too much tempo for VCU, Einstein.
While nobody full-court presses as much as VCU, UMass has borrowed from “Havoc” and incorporated that into its own defensive system. The Minutemen force an average of 14.2 turnovers per game and rank fourth in the A-10 with eight steals per game. Not Havoc, but not bad, either.
There’s an old — and silly, I might add – adage that says that teams that like to full-court press don’t like to be pressed in return. Theoretically, if VCU presses more than anyone, it plays against the press in practice more than anyone. But there is some value in the understanding that intense full-court pressure can disrupt any team if not handled properly.
“I think the more important point is, which team is more aggressive,” Smart said. “Pressing teams are typically very, very aggressive and when you get pressed, it can get you on your heels a little bit. I think for our team, the key is, to stay aggressive, we keep attacking. You’re going to make some mistakes. Basketball is a game of mistakes. The key is how you respond.”
In any game, each team attempts to impose its will on the other. This is most obvious when teams with contrasting styles vie for control of the pace and speed of play. But what happens when nobody’s interested in controlling tempo? In fact, Smart made it clear that the Rams had no intention of slowing UMass down. VCU wants nothing more than to speed the Minutemen up and send them careening out of control. It’s what the Rams do best.
Offensively, VCU has topped 90 points five times already this season, so if UMass wants a track meet, the Rams are more than happy to give it to them.
“We like our style of play. Tempo, you know. Up and down, up and down. That’s what we like. We’re looking forward to it,” said VCU guard Darius Theus.
So don’t expect anybody to pump the brakes Thursday night. VCU and UMass will square off in an opera of aggression, allegro and attrition. As bodies whip from sideline to sideline in a symphony of speed and reckless abandon, in my head, the soundtrack will be sung by Lightning McQueen.