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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BRIANTE WEBER: MAN OF STEAL

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Sophomore Briante Weber is piling up steals at record pace.

Sophomore Briante Weber is piling up steals at record pace.

RICHMOND, Va. – In 1989, Energizer Batteries scored a marketing victory when it introduced the Energizer Bunny, a pink, sunglass-wearing, bass-drum pounding, stuffed rabbit that shuffles, presumably, in perpetuity. It became a pop-culture icon and embedded itself in the national lexicon as a THE metaphor for someone or something with a seemingly endless supply of energy.

I’m appreciative of the Energizer Bunny’s legacy, because it allows me to describe the play of supercharged VCU guard Briante Weber effectively to the uninitiated. If Weber dresses up as the Energizer Bunny for Halloween next year, I will lose my mind.

He’s a unique talent, Weber. An angular, 6-foot-3, 165-pound sophomore wing with a 45-inch vertical leap, he doesn’t necessarily fit into the tidy positional descriptions we’ve come to accept: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, etc. What is he? He can play some point guard, yes. But most of the time he’s swooping around the court as if he’s on fire, creating havoc on defense.

Defense in basketball has never been as easily quantified as offense. You can more easily judge the efficiency of a player by his shooting percentages, scoring averages, assist-to-turnover ratio. Defense can be a little murkier. But for VCU and Coach Shaka Smart, you can draw a number of conclusions about the Rams’ effectiveness on defense by the number of turnovers they force, many via the steal. That’s where Weber’s impact is most easily understood.

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IT WAS OVER IN A MINUTE, MAN

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Junior Rob Brandenberg shook off a rough first half to lead VCU's remarkable second-half run Thursday.

Junior Rob Brandenberg shook off a rough first half to lead VCU’s remarkable second-half run Thursday.

RICHMOND, Va. – Whatever Shaka Smart said or did at halftime of Thursday’s game, he should remember it and then repeat it every day for the rest of the season. I don’t care if he built his team up, tore it down, broke a whiteboard or played “Fire on the Mountain” on the banjo, he needs to bottle it, because if VCU can play better than the first 14 minutes of the second half of Thursday’s 86-68 blitzing of UMass, I’d like to see it.

VCU, trailing 42-37 at intermission, embarked on a 21-1 run at the start of the second half and turned a tight game into a chance for fans to beat the traffic. At one point, VCU pushed its run to 44-12 and assumed an 81-54 advantage before calling off the dogs with six minutes remaining.

“I think we were able to break their spirit a little bit with that run, and that was the determining factor in the game,” Smart said.

It was like watching the best possible version of the Rams for 14 unmatched minutes. The Rams (20-5, 8-2 A-10), who won a game by 51 earlier this season, actually found a sixth gear. UMass’ first 11 possessions of the second half went as follows: turnover, missed 3-pointer, turnover, missed 3-pointer, free throw, turnover, turnover, missed 3-pointer, shot blocked, turnover, turnover. By the time that hellacious six-minute stretch was over, it was 58-43. Game, VCU.

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HAVOC MAKES PROMINENT A-10 DEBUT

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VCU's Briante Weber produced nine steals in the Rams' A-10 opener against Dayton Wednesday.

VCU’s Briante Weber produced nine steals in the Rams’ A-10 opener against Dayton Wednesday.

RICHMOND, Va. – You can’t replicate it in practice. You can’t fully appreciate it on TV. You have to be here to understand the claustrophobic grip VCU’s Havoc can slip around opposing teams.

On Wednesday, the Rams’ frenzied pressure introduced itself to the Atlantic 10 Conference, namely the Dayton Flyers on this night, before packed Siegel Center. VCU’s trademark defensive pressure, like metal grinding on metal, served as an agent of attrition and pushed Dayton (10-5, 0-1 A-10) into a breakdown state over the course of the game. As legs tired and the intensity rose, the Flyers’ miscues multiplied and allowed the Rams (13-3, 1-0) to pull away for a 74-62 win in the first A-10 game in VCU history.

After just four turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, Dayton committed 22 in the final 32 minutes. In all, the Rams outscored the Flyers 30-5 off turnovers on the way to their 10th straight victory.

“I think our press had a cumulative effect,” VCU Coach Shaka Smart said in perhaps one of this season’s bigger understatements.

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DANIELS, HAVOC GO ‘FAIRLEIGH RIDICULOUS’ IN WIN

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Senior Troy Daniels (pictured right, shooting) set a VCU single-game record with nine 3-pointers Saturday.

Senior Troy Daniels (pictured right, shooting) set a VCU single-game record with nine 3-pointers Saturday.

RICHMOND, Va. – In a few days, we’ll close the book on 2012 and turn the page to a new year with new hopes, new goals and new dreams. But they might have to drag Troy Daniels into 2013 kicking and screaming.

Daniels capped his torrid December by stroking a school-record nine 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 27 points in Saturday’s 96-67 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. After a pedestrian 4-of-10 start from beyond the arc, Daniels kicked into high gear, hitting five of his last six, including four straight in the final three minutes, to break Bo Jones’ 13-year-old VCU single-game mark. Daniels originally tied the record with eight triples Dec. 7 at Old Dominion.

This month has been, by far, the best of Daniels’ career. In his last five games, Daniels has averaged 19.9 points and shot .500 (30-of-60) from 3-point range. Daniels has scored at least 24 points in three of those contests.

It hasn’t been so much the flipping of a switch that has turned Daniels into a “must-watch” shooter the last five games as it has been the result of a cumulative effort. It’s been hours at Franklin Street Gym late at night with Assistant Coach Jeremy Ballard, loads of film study, and pep talks with Coach Shaka Smart. Sooner or later, the dam was going to break and allow the river that is Daniels’ sweet shooting stroke to flow freely. It appears we’ve reached that point.

“I’m happy for Troy,” Smart said Saturday. “He’s a guy that’s put a lot of extra work in, a lot of extra hours where it was just him and a manager in the gym and it’s paying off for him.”

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…AND ANOTHER THING!

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If you woke up today and thought, “I hope I don’t have to deal with any math today because math is hard”, then I apologize. I wanted to expand on my thoughts from Saturday’s win over Belmont and VCU’s rebounding success this season.

Last year, VCU appeared to finally grow into Shaka Smart’s “Havoc”. The Rams defended and turned over the opposition at hard-to-believe rates. The Rams’ ability to turn other teams over and convert those extra opportunities into points is what bridged the gap between being a good team and a great one.

Like turnovers, offensive rebounds often lead to easy buckets. Buckets lead to wins. Consult “Basketball for Dummies” for further explanation. Two seasons ago, VCU was a decidedly below average team on the offensive glass. Last year, a little better, but still not great.

However, this season, the Rams are grabbing 39 percent of available offensive rebounds (Smart’s stated goal is 40 percent every game), which has led to an average of 14 points per game. Much like last year, when the level of talent and VCU players’ willingness to buy into Havoc yielded all those turnovers, it appears the same factors may be contributing to the Rams’ improved work on the glass.

Below, you’ll see just how important all those extra possessions and easy baskets are to VCU. What’s important to note is that the Rams are scoring 19 percent of their points off second chance opportunities (offensive rebounds). Pair that with Havoc, and you’re hard to beat.

Microsoft Word - EXTRA POSSESSIONS

OREB% = Offensive rebound percentage; 2nd Chance = Second Chance Points per game; TO Forced = Turnovers forced per game; Off TO = Points scored off turnovers per game.

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE HAVOC

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‘Twas the night before Havoc, and all through the stands,
Workers were prepping for the return of the Rams.
Players’ uniforms hung neatly in lockers with care,
In hopes that hoops soon would be there.

The fans were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of turnovers danced in their heads.
And the Rowdies in their t-shirts and Pav in his horns,
Began dreaming of a new season born.

When out on the court there arose such a ruckus,
They sprang to their feet see what ‘twas the fuss.
Away to the arena they dashed, their arms, they were flailing,
Threw open the doors and leaned over the railing.

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COACH, CAN WE PLEASE RUN SUICIDES NOW?

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The men’s basketball team, as it did last year, is participating in Navy SEAL team training this week. From the looks of it, this stuff is no joke. I see a lot of guys in peak physical condition looking tired and damp. But playing 100 miles an hour for 40 minutes requires a different level of conditioning. Scott Day in our office has also been participating. He might be the only SID in the country crazy enough willing to do this kind of thing. I think it’s fair to say that he could not beat Darius Theus in a footrace, even if Darius had no feet. But Scotty’s been surviving, although he was mixing in a lot of four-letter words yesterday when discussing something called a “backwards uphill bear crawl.” Buck up, Scotty. I’ll be rooting for you this week…between snooze bars.

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