By B Stern

Virginia Commonwealth University is poised to make a run in the upcoming tournament, and the driving force behind their success is not offense.  Rather, their swarming defense has catapulted them to a ranking in the Top 25.  This defense, featuring a full-court press, was dubbed “Havoc” by VCU’s energetic young coach, Shaka Smart.  When the VCU Rams take the court, they cause a controlled frenzy, and this chaotic scheme has proved to be successful.

Although VCU has a zone press and many variations on its defense, the Havoc is centered around a full-court press called the double fist.  This man-to-man press that Smart uses as his main attack.  And yes, this defense is an attack.  The Rams like to pressure the ballhandler and try to force an errant pass or simply steal the ball with a trap.  Multiple things must happen if the trap is going to work.
VCU’s ball-hawking guards are key to the trap.  Quick players with plenty of energy are essential.  VCU’s three pressing guards, called the Wild Dogs, fit the bill.  Briante Weber is a thief leading the nation in steal percentage.  The sophomore had ten steals in only eighteen minutes in VCU’s season opener.  He traps, hustles, and scrambles for his well-deserved steals.  The second Dog, Darius Theus, is a plug.  He is a clutch defender, and he plays defense with his feet.  He doesn’t reach much; he cuts his man off.  This style of play annoys an offensive player, and it’s effective because the ballhandler just can’t get past his defender.  Rob Brandenberg, the third Wild Dog, is a very fast junior who can run anybody down.  He beats players to loose balls and covers ground very quickly.  These three players are essential to the Havoc.

Another element of the Havoc is the trap itself. †Location and timing are very important.  The double fist trap is designed to force a player to the sideline if possible.  Ideally, a VCU defender would pounce just as the offensive player crossed half court, and cause him to make a bad pass for an easy layup on the other end.  If this happens, the man with the ball would have a hard time passing out of the trap.  He obviously can’t pass back across half court or out of bounds, which leaves him with 90 degrees of passing space and two VCU defenders, waving their arms wildly, making sure those 90 degrees are defended.  The offensive player is supposed to be caught off guard by a trap.  While one defender pressures the ball, another should trap on a players blindside and surprise him.  The Wild Dogs excel in the art of the trap, which makes the Havoc successful.

Shaka Smart’s defense is very rewarding.  If the Havoc is executed well, it makes VCU hard to stop.  Smart’s team is energetic, focused, and ready for March Madness.  Led by the Wild Dogs, the Rams and their plundering defense will be a contender in the tournament.  For all the bracketologists out there, watch out for Virginia Commonwealth.


Filed under: Ben Stern, NCAA Basketball

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