Local commentary: VCU found formula
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 13, 2013, 14:14
It’s that time of year again. The temperature is rising, the birds are chirping anew and the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team is gearing up for another postseason run.
The Rams – who reached the Final Four of the NCAA tournament with an unprecedented string of upsets in 2011 and came within two points of a berth in the Sweet 16 last season – will almost certainly grace your brackets for a third consecutive year.
The team from Richmond has used its trademark defensive pressure to secure a 24-7 overall record and the No. 2 seed in this weekend’s Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
The Rams peaked at No. 19 in the AP Top 25 poll and currently sit at No. 25. They’re 2-2 against ranked opponents, having dispatched then-No. 19 Memphis and No. 20 Butler by double digits.
And they have an innovative, formulaic approach to the game to thank for it all.
VCU’s meteoric rise from above-average Joe to perennial tournament inclusion began with the hiring of fourth-year coach Shaka Smart. More specifically, it began with the implementation of Smart’s playing style.
The charismatic 35-year-old first described his system, which hinges on forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, at his introductory press conference on April 2, 2009. He dubbed it “Havoc,” and the name stuck, though it could just as accurately be called “Headache.”
Once regarded as a gimmick, the Rams’ revered full-court press makes them one of the toughest teams in the land for opposing coaches to prepare for. VCU leads the nation in steals with 370 — 39 more than second-place Louisville.
The Rams also lead Division I in turnover differential, forcing an average of eight more giveaways than they concede per outing. They make good use of the extra possessions by pouring in 78.1 points per game, the 11th-best mark in the country.
At its most effective, “Havoc” levels the playing field against more talented teams and gives the Rams at least a puncher’s chance of beating any opponent with less-than-stellar guard play. At its least, the system results in head-scratching defeats.
It’s a philosophy fueled by momentum and energy. It forces slow-moving teams to play fast and fast-moving teams to play faster. It’s calculated mayhem.
In short, “Havoc” is perfectly suited for March Madness.
Last year, VCU took some flak for taking out a newspaper advertisement proclaiming that its team was “back to bust your bracket.” It’s safe to say the school’s decision makers won’t be renewing that ad this year.
No need — the Rams’ ever-growing reputation precedes them.
Former Prince George High School baseball standout Jackie Bradley Jr. is making a serious case to start the season as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
It’s only spring training, but the 22-year-old prospect leads Major League Baseball with a batting average of .536. He had 15 hits in 28 at-bats, four RBI, one home run and one stolen base in 13 preseason appearances through Tuesday.
Bradley, who finished last season as a member of the Portland Sea Dogs in the Double-A Eastern League, is listed as a non-roster camp invitee on the club’s official website. But those are major league numbers if you ask me, especially when coupled with the local lefty’s elite athleticism and defensive skills.
Chesterfield native Denny Hamlin, who currently sits in fourth place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, was fined $25,000 last week by the sport’s sanctioning body for “making disparaging remarks about the on-track racing” that took place in Phoenix on March 3.
Hamlin, who told NASCAR Wire Service that he was docked for criticizing the performance of the new Gen-6 cars, voiced his adamant disagreement and said he would not pay the fine.
Rightfully so, in my opinion.
Hamlin dutifully spoke to reporters after the race and made known his honest evaluation. His comments weren’t malicious or mean-spirited. Would NASCAR rather have its drivers lie or elude tough questions?
You’d think NASCAR would encourage such truthful feedback. After all, avoiding the issue completely won’t make the revamped cars pass better in traffic.