HAVOC! definitely doesn’t live in Austin. But after Tuesday, it’s worth asking if HAVOC! lives anywhere right now.
VCU dropped a tough road game 77-64 to Georgia Tech Tuesday night in Atlanta. Just a few days ago, Shaka Smart scored his first marquee victory at Texas with a win over #3 North Carolina. The games had dramatically different outcomes, but even below the surface they highlight the differences between Smart’s current and former employers.
The differences started earlier this summer, just a few months after Will Wade announced “HAVOC! still lives here” at his (re)introduction in the Siegel Center. On May 4th, Texas withdrew its application to register “HORNS HAVOC” and “HOUSE OF HAVOC” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The frenetic style Smart brought to VCU would remain–at least in name–at VCU.
But playing styles themselves can’t be protected by law, and many expected Smart to utilize Texas’s skilled and speedy back-court to build a running and gunning machine much like the teams that took him to five straight NCAA Tournaments at VCU. On Saturday, Texas barely pressed against North Carolina. The Longhorns stole the ball just three times–something that has happened just once in the last two and a half seasons at VCU.
Meanwhile, stealing the basketball remains an obsession in Richmond. After finishing first in steal percentage in 2012, first in 2013, first in 2014, and third in 2015, the Rams rank second nationally in steal percentage this season–a remarkable feat without the Sultan of Steal, Briante Weber. And while what Coach Wade is doing isn’t the same as HAVOC! past, it’s pretty dang close.
Tale of two horns
- Texas ranks 268th in the nation with a steal percentage of 7.2%. Briante Weber posted higher steal percentages as an individual in 2013 (7.6%) and 2015 (8.9%).
- This season, VCU is averaging 11.2 steals per game while Texas is averaging just 5.2.
- The Longhorns rank 307th in the nation in adjusted tempo and play at an anemic 67.3 possessions per game. VCU ranks 59th with 72.8 possessions per game.
The differences don’t stop at defense. Texas’s patient offense carried a pedestrian defense against UNC, contrasting with VCU’s offensive struggles against its most recent ACC foe. Justin Tillman finished with a career-high 18 points and Melvin Johnson finished with 17 points, but Doug Brooks finished 2-of-15, JeQuan Lewis added zero points and six turnovers, and everyone not named Tillman/Johnson finished 11-of-44 (.250) from the field. Like seasons past, the Rams looked lost in the half court.
In the first half, their defensive identity kept the game competitive. The Rams alternated between a full-court press and a flustering 2-3 matchup zone and entered the locker room tied at 27. After the break, things fell apart as Georgia Tech scored 50 points in the second half and cruised to a double-digit victory.
The loss leaves VCU at a pedestrian 5-4 with no marquee victories and a non-conference resume that reeks of NIT–much like Texas a week ago. Saturday, the Rams host #23 Cincinatti in the Stuart C. Siegel Center where VCU is 4-1 against ranked opponents. It is the most important non-conference game VCU has played since topping Wichita State in the 2011 Bracketbusters game.
VCU still has the stylistic makings of HAVOC!, but there’s way more to the philosophy than full-court pressure or a high-octane offense–and Will Wade’s team is falling short. The Rams have lacked these three things that cut deeper than X’s & O’s:
- Always hit the floor first
- Poise is the yin to the yang of HAVOC!
- It’s not just about the steals, it’s about attacking the opponents psyche and plan of attack.
As VCU proved in 2011, it’s never too late to capture these three elements of the game. Texas proved it on Saturday when they turned a middling 5-3 start to the season into a court storming. Texas doesn’t play HAVOC!, but they embodied it with that victory. HAVOC! isn’t in Richmond right now, but the Rams better bring it back if they hope to upset a ranked team this week and put their season back on track.