College Basketball Team Reports: VCU Rams
The word Havoc doesn't just describe the Rams' panic-inducing defensive pressure; it also personifies the program's full-throttle ethos. And it looks -- and sounds -- as if VCU's new starting point guard was genetically engineered for the team's system. Junior Briante Weber has a 48-inch vertical, and his arms are relentless windmills. Just as important, he calls the Rams "my team" and provides an endless soundtrack of chatter at every practice. "He's the most energetic person I've ever met," says coach Shaka Smart. "You want guys like that. That's who we want to be."
Atlantic 10 foes know Weber as a menacing defender who got steals on 7.6 percent of VCU's defensive possessions last season, which led the nation. His offense needs work, though. He averaged just 5.4 points and shot 22.5 percent from three as Darius Theus' backup. So every weekday this summer, Weber made 700 treys, focusing on locking his elbow to prevent short-arming. Knowing that some of his shooting woes were due to fatigue, he fired all those jumpers after running sprints that replicated the quick bursts -- paint to wing and three-point line to corner -- he runs in Smart's full-court press.
The Rams are one of just eight programs to have won games in three consecutive NCAA tournaments. To make it four they must adjust to rule changes eliminating hand checking and arm bars. Smart has been training his team to "show the officials your hands," and VCU coaches have officiated practices tightly.
Smart is optimistic about how VCU's offense, which depends on a mix of driving and ball screens, will benefit from the new rules. Treveon Graham, a 6-foot-6 slasher, and big man Juvonte Reddic should have clearer lanes to the basket without hand checking. "Every drive should be a scoring drive," says Smart.
Let the Havoc begin.
VCU's non-conference schedule reads like a collection of mid-major brand names -- Belmont, Northern Iowa, Winthrop, Old Dominion, Illinois State, and Wofford. A potential second-round match-up with Michigan in Puerto Rico -- an NCAA tournament rematch -- looms as a tantalizing November clash. VCU's March 1 home game against St. Louis could well be for the Atlantic10 title.
Burgess finished his four-year career last season with 1,684 points. Look for little brother Jordan Burgess, a 6-5, 215-pound RS freshman wing, to be similarly valuable. He sat out last season as a partial qualifier and made an impression in practice. "He's the toughest guy on our team physically," says Smart. "He's just gets it done and is rock solid." Sounds familiar.
Since VCU hired Smart in 2009, their win total ranks them with the blue bloods. Only Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse have won more.
SI.com: VCU has had a great run of point guards from Eric Maynor to Joey Rodriguez to Darius Theus. What can we expect from next man up, Briante Weber?
Smart: I need him to run the team. He doesn't have to score a ton or put up gaudy numbers. We have a lot of different guys. I just need our team to be organized. I need our team to be highly connected. Your point guard is huge for that. He's really improved. He really improved starting last year. Really, by the last third of the year, he was a very reliable point guard and did a terrific job of getting us in the offense. He had a very good assist-turnover ratio. When you're doing it full-time, there's a higher level of demands. He was effective as a point guard in the conference tournament and two NCAA tournament games. He has some good experience. He's going to look to do that consistently. I think he's ready. He's a junior and making progress.
SI.com: You guys obviously thrive on a high-pressure style. How will the rule changes effect what you do?
Smart: For us, I think it's going to be really interesting because the rule changes, as they relate to guarding the ball on the perimeter, I think can help us offensively with the way that we play. Our defense gets more attention. The way we play offensively, we can really reap some benefits. If the officials are going to call it much tighter, on defense, like everyone else, we're going to have to adjust and strike the balance between being aggressive and staying out of foul trouble.
SI.com: What specifically have you done to adjust on defense?
Smart: The biggest emphasis since we started practice is that we're telling our guys to show your hands. By showing the official your hands, you're showing him that they're not on the other player. If your hands are down or on the guy, it's going to be called a lot more. Put your hands on your chest with your palms out. Put them in the air. Not necessarily in any specific spot.
SI.com: You seem to be optimistic that these changes will help you on offense, right?
Smart: The media tend to link havoc with our pressure defense. But it's really everything that we do. It's the who we are and how we operate. I think our style of play, offensively, is enhanced by the rule changes. The biggest adjustment, more so than on defense, is really placing an emphasis on driving and being aggressive. Every drive should be a scoring drive. Not driving to do anything other than score.