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‘Chaos’ has yet to take hold, but it hasn’t stopped Will Wade from winning at Chattanooga

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Frank Mattia/GoMocs.com

When Will Wade was hired at Chattanooga in May, he had a vision for the program that he wanted to build.

Just 31 years young, Wade had spent the last four years as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU, watching the way that the basketball-mad community of Richmond embraced ‘Havoc’. It originated as a style of play. It’s turned into VCU’s brand, the culture of a program that has since been embraced by the school and the students and the city at-large.

Chattanooga sits in what Wade calls a “melting pot of SEC schools”, close enough to places like Knoxville and Athens and Tuscaloosa that the city is loaded with various alumni but far enough way that they don’t get swept up in the furor over one school or one team. In other words, the folks that wind up in Chattanooga will have different allegiances when it comes to “FOOTBAWL”.

But when it comes to college hoops, they’re Chattanooga fans.

When Wade interviewed for the job, that was part of his pitch. As he called it, ‘Chaos’.

“When you’re a mid-major, you need a brand or a calling card,” Wade, the third-youngest head coach in Division I, told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “I knew that’s how I wanted to play when I was fortunate enough to get a head job.”

“We needed a name for it, and when I interviewed for the Chattanooga job, Chaos kind of came to mind. It has a ‘C’ in it, we have a ‘C’ as our logo. It just kind of fit.”

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‘Chaos’ has a defined set of goals that aren’t all that different from what you would expect from a typical VCU team. Relentless full-court pressure, live-ball turnovers leading to layups, offensive rebounds, three-pointers. As much as anything, however, the biggest objective in a system like this is conditioning. Be in better shape, wear your opponents down, and eventually that pressure is going to get to them.

Two-thirds of the way through his first seasons with the Mocs, Wade’s finally got his team winning games. Ronrico White’s return has coincided with a 10-game winning streak, one that has them sitting at 8-0 in league play as they head into a key conference showdown with SoCon stalwart Davidson on Thursday night.

It’s an impressive turnaround for a team that went 4-8 in non-conference play, especially when you consider the fact that ‘Chaos’ really hasn’t been all that chaotic to date.

“We’re not where we need to be defensively,” Wade said, and Chattanooga’s ranking as the 271st-best defense, according to KenPom, would back that statement up. At this point, the Mocs are playing a style that closer to that of Louisville or Villanova than VCU. They run a zone-pressure designed more to control tempo than to force turnovers, dropping back into a matchup zone. For a coach that swears by extended, man-to-man pressure, the fact that his team is playing a different style successfully has even surprised him.

“Defensively, we stumbled upon this matchup zone,” Wade said. “We’re not getting a ton of steals or anything like that.”

“Offensively, we’re pretty close to where I’d like to be. I’d like to shoot a little bit better from three, but our identity is pretty close to what we want. … We play very, very fast. We lead the league in scoring, get up and down the court.”

The star of this Chattanooga team is Z Mason, a 6-foot-6 forward that’s averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 boards and could very well end up being the SoCon Player of the Year. But according to Wade, their most important piece is White. “He’s a high-IQ player,” Wade said, but it’s more than simply understanding the game or understanding reads. White, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard, is terrific in the pick-and-roll, and Chattanooga runs a ball-screen heavy offense. During this 10 game winning streak, he’s averaging 15.3 points with 23 assists and just nine turnovers.

“When he was hurt, we had a freshman point guard [Greg Pryor] who ended up playing 25 or 30 minutes a game, and it was almost a perfect start for us,” Wade said. “He was our only option, and he played a ton so he has a lot of miles on him. He’s game ready.”

At this point, ‘Chaos’ is not where Wade envisions it being a couple of years down the road, but that’s what tends to happen when a coach takes over a new program. He inherited the players this team, he didn’t necessarily recruit them. There’s a fairly distinct skill-set — and mindset — needed to be able to thrive in that style of play.

It’s not for everyone.

“There’s a big adjustment in terms of [the players] trusting me and us and what we do, and us as a staff of trusting them,” Wade said. “To their credit, they figured it out. The buy-in’s been there, but it went up ten-fold once we started winning. There was a lot of blind faith.”

Wade even admitted that he was surprised by how quickly they’ve found success. “I couldn’t have envisioned that we would come together this quickly or this early. We’re probably a little bit ahead of schedule.”

Regardless of what schedule the team is on, the city has taken notice. They drew 6,648 fans on Saturday, the most since Steph Curry’s Davidson team came through town back in 2009. The 11,310 fans they drew in two games last week eclipsed the season total for five other teams in the conference.

“A fan told me the other day, ‘I haven’t seen this many people where Chattanooga basketball stuff since the Sweet 16,'” Wade said. ‘That was in 1997.”

“That’s the vision for what we’re trying to build here.”

WATCH LIVE: Hofstra travels to Delaware on NBCSN

James Madison forward Yohanny Dalembert (40) prepares to shoot against Hofstra forward Rokas Gustys, behind, during the first half of an NCAA basketball game in Harrisonburg, Va., Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
(Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)
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Hofstra tries to keep pace with the conference’s elite as they travel to Delaware on Saturday afternoon. You can watch this CAA battle live on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. EST.

The Pride (17-8, 9-4) are currently two games behind conference leader UNC-Wilmington and they’re trying to make a run to close out the season. Senior guard Juan’ya Green leads the Pride in points (17.7 ppg), assists (7 apg) and steals (1.8 spg) and he’s surrounded by a dangerous supporting cast.

Delaware (6-18, 1-12) had lost 15 consecutive games before beating Drexel in their last game. The Blue Hens have struggled in CAA play but Kory Holden (17.5 ppg, 4 apg) will try to help lead the upset.

These two teams met on Dec. 31 with Hofstra winning that one, 90-80, at home.

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

Michigan gets Caris LeVert back in a win over No. 18 Purdue

Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) tries to steal the ball from Michigan guard Caris LeVert (23) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)
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Zak Irvin scored 22 points and Michigan’s outmanned front line held Purdue’s redwoods to just seven offensive boards, six second chance points and just 22 points in the paint as the Wolverines landed a critical, 61-56, win over the No. 18 Boilermakers.

Depending on who you listen to, Michigan entered the day, at worst, on the bubble and at best, in headed for the 8-9 game.

And they picked up a top 25 win.

So yes, this win was big for them moving forward.

But more important than the win itself was that Wolverine fans got a glimpse of all-american guard Caris LeVert. He played just 11 points and didn’t return in the second half, he didn’t score and he missed the only shot that he took, but LeVert took the court for the first time since Dec. 30th. That day, LeVert rolled his left ankle and most likely reinjured a foot that had had a broken bone surgically repaired twice in the last 20 months. Michigan never confirmed what the actual injury was and never gave a timetable for when he would be back in the lineup, which is what made his brief appearance so important.

LeVert isn’t done for the season.

And since the Wolverines managed to post a 9-4 Big Ten record with LeVert acting as little more than a spectator, they have a chance to make a run in the Big Ten tournament and get into the NCAA tournament.

That will happen with LeVert in the rotation and, if all goes according to plan, the starting lineup.

So even with a loss against Purdue, the Wolverines had a good day. Bolstering their NCAA tournament profile was an added bonus.