(Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Half Court Havoc: A subtle tweak in philosophy provides Will Wade blueprint for success at VCU

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The hardest thing to do as a college basketball coach is to be the guy that follows ‘The Guy’.

Just ask Iowa State’s Steve Prohm. He was given the unenviable task of replacing Fred Hoiberg, an Ames native, Iowa State alum and campus icon that was nicknamed ‘the Mayor’ and turned the Cyclones from a cellar-dweller into a Big 12 contender and, entering the season, a preseason top ten team. After losses to Northern Iowa, Texas and Baylor — at home, nonetheless — the pressure started mounting, eventually getting to the point where Prohm had to isolate himself from social media.

“I deleted [FaceBook and Twitter] now so I don’t have to see it,” he said last month. “But it’s hard. I care. I came here to do great job here and I love this place, I love this school and the fans. I don’t want to let anybody down. So yeah, [the criticism] bothers you and it hurts you as a human.”

Josh Pastner is going through the same thing.

He won his 150th game as Memphis head coach earlier this season, getting there one game faster than John Calipari did, but since he was forced to follow in Cal’s footsteps — since he has to deal with the burden of expectation from a fan base that got used to top ten rankings and trips to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament — there’s a good chance that this will be his final season coaching the Tigers.

That’s not all that different from the situation that Will Wade was walking into at VCU last spring. The 33-year old Wade was hired to replace his former boss, Shaka Smart, who had taken the Rams from being a good mid-major program to a Final Four, the Atlantic 10 and an annual appearance in the preseason top 25.

And while Wade has had to deal with the loss of the team’s two best players, the most talented sophomore and the program’s two best incoming freshmen — not to mention their head coach — he has managed to do something that Shaka never did and that hasn’t been done since Eric Maynor and Anthony Grant were leading this team through the CAA back in 2007: He’s got the Rams sitting at 9-0 in the league, all alone atop the Atlantic 10.

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Since Shaka took over at VCU, there have really been two things that the program was known for: The Peppas, VCU’s pep band that tears up every arena they set foot in, and ‘Havoc’.

The Peppas are still as prominent as they’ve ever been in the Siegel Center, but the days of VCU’s over-aggressive, full-court pressure are more or less over. Wade’s iteration of the Rams still force turnovers and gamble for steals, only they’re doing it in a much more limited and controlled fashion.

Diet Havoc, if you will. Or, as Wade phrases it, “Half-court Havoc.”

Part of that change was the direct result of the personnel that Wade inherited. We may never see a college basketball player more perfectly and uniquely suited to playing the point of a full-court, pressuring defense than Briante Weber was, and with Weber — who was on track to steamroll the NCAA’s career record for steals before he tore his ACL last January — graduating, VCU was left without Havoc’s engine.

“A lot of the press was good because Briante could just take the ball from you. He was a once in a generation type player,” Wade said. “I’ll be lucky if I coach Briante Weber one more time in my career. You’ve gotta have some sort of special talent like that to make it work, and if you don’t, you’re just kind of beating your head against a wall.”

“And we don’t really have that.”

In other words, even if Shaka was still in Richmond and not Austin, there was a good chance that the defense VCU utilized this season would have looked different than it did the last four years.

But Wade also has a different philosophical approach to the game than Shaka: He doesn’t like to gamble as much. Trapping in the back court may get you layups and wide-open threes in transition, but it will also allow for opponents to get just as many clean looks from beyond the arc and at the rim.

“And I don’t like giving up layups,” Wade said.

Prior to taking over at VCU, Wade spent two seasons as the head coach at Chattanooga, and while he spent those two seasons developing the program’s brand the same way that Shaka built ‘Havoc’ into something far more than just a defense they ran — Wade termed his brand ‘Chaos’ — the defense that he won with was a 2-2-1 zone press that dropped back to a 2-3 matchup zone. For comparison’s sake, it’s not all that dissimilar from what Rick Pitino runs at Louisville.

That’s the defense that Wade’s VCU program now runs. They’ll also play quite a bit of man-to-man, but their pressure these days isn’t designed to force turnovers as much as it is token pressure, a way to bleed out some of the shot clock so that, “we don’t have to guard your actions as much in the half court.” That said, the Rams still play aggressive defense in the half court, forcing a turnover on nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions, but even that took some time for the Rams to figure out.

As did VCU’s offense.

The other major change that Wade made was how this team goes about scoring points. Instead of relying on transition opportunities and live-ball steals to create shots, Wade put in a ball-screen continuity offense and demanded that his team give the bigs on the roster touches in the post. It wasn’t the easiest of transitions, not with so many players in larger roles with more — and new — responsibilities.

As of today, VCU has won 12 straight games and currently sits all alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings at 9-0. But six weeks ago, there was some genuine concern about this group. They had gone just 5-5 in their first ten games, losing to all five high-major teams on their schedule, and entered league play as a team that was still grappling with their identity.

That’s when the pressure started to build.

“Our guys felt that people were questioning whether certain people were good enough,” Wade said. He wasn’t worried, not yet. The last loss that VCU suffered, on Dec. 19th against Cincinnati, Wade finally saw his team turning a corner. They followed that up with four straight wins against overmatched opponents before making the trek to Hagan Arena to take on Saint Joseph’s in what would prove to be a pivotal moment in VCU’s season.

“We rallied from like 13 down with five or six minutes left and won it at the end, our second conference game,” Wade said. St. Joe’s is still the best win on VCU’s résumé. “It gave us the jolt we needed. We needed something good to happen to us to spring us forward and get that belief going. It was really tough to sell our guys on how good you are and how much progress you see after the Cincinnati loss.”

Suddenly, that matchup zone was just that much more active. Those open threes Melvin Johnson, the team’s leading scorer at 19.0 points, was getting were just that much more in rhythm. JeQuan Lewis was figuring out how to be the leader, a facilitator that takes over when his team needs him. He had 29 points in an overtime win at Richmond and 22 against Davidson.

And the result is that Wade’s first team at VCU has the inside track on accomplishing something else that Shaka never did with the Rams: winning a conference regular season title.

The Top 25 Non-Conference Games

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

While much of the nation doesn’t start paying attention to college basketball until after the Super Bowl, there are plenty of must-see matchups that happen starting in November, when some of the country’s best programs square off in non-conference matchups. From holiday tournaments to neutral-site spectacles to on-campus clashes, the 2017-18 season has some great non-league offerings.

1. Duke vs. Michigan State – Champions Classic (Chicago) – Nov. 14 (7 p.m.): The Champions Classic never fails to deliver, and this season it’s giving the country the top-two teams in NBC Sports’ preseason Top 25 squaring off in the first week of the season. This game has it all, from national title contenders to a National Player of the Year favorite (Miles Bridges) to a potential No. 1 2018 NBA Draft pick (Marvin Bagley III) to everyone’s favorite villain (Grayson Allen). This is as can’t miss as can’t miss gets.

2. Kentucky vs. Kansas – Champions Classic (Chicago) – Nov. 14 (9:30 p.m.): Another pair of top-five teams will clash in the nightcap at the United Center when the Wildcats and Jayhawks tangle. It’ll also be the country’s first chance to evaluate what figure to be immensely talented but somewhat mysterious rosters. Kentucky surely has the players, though the fit, once again mostly who shoots it, questionable. Kansas is just downright weird. There will be a whole season to play after this game, but it should provide a hint to how good – or flawed – both of these Final Four hopefuls are.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

3. PK80 (Portland) – Nov. 23-26: The 80th birthday present Nike founder Phil Knight is throwing himself might be the most anticipated tournament (non-Big Dance division) in the sport’s history. It features 13 of the sport’s biggest brands. Plus Portland and Portland State. And DePaul, courtesy of Georgetown’s ducking real competition in Patrick Ewing’s debut season. The field may not be as strong as hoped when it was announced last year, but it’s still going to provide awesome matchups that are so rare in non-conference hoops. Spend your Thanksgiving in Portland. You won’t be disappointed.

4. UCLA vs. Kentucky (New Orleans) – Dec. 23 (4 p.m.): Christmas comes early in New Orleans with a replay of two of the more anticipated/enjoyed games of 2016-17. Both teams have overturned their rosters since the Ball vs. Fox Family War of Words, but both will probably be ranked in the top-15 come late December and two of college basketball’s most storied programs squaring off is always appointment television. The only downside here is that with the storied gyms of Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena at their disposal, the two powerhouse programs instead are playing at Smoothie King Center. Remember, this is all about the student-athlete.

5. Kentucky at West Virginia – SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Jan. 27 (4:30 or 7 p.m.): The schedule of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge is kind of silly, plopping it right in the middle of the conference season (though less so than the Big Ten’s schedule gymnastics), but getting John Calipari vs. Bob Huggins is fantastic, no matter when it happens. Given that it’s happening on-campus in Morgantown between two teams that could be ranked in the top-10 at the time, it’s reason to celebrate.

6.. Louisville at Kentucky – Dec. 29 (1 p.m.): Two top-10 teams, two bitter in-state rivals and one on-campus game. Good on these two programs, and lucky for us.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

7. Seton Hall at Louisville – Billy Minardi Classic – Dec. 3 (4 p.m.): Everyone will know going into the season how strong the Cardinals are, but Seton Hall may be a bit overlooked, even if they open the year as a top-20 team. The Pirates have a really fun group that includes Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez. They’re going to make some noise in the Big East, and they’ll have a chance to announce their intentions in early December.

8. Cincinnati vs. Florida – Never Forget Tribute Classic (Newark, N.J.) – Dec. 9 : The Bearcats return a ton from a 30-win team and the Gators’ roster is mainly unchanged after last year’s Elite 8 run. Two veteran teams with major aspirations will be taking the floor with their eyes on maybe moving a seed-line with a resume-boosting win.

9. Villanova vs. Gonzaga (New York) – Dec. 5 (7 p.m.): Some of the biggest names from last season’s rosters are gone from both of these teams, but the programs remain two of the best in the country and this year’s teams will be no slouches. The Josh Perkins/Jalen Brunson matchup is worth tuning into all by itself.

10. Miami at Minnesota – Big Ten/ACC Challenge – Nov. 29 (9 p.m.): This may not look like a top-10 game at first blush, but both the Hurricanes and Gophers are going to have serious teams this year. Jim Larranaga’s squad is going to have guards galore while Richard Pitino brings back nearly everyone from last year’s squad, by far the best he’s had in Minneapolis. This easily could be a matchup of top-10 teams.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

11. Cincinnati at UCLA – Dec. 16 (3:30 p.m.): Both the Bearcats and Bruins have solid non-conference schedules this season, and this matchup will be among the best for both.

12. Cincinnati at Xavier – Dec. 2 (Noon): The Crosstown Shootout is a must-see every year, and with the Bearcats and Musketeers set to be top-20 teams, this year’s no different.

13. Alabama at Arizona – Dec. 9 : There will be a ton of talent on display in Tucson with DeAndre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Atkins on the Wildcats’ side and freshman Collin Sexton for the Crimson Tide.

14. Notre Dame at Michigan State – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 30 (7 p.m.): Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is one of the sport’s highest-flyers while Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson gets his while barely ever leaving the floor. Having them on the same court at the same time offers great contrast – and probably a lot of buckets.

15. Virginia Tech at Kentucky – Dec. 16 (2 p.m.): Zach LeDay and Seth Allen are gone, but Buzz Williams’ team should still have enough to give Kentucky trouble in Rupp Arena.

16. Texas at VCU – Dec. 5 (6 p.m.): Shaka Smart returns to Richmond just over two years after leaving the Rams for the Longhorns in what is sure to be an emotional trip. Plus, it’s a chance to watch Mo Bamba, who very well could be a top-five draft pick come June.

17. Indiana at Louisville – Dec. 9 (2 p.m.): The Hoosiers may not be a national contender this year, but it’s Archie Miller’s first foray into the Indiana/Kentucky hoops battles, even if it’s not with his program’s traditional southern rival.

Glen Johnston, Texas A&M Athletics

18. Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – Armed Forces Classic (Ramstein-Miesenbach, German) – Nov. 10 (6 p.m.): The Mountaineers and Aggies tip off the hoops season overseas at the Ramstein Air Base with Robert Williams leading the way for the Aggies.

19. Wichita State at Baylor – Dec. 2 (2 p.m.): Gregg Marshall might have his best team ever with the Shockers with everyone back from last year’s squad that finished in the KenPom top-10 despite just getting a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears lost Johnathan Motley, but with Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil back, Scott Drew should have Baylor in the top-25

20. Missouri vs. Illinois (St. Louis) – Dec. 23: This is one of probably two high-profile non-conference games for Michael Porter, Jr. to showcase his potential top-pick talent, plus it pits Mizzou’s Jeremiah Tilmon against the program he initially committed to before defecting to the Tigers ahead of Brad Underwood’s first year in Champaign.

21. Butler at Maryland – Gavitt Games – Nov. 15 (8:30 p.m.): Another first-week gem that has the Bulldogs heading to College Park to face Justin Jackson and the Terps.

22. Duke at Indiana – ACC/Big Ten Challenge – Nov. 29 (9:30 p.m.): The Blue Devils visit Assembly Hall for just the second time ever and the first since the 2005-06 season.

23. Arizona vs. Texas A&M (Phoenix) – Dec. 5 (10 p.m.): DeAndre Ayton vs. Robert Williams. That should be fun.

24. Baylor at Florida – SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Jan. 27 : The SEC/BIg 12 Challenge is stocked with awesome matchups, but this one has a chance to be a good one.

25. South Dakota State at Kansas – Nov. 17 (8 p.m.): The Jackrabbits’ Mike Daum is a potential All-American. He’s got a chance to build some November hype at Allen Fieldhouse.

CBT’s 2017-18 College Basketball Season Preview Schedule

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Believe it or not, but college basketball season technically begins this week, as programs around the country are allowed to start practicing as early as September 29th, this Friday.

With that in mind, it’s time for us to kick off the process of previewing the 2017-18 season, getting you ready for everything that will happen in our beloved sport for the next five months with a series of predictions that, hopefully, won’t prove to be totally and completely wrong by the end of the year.

Here is a complete schedule of everything you can expect to see from us over the next six weeks.

And be sure to bookmark this page, as we will be updating the schedule with links as each story gets posted. That way, if you miss anything — which is unlikely if you follow @CBTonNBC on twitter and like the College Basketball Talk page on FaceBook — you can go back and find it quite easily.

As always, the easiest way to access the podcasts is to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or any other place that you can listen to podcasts.

AWARDS

Sep. 26: NBCSports.com All-American Team | Podcast Breakdown
Sep. 26: Expert Picks and Predictions
Oct. 30-Nov. 3: Preseason Top 25 Countdown
Oct. 30: Mid-Major All-Americans
Oct. 30: Mid-Major Power Rankings

RANKINGS

Oct. 23-27: Top 100 Players Countdown
Oct. 24: Top Backcourts
Oct. 24: Top Frontcourts
Oct. 25: Top Lead Guards
Oct. 25: Top Off-Guards
Oct. 26: Top Wings
Oct. 27: Top Big Men

CONTENDERS SERIES

Oct. 2: Final Four Sleepers
Oct. 9: Final Four Favorites, part 1
Oct. 13: Final Four Favorites, part 2
Oct. 16-20: The Top Five

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS

Sep. 28: WCC
Oct. 2: ACC | Preview Podcast
Oct. 4: Mountain West
Oct. 5: Atlantic 10
Oct. 6: American
Oct. 9: Big Ten | Preview Podcast
Oct. 16: Big 12 | Preview Podcast
Oct. 23: Pac-12 | Preview Podcast
Oct. 31: SEC | Preview Podcast
Nov. 6: Big East | Preview Podcast

Sep. 28: America East
Sep. 29: Atlantic Sun
Oct. 3: Big Sky
Oct. 3: Big South
Oct. 4: Big West
Oct. 5: CAA
Oct. 6: Conference USA
Oct. 10: Horizon
Oct. 10: Ivy
Oct. 11: MAAC
Oct. 11: MAC
Oct. 12: MEAC
Oct. 13: Missouri Valley
Oct. 17: NEC
Oct. 17: Ohio Valley
Oct. 18: Patriot
Oct. 19: SoCon
Oct. 20: Southland
Oct. 24: SWAC
Oct. 25: Summit
Oct. 26: Sun Belt
Oct. 27: WAC

LISTS

Sep. 25: Best Non-Conference Games
Sep. 27: Programs on the Rise and Decline
Sep. 27: Impact Transfers
Sep. 29: Perry Ellis All-Stars
Oct. 31: Top Dunkers
Nov. 1: Coaches on the Hot Seat
Nov. 1: Key Assistant Coaching Hires
Nov. 1: Best, Worst Head Coaching Changes
Nov. 2: Impact Freshmen
Nov. 3: Breakout Stars
Nov. 7: Under-the-Radar Stars
Nov. 7: X-Factors
Nov. 8: Potential Cinderellas
Nov. 9: Most Important Players
Nov. 10: 68 Things To Watch For
Nov. 10: BOLD PREDICTIONS

Kansas lands second commitment in the Class of 2018

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Kansas landed their second big man in the Class of 2018 on Sunday, as David McCormack, a top 50 prospect, announced that he will be a Jayhawk when he plays his college ball.

The 6-foot-10 center picked Kansas over Xavier, NC State, Oklahoma State and Duke.

A product of the famed Oak Hill Academy, McCormack averaged 15 points and 10 boards on the Adidas Gauntlet circuit this spring. He joins fellow four-star big man Silvio de Sousa in the 2018 class for Bill Self, although the Jayhawks will get three players eligible after they sit out the 2017-18 season as transfers: Dedric and K.J. Lawson, who transferred in from Memphis, as well as Charlie Moore, a point guard from California.

Report: North Carolina won’t attend White House

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After capturing a national championship earlier this year, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will not be visiting the White House, a North Carolina spokesman said to Andrew Carter of the The Charlotte Observer.

Although the Tar Heels were invited to go to the White House from the staff of President Donald Trump, the team couldn’t figure out a date that worked.

“We couldn’t find a date that worked for both parties,” North Carolina team spokesman Steve Kirschner said to Carter. “We tried about eight or nine dates and between they couldn’t work out that date, we couldn’t work out that date, so – we would have liked to have gone, but not going.”

According to Carter’s report, Kirschner also said that North Carolina players, “were fine with going.”

With Trump’s recent comments towards NFL players and the national anthem and his Saturday morning tweet at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the President with regards to athletes over the past 24 hours.

Although the timing of this may seem like North Carolina is making some sort of political statement, the school is downplaying any sort of politics by focusing on the bad timing.

Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer

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Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer from the program to move closer to home, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-7 Ridder hails from Springfield, Missouri as he was regarded as a top-150 prospect by Rivals in the Class of 2017.

“After much consideration and talking with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to move home,” Ridder said in the release.

“Jared has indicated to the coaching staff that he has a desire to be closer to home,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “While we are disappointed, we all want Jared to be happy moving forward. We wish him nothing but the best.”

A potent scorer and noted perimeter shooter at the high school level, Ridder helped MoKan win the Nike Peach Jam during the summer of 2016 playing alongside talented players like Missouri’s Michael and Jontay Porter and Oklahoma’s Trae Young. With a desire to move closer to home, could Ridder potentially land at a spot where one of his talented former teammates is playing?

Ridder averaged 24.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists during his senior season of high school ball at Kickapoo as he was a first-team, All-State selection in Missouri.