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In this Oct. 6, 2015, photo, VCU men's NCAA college basketball coach Will Wade talks to his team during practice at the Franklin Street Gym in Richmond Va. VCU surged at the end of last season, winning the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. (Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT (
(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.

Kansas State point guard Kamau Stokes to undergo knee surgery

Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes (3) reacts to injuring his knee during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT; LOCAL RADIO OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
(Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP)
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Kamau Stokes, a freshman point guard that has averaged 9.4 points and 2.7 boards for Kansas State this season, will likely miss the rest of the season as he is set to undergo surgery on a knee he injured over the weekend.

“Kamau will have a procedure tomorrow and he will probably be out for a while,” head coach Bruce Weber said after last night’s loss to Kansas. Stokes did not play.

He suffered the injury on Saturday when the Wildcats squared off with Mississippi State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. In his absence, Barry Brown and Carlbe Ervin handled point guard duties against Kansas, and Kansas State committed 23 turnovers as a team in the game.

 

VIDEO: You have to see how UC Irvine forced overtime last night

UC Irvine's Mamadou Ndiaye, right, tries to roll a layup past UC Davis' Neal Monson during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, in Irvine, Calif. (Kyusung Gong/The Orange County Register via AP)
(Kyusung Gong/The Orange County Register via AP)
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UC Irvine has the tallest player in college basketball in Mamadou Ndiaye and they put him to good use last night.

With the Anteaters down by three and just four seconds left, head coach Russell Turner drew up a play that looks an awful lot like the famous Bryce Drew game-winner: He threw a jump-ball up to Ndiaye, who made the catch, found a shooter on the wing and BOOM, overtime.

Check it out:

Trevon Bluiett leads No. 6 Xavier over St. John’s 90-83

Xavier's Trevon Bluiett celebrates after scoring in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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CINCINNATI (AP) Trevon Bluiett had his fifth double-double of the season, and No. 6 Xavier overcame poor shooting and beat St. John’s 90-83 on Wednesday night, the Red Storm’s 13th straight loss.

Bluiett had 15 points and 13 rebounds as Xavier (20-2, 8-2 Big East) got its 20th win faster than any team in school history.

St. John’s (7-16, 0-10) hasn’t won since Dec. 13. The Red Storm’s 13-game losing streak matches Delaware for the longest active one in Division I, according to STATS.

Bluiett was only 4 of 14 from the field, typical of Xavier’s night. The Musketeers struggled to make shots consistently and led by no more than seven points until the closing minutes. Myles Davis scored all of his 16 points in the second half.

Felix Balamou had a career-high 20 for St. John’s, which scored the second-most points against Xavier this season.

The Red Storm were coming off a 68-53 loss to No. 3 Villanova. They trailed by only one point at halftime, but Villanova took control by opening the second half with a 22-7 run. They stayed close against Xavier the whole way.

Both teams shot poorly in the half, with Xavier holding a slim lead most of the time. St. John’s shot 37.8 percent from the field and was 1 of 8 beyond the arc. Xavier shot 36.4 percent and was 3 of 12 on 3-point attempts.

Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds picked up two fouls in the opening 40 seconds of the game and went to the bench. Reynolds finished with nine points, four rebounds and 1-of-8 shooting on free throws.

Ron Mvouika and Malik Ellison hit 3s to open the second half, giving the Red Storm their biggest lead at 42-38. Davis hit a 3-pointer, two free throws and a floater that got Xavier going, and Edmond Sumner’s fastbreak dunk put the Musketeers ahead 61-54.

The fouls started piling up on St. John’s, with Mvouika and Christian Jones picking up four each by the midpoint of the half. Bluiett’s step-back jump shot gave Xavier its biggest lead at 74-65.

BASELINE VIEW

When Reynolds came out of the game early in the second half, there was no open seat in the middle of the bench so he grabbed a towel and sat by himself on the baseline for a few minutes.

TIP-INS

St. John’s: The Red Storm blocked five shots. They lead the Big East and are tied for fourth nationally with 6.1 per game. … St. John’s used the fifth different starting lineup in the last seven games.

Xavier: Forward James Farr pulled a hamstring late in an 86-65 win at DePaul on Saturday. He was back at practice on Tuesday and got into the game after Reynolds picked up his second foul. Farr had 11 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.

UP NEXT

St. John’s: Hosts Butler on Saturday.

Xavier: Hosts Marquette on Saturday.

 

No. 17 Miami takes care of Notre Dame, 79-70

Miami forward Anthony Lawrence Jr. (3) questions a referee as to why he did not get the benefit of a blocking call by a Boston College player while driving to the basket during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) Anthony Lawrence Jr.’s breakout game for Miami caught Notre Dame off guard.

It probably caught the Hurricanes a bit by surprise as well.

The freshman – who had a total of six points in the last six weeks and was a bit of an afterthought in the Hurricanes’ rotation – needed only six shot attempts to score a season-high 18 points off the bench, and No. 17 Miami beat Notre Dame 79-70 on Wednesday night for its ninth consecutive home win.

“Often times when you go to the bench you have a drop off,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We don’t.”

Angel Rodriguez, Ja’Quan Newton and Sheldon McClellan had 12 points apiece for the Hurricanes (17-4, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Miami shot 63 percent in the first half and finished at 56 percent for the game.

Bonzie Colson scored 17 points for Notre Dame (15-7, 6-4). V.J. Beachem had 14 points and Zach Auguste had all 12 of his in the second half for the Fighting Irish.

“Their maturity, they’ve got men,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “And they’re playing like it.”

Lawrence’s previous best was 13 points at Nebraska on Dec. 1 and to say he was a non-factor in ACC games this season would be an understatement. In seven league-game appearances before Wednesday, Lawrence was 1 for 8 from the field for a total of four points in 39 minutes.

But in this one, he was 5 for 6 from the field, including 4 for 4 from 3-point range.

“He really hurt us,” Brey said. “It’s one of those things, you say maybe you can live with him getting some looks and you worry about the other guys. Then he jumps up and really hurts you. It’s great when you’re a young guy playing with men, the older guys.”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame simply never got going.

Foul trouble limited Auguste, the Irish’s leading rebounder, to 6 first-half minutes and the Hurricanes took full advantage. Auguste – who came in averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds, but was limited to no points and one board in the first 20 minutes on Wednesday – picked up his second and went to the bench for the rest of the half.

When he left, Miami’s lead was 18-17.

When he came back to start the second half, Miami’s lead was 45-33. The Hurricanes went on a 13-4 run to close the half, and eventually pushed the lead to 20.

“We just have to find a way to stop teams from making runs,” Beachem said. “Keep it close and keep it within striking distance. It starts defensively because I know we can score.”

TIP-INS

Notre Dame: The Irish fell to 4-6 in games played at road or neutral sites this season. They were 15-4 in such games last season. … Something to watch going into Saturday’s game against No. 2 North Carolina – Notre Dame hasn’t lost two straight games since the end of the 2013-14 season, going 12-0 in the game immediately following a defeat.

Miami: The Hurricanes improved to 14-1 this season when reaching at least 70 points. … Tonye Jekiri had a game-high 12 rebounds and Kamari Murphy had 11 points. … Miami goes to Notre Dame on March 2.

NEWTON’S CHOICE

Newton was booed by the home fans midway through the second half, with the Hurricanes leading 60-43, during a timeout no less.

The reason? In an appearance on the video screens over the court, Newton revealed that his favorite athlete is LeBron James – a predictably unpopular choice in Miami. Shortly after play resumed, Newton scored and cheers went his way again.

BIG FAN

Ordinarily, fans aren’t allowed to go over to the ESPN personalities during a timeout and greet them. Ordinarily, those fans aren’t 7-foot, 450-pound men either. “The Big Show” – real name Paul Wight – of WWE fame, wearing a Hurricanes polo shirt, was escorted onto the court late in the game to greet ESPN broadcasters Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Jeff Van Gundy.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 2 North Carolina on Saturday.

Miami: Visits Georgia Tech on Sunday.

Brogdon scores 27 and No. 9 Virginia rolls BC, 61-47

Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon (15) works against the defense of Louisville's Trey Lewis (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Malcolm Brogdon thinks Virginia turned the corner with an impressive victory at No. 19 Louisville in its last game.

When the ninth-ranked Cavaliers struggled to get going offensively on Wednesday night against Boston College, Brogdon took it upon himself to make sure the good vibe kept flowing. The fifth-year senior scored 17 of his 27 points in the first half and the Cavaliers opened a lead as high as 25 points after halftime in a 61-47 victory, their fourth straight and 16th in a row at John Paul Jones Arena.

“I think we did turn a corner, but I think it’s important for us to keep our foot on the gas and keep pushing forward,” Brogdon said. “I just took my open shots. I tried not to force. I tried to play within the offense, but I took my open shots and took advantage of opportunities.”

Anthony Gill added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavaliers (18-4, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who also won for the 31st time in their last 32 home games against ACC competition.

Brogdon’s offensive numbers drew the most praise, but Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett was equally appreciative of the defensive job he did on Eagles scoring leader Eli Carter, who came in averaging 17.3 points but missed eight of his 10 shots and finished with just seven points.

“He’s showing his completeness on both ends of the floor and leading well and of course we’ll need that,” Bennett said of Brogdon.

Sammy Barnes-Thompkins made four 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points to lead the Eagles (7-15, 0-9).

Trailing 29-20 at halftime, B.C. scored on its first three possessions of the second half but trimmed only one point off the deficit as Gill hit two free throws and Brogdon made his fourth 3-pointer.

After two free throws by Garland Owens of the Eagles, Gill made three free throws, Devon Hall hit a 3-pointer and London Perrantes hit a baseline jumper, an 8-0 run that pushed the Virginia lead to 46-28 with 12 minutes left. The Cavaliers built their margin as high as 25 points before the Eagles cut into it late against reserves, scoring 11 consecutive points to make the final score look closer than the game ever felt.

Brogdon finished 7 of 10 from the field and 5 for 5 from behind the arc. The rest of the Cavaliers were just 10 for 32, but their resurgent defense limited the Eagles to 13 field goals in 49 tries, just 26.5 percent.

“They do what they do extremely well,” Eagles coach Jim Christian said, adding that he felt his team missed quality shots, but that Virginia’s defensive attention also was a big factor, as was Brogdon’s performance.

“He’s just a really smart basketball player,” Christian said.

Bennett removed his primary starters with about 5 minutes remaining.

Brogdon scored nine points and Gill had four as the Cavaliers closed the first half on a 13-5 run, turning a 16-15 lead into a 29-20 advantage.

IMBALANCE

Bennett was pleased with Virginia’s offensive balance in the victory at Louisville, but it was missing against the Eagles. Other than Brogdon and Gill, who got eight of his 10 points at the free throw line, no Cavalier scored more than five points.

TIP-INS

Boston College: The Eagles had been outscored 120-59 at the free throw line in losing their first eight conference games. They were outscored 11-1 from the line in the first half, and 11-0 off turnovers. B.C.’s free throw deficit was just 18-13 by the final buzzer.

Virginia: With his first basket, a 3-pointer, Brogdon became the 18th 1,500-point scorer in Cavaliers history. He finished the game with 1,525. Next up on the career list are Mike Scott of the Atlanta Hawks, who scored 1,538, and Richard Morgan, who scored 1,540. … Evan Nolte made his first 3-pointer since the second game of the season, drawing a huge roar from the crowd.

UP NEXT

Boston College plays at No. 19 Louisville on Saturday.

Virginia plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday.