Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program

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BROOKLYN — This is what happens when ‘Havoc’ doesn’t create havoc.

And this is why there is a ceiling for just how good VCU can be.

No. 12 Villanova beat the brakes off of No. 15 VCU on Monday night in the opening round of the Legends Classic, the 77-53 final not doing justice to just how dominant the Wildcats were in the final 20 minutes. After scoring the first six points of the second half, VCU watched helplessly as Villanova went on a 19-2 run that, at one point, was extended to a 45-15 surge.

How did this happen?

It’s simple, really. VCU’s famed ‘Havoc’ system was completely ineffective.

Here’s how ‘Havoc’ works: The Rams spend 40 minutes pressing full-court. They have a number of different looks they can give — sometimes it’s straight man-to-man, sometimes they double the first pass in the back court, sometimes they are trying to get ball-handlers sprinting up the sideline with a trailer coming to trap them — but regardless of which press they are using, the Rams are in the jocks of opposing guards for 94 feet. They want to make it impossible for the team they play to get the ball over half court. They want to make dribbling a nightmare. They want to make the game as sloppy and choppy and turnover-ridden as possible.

There’s more to it, however, than just a press. Shaka Smart spends the entire offseason putting his roster full of lightening quick guards and long, lanky wings through grueling workouts, demanding his players be in better physical condition than anyone they will face during the season. So not only are they trapping and flying all over the court the whole game, they are wearing teams down in the process. They know they can run longer and harder than anyone they play.

They want to test a team’s stamina while they create havoc on a basketball court.

And on Monday night, they didn’t do that.

“They have sound ball-handlers and they pass the ball well,” Smart said of Villanova. “They don’t make unforced turnovers. We were not ourselves in terms of pressuring the ball, closing down traps, getting our hands on the basketball, flying around the way we need to fly around.”

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Villanova finished with just nine turnovers on the night. Five of them were committed by starting big men JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu, and three of those where travels called on Pinkston. Another one was a shot clock violation, meaning that only five of those nine turnovers were live ball turnovers.

“That’s huge against teams like that,” Jay Wright said. “It’s better sometimes to get a five-second call or a shot-clock violation than it is to jump in the air and throw the ball away. Those turn into buckets.”

He’s right. Whether it’s a pick-six layup or a three-point shooter spotting up in transition, VCU relies heavily on being able to create offense with their defense. That’s not solely by design, either. The Rams are not a very good team in the half court. They really only have one shooter on the roster — Melvin Johnson — and he can be streaky. Beyond that, and with all due respect to Briante Weber, the only guy on the roster that can be considered a scorer is Treveon Graham.

VCU had just 11 points off of turnovers on Monday. Villanova had more, with 13.

The other issue with VCU’s ineffectiveness in the press is that they just simply are not a good defensive team in the half court. They get beaten off the dribble too easily, they were late on their rotations for much of the second half, there are no shot blockers around the rim to eliminate defensive mistakes. If you break that press, more than likely you’ll end up with a good shot on that possession

“That’s an area we need to improve,” Smart said.

All of this brings me back to my larger point: There is a ceiling to how good this VCU team can be, and they may have already reached it.

Good basketball teams have quality guard play. Not every top 25 program is going to have the kind of depth and experience that Villanova has — Ryan Arcidiacono is a three-year starter, Darrun Hilliard is a senior, Dylan Ennis is a redshirt junior — but most of them are going to have a back court that doesn’t get intimidated by pressure and that won’t be overwhelmed even if they do have to deal with 40 minutes of havoc.

Most top 25 programs, particularly those that play in the power five conferences, are going to have the athletes to match up with the Rams as well. You’re not as likely to be overwhelmed by someone with Weber’s quickness when your point guard is a top 50 recruit or a kid that will be playing professionally somewhere when he is done in college.

In simpler terms, the teams that VCU is going to compete with for things like trips to the Sweet 16 or a spot in the Top 25 are going to be markedly less susceptible to their press than those that they play in the Atlantic 10 or that they squared off with in the CAA. There’s only so far that a team can go when their entire system is built around being quicker, more athletic and in better shape than their opponent.

Now I’ll freely admit that, with the way VCU is recruiting, this could change. Their current freshmen class has a chance to be very, very good. Terry Larrier was a top 50 prospect that picked the Rams over UConn and is long, athletic and skilled. Justin Tillman, Jonathan Williams and Michael Gilmore all fit what VCU wants to do and should thrive in this system. The Rams already have commitments from Kenny Williams and Tevin Mack, top 100 prospects that will enter college with a reputation for being big time scorers. Mack, like Larrier, picked VCU over UConn.

There’s no denying that is a good sign for the Rams, particularly the fact Smart is bringing more talented scorers into the mix. He’s upgrading the talent level in the program, which can be risky given the fact that VCU found their initial success when Smart brought in kids that were overlooked. Will Larrier and other highly touted recruits play with the same chip-on-their-shoulder, we-have-something-to-proof mentality that has been one of VCU’s identities?

It’s also worth noting here that VCU’s run to the Final Four came at a time when the Rams were not yet in the throes of ‘Havoc’. That team, led by Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen, found success more by being able to spread the floor and catching fire from three at the right time than they did by overwhelming teams with their press.

And all this is to say nothing of the fact that Smart may not be at VCU long enough to see his 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes come into their own. He’s always going to be a hot name because using the ‘Havoc’ system will ensure that his teams are always finishing at the top of the Atlantic 10. His teams should always reach the NCAA tournament. It’s not a fluke that he’s been able to find some success.

So please, don’t take this as me ripping VCU because I don’t like them or because I have an axe to grind with the Rams.

I don’t.

Not even close.

There aren’t many programs in the country that are easier to deal with as media than the Rams. Smart is an intelligent guy, one that is accessible and willing with his time. The players are generally good kids that give good quotes, and the fan base is large enough and passionate enough that writing a story on them will generate some clicks.

I just don’t believe that it’s possible to become one of the nation’s elite programs playing the style that they play.

VCU will continue to rack up regular season wins. They’ll continue to make their annual appearance in the NCAA tournament and should be a good bet to win a game, maybe two, when they get there.

But I don’t think we’ll see Havoc back in the Final Four.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”