PORTLAND, Ore. — Virginia Commonwealth forward Bradford Burgess was asked Friday to compare this year’s VCU team to the one that made the Final Four last season.
“Really, the only similarity is the name on the jersey,” Burgess said.
Last year VCU team was senior-laden and had plenty of guys who could score. That team was led by guys like Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez and Brandon Rozzell, all of whom graduated after the Final Four run.
This is simply not the same VCU team. But that doesn’t mean its one that’s any less dangerous.
The scorers are gone, so the Rams rely on their defense — their HAVOC defense. They press, they trap, they chase. Basically, they cause havoc, and lots of it.
“We didn’t focus as much as we needed to on the defensive end [last year],” Burgess said. “We tried to almost outscore teams sometimes, and that hurt us.”
Added VCU coach Shaka Smart: “We have our stretches where we score really well, where we shoot really well. But we depend on our pressure defense. We depend on our ability to stop teams in the half court.”
The HAVOC defense, as Ryan Corazza analyzed in his post yesterday, features athletic guys who relentlessly pursue the ball and do their best to get the opponent out of their offense. If they can’t create turnovers, the Rams want to speed the other team up and force them to play at a pace they are uncomfortable playing at.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said he’s been having his team play against seven pressing defenders to attempt to simulate what his players will see Saturday night against VCU.
Lots of teams press, but few do it better than the Rams.
“It’s their length,” Crean said. “And they do an excellent job of pushing you in a spot. Their traps are really hard nosed, they close their traps. … You’ve got to do a great job of catching the ball where you want to catch it. Your fundamentals really come into play, getting the ball out in front, reversing the basketball, head up.”
Jones enjoying the journey
Verdell Jones may have a future job as the member of the media.
Jones, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, got a video camera to capture some of the moments from the Hoosiers’ NCAA Tournament run. He pulled it out Friday in the locker room and decided to have some fun.
“Let’s go get Kory,” Jones told teammate Austin Etherington, who was at his locker next to Jones’.
The two got up, walked over to senior Kory Barnett, and interviewed him. Etherington held his hand near Barnett’s mouth as if he was grasping a microphone, and asked him a series of questions about his experience in Portland.
Jones stood back and captured it all on video, a wide grin covering his face the whole time.
“It’s a great experience,” Jones said. “I’m just happy for the team, for us to finally reach this level. It’s a little bittersweet for me, but life goes on.”
Hoosiers win, but still doubted
Even after Indiana won its first tournament game in four years by dominating New Mexico State on Thursday night, there are still plenty of experts who aren’t sold on the Hoosiers.
On a late edition of ESPN’s SportsCenter Thursday night, college basketball analyst Hubert Davis said VCU would beat the Hoosiers because of their “inexperience”.
“We wanted to come here and make a statement,” Jones said. “People have doubted us all season. Even [Thursday], they were saying ‘oh, that was a fluke. They’ll lose next round.’ So we’re just gonna keep building and keep proving them wrong.”